When Control is given the assignment of director at the Southern Reach, all he knows is that this has-been government agency is his last chance at a decent career. At first glance, the Southern Reach is a shadow of its former self: an underfunded group of scientists and bureaucrats assigned to research the elusive and mysterious phenomenon known as "Area X," which descended on the nearby coast decades earlier. The former director disappeared on the latest mission into Area X, and in her absence, Control finds the agency to be full of ghosts and madmen. She left behind strange writings, a plant that won't die and a trail of undecipherable signs. Control begins to suspect that the Southern Reach is less like a quietly decaying husk and more like a fetid, festering nurse log on the verge of bursting into a terrifying display of life. Worse, it seems that Area X is much closer than anyone suspects.

Authority is the second volume in his Southern Reach trilogy, and Jeff VanderMeer (Shriek) takes full advantage of the form. The creeping, atmospheric horror of Annihilation is submerged just below the surface in Authority, giving VanderMeer more room to develop his characters and move the plot forward. At its core, Authority explores the uneasy relationship between humans and true wilderness. The horror here is that loving nature can be a self-destructive impulse, and everything seems to point to the fundamental, terrifying impossibility of peaceful coexistence between man and wild. --Emma Page, bookseller at Wellesley Books in Wellesley, Mass.

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