In February of 2014, readers were introduced to the pristine stretch of mysterious wilderness, known simply as Area X. In Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, we experienced Area X firsthand, as an emotionally distant Biologist embarked on the latest mission to observe and document the Area and its unique properties—descending into the horror and secrets at the heart of the strange area.
In May, the story of Area X expanded and continued with VanderMeer’s Authority. In this second book, a man simply known as “Control” has become the new Director of the Southern Reach—a government outpost, controlled by an entity called “Central,” created to oversee the exploration and documentation of Area X. Authority is an introspective, claustrophobic novel about Control’s efforts to unravel the details of the last expedition to the Southern Reach, to understand the machinations of the government outpost, to come to grips with the darkness within.
In September, the third and final book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Acceptance, was published. Bringing the Biologist (who is no longer the Biologist) and Control (who is not really Control) together, Acceptance returns to the now rapidly expanding Area X, answering some questions while posing many others. It is a powerful, frustrating end to a series that manages to be both illuminating and obfuscating; it’s a fitting conclusion to an utterly memorable trilogy.
The Southern Reach is a hard series to classify—it’s speculative fiction with sci-fi and horror elements just as it’s a literary fiction novel with its heavily stylistic prose. Most of all, these are all personal stories—for all their clipped dialogue and controlled demeanor, these are books about self-perception, self-deception and self-worth. They are ineffable, infuriating and irresistible.
So if you, like me, have finished the Southern Reach books and aren’t quite sure where to turn next, here are my three recommendations for other books to try once you’ve finished with Area X’s Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance.
If you loved Annihilation best, try The Ruins by Scott Smith. Like Annihilation, Smith’s novel explores a pristine stretch of wilderness—this time in the heart of the Yucatan. A group of friends on holiday decide to leave their cushy Mexican resort for some adventure, learning about a Mayan pyramid in the jungle. What they discover there, however, is unrelenting terror in the form of carnivorous botany. You want all the horrific, self-reflective moments from Annihilation rolled into a more traditional horror novel? Try The Ruins.
If you loved Authority best, try Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is my personal favorite of the trilogy because Authority is so incredibly insular, so cloyingly claustrophobic. Kazuo Ishiguro’s literary speculative fiction novel about a group of genetically grown people who will over the course of their lives be required to donate their organs to those biological humans in need, is a haunting novel about the nature of humanity. It’s also a book about self-reflection and, like Authority, Never Let Me Go is a novel about characters so concerned with details and minutia. Control and Kathy might seem like very different narrators, but they are more similar than you think—they both provide a narrow lens through which readers can see the world in an entirely different way. If you loved Control’s clipped, intent narrative, you will love Kathy’s equally focused voice in Never Let Me Go.
If you loved Acceptance best, try Deep Sky by Patrick Lee. This is a little bit of a cheat because Deep Sky is the third book in the Breach trilogy by Lee, and you really would have to read both The Breach and Ghost Country before getting to this last novel. In this book, a mysterious Breach has opened between our world and some other, future place—through the Breach (controlled by a government agency), artifacts emerge that can change the course of humanity. In the third book, Deep Sky, we receive more answers to the origin of the Breach and its purpose, just as we learn the impossible decisions that lie at the heart of its genesis and the future of humanity. It’s a science fiction book, but it’s one that grapples with big questions and pulls no punches. Like Acceptance, there are questions posed and others that are answered—and I can’t think of a better series to start once you’ve finished the Southern Reach.
So there you have it: our recommended books to embark upon once you’ve finished exploring Area X. Any other suggestions?