where lies the strangling fruit...Area X - The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer

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i just read on a jeff vandermeer reddit interview thing that alex garland is directing the first southern reach movie. did anyone see Ex Machina? his directorial debut? anyway, he seems like an interesting choice. i am a big fan of Dredd and 28 Days Later anyway. i never read The Beach. or his other books.

anyway, Area X is one of the best things i've read in years. completely gripping/haunting and all that good stuff. gave me that feeling i got when i read stephen king when i was a kid. completely IN THERE. immersed. a primal reading experience?

also, just so fucking well written? as dream lit or trance lit it is way up there in my opinion. just such a...thing.

also, in recent news, this is amazing. hat tip to Dow for the link:


scott seward, Saturday, 25 April 2015 02:12 (seven years ago) link

well for an immediately contrary opinion: i thought the trilogy was rapidly diminishing returns and sorta not that well written--he seems to think mashing together two opposing ideas ("it was terrifying and beautiful") is to already achieve some interesting and worthwhile literary effect but for me it just fell flat, over and over.

looking forward to the movie though! (seriously, maybe it'll help me "get" it)

ryan, Saturday, 25 April 2015 02:32 (seven years ago) link

contrary is cool! i'm definitely interested in all kinds of thoughts.

scott seward, Saturday, 25 April 2015 04:11 (seven years ago) link

I got really involved in these -- the comparison to reading Stephen King for the first time as a kid is apt. I felt hypnotized in a similar way. Vandermeer is not very King-like, though, in style or approach. Rather than letting the reader stay a little ahead of the characters, building up parallel plotlines to get to climaxes, he keeps breaking up his narrative with moments of discontinuity and disconnection. There's a lot of realistic presentation of landscape and wildlife, nature-documentary style, and then abruptly things get really weird and scary, and then we and the traumatized characters are left looking at the landscape and wildlife again, wondering WTF. I'm trying to think of nature-horror of similar intensity, and the story that comes to mind is Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows," which is creepy and cosmic but kind of placid compared to the Area X books.

The reader steadily acquires explanatory theories through all the characters' research, but there's no scientific-deductive resolution in a pulp SF sense. Events just keep getting stranger, and their data and analysis never add up to solutions that put the human characters back in control, even in the sense of comprehending what is happening to and around them.

When I realized the three novels were almost completely separate in terms of protagonists and settings, I wasn't sure that would work for me, but the gaps between the books reinforce the discontinuities. I loved the contrast in the second book between the in-fighting of the bureaucratic scientists in their crummy backwater facility and the uncanny creatures and events that keep leaking into their world.

I really didn't think Vandermeer could sustain what he was doing for a third book, much less round off the story in any satisfying way, but the last one works amazingly well, even though it isn't quite the same kind of tour de force as the first two.

Brad C., Saturday, 25 April 2015 22:30 (seven years ago) link

Oh man! He keeps materializing---a recent discussion with the author:


dow, Sunday, 26 April 2015 00:48 (seven years ago) link

contents of the massive weird fiction anthology that vandermeer edited with his wife:


scott seward, Sunday, 26 April 2015 00:55 (seven years ago) link

I'm more in ryan's camp: while I appreciated that VanderMeer refrained from resolving too many of the ambiguities of Area X over the course of the trilogy, I tend to think that the second and third novels were superfluous. The Director's narrative in Acceptance is poignant enough, but VanderMeer's language becomes much flatter when he moves away from the Biologist's narration in Annihilation (which I still think is superb on its own merits), and Control is just far too dull a character to sustain interest in Authority or to be compelling as a foil to Ghost Bird's ahumanism.

one way street, Sunday, 26 April 2015 19:21 (seven years ago) link

the 1st and 3rd books were definitely my faves, but i found the 2nd book intriguing. and i appreciated how hard it must have been to base an entire book on someone who wasn't the most sympathetic character in the world. the 2nd book worth it just for the crawlspace scene in the closet. in my opinion.

scott seward, Sunday, 26 April 2015 19:24 (seven years ago) link

Yeah, the 2nd book had a few great moments (the crawlspace scene above all), and I like the idea of focusing on the weirdness of bureaucratic reason and the way that slowly and then quickly crumbles in the face of absolute otherness, but the novel's focalization through Control just didn't compel me, however much of his back story VanderMeer trotted out. I think The Pale King goes deeper into the perversities of institutional logic and the experience of boredom in bureaucratic work (some of Ligotti's stories, like "My Case for Retributive Action" do too in a more grotesque way), but Wallace is probably not a good benchmark for this kind of writing. (Maybe Authority would hold up better on a second reading, but there are other books I'd rather reread first.) I don't necessarily expect that much from the Garland adaptation of Annihilation, but I am interested to see how he handles the Biologist's perspective and some of the moments in which visuality seems to break down (like the encounters with the Crawler).

one way street, Sunday, 26 April 2015 19:42 (seven years ago) link

xp Vandermeer has mentioned le Carré as a point of reference for the second book, and it does have a similar atmosphere of paper-shuffling paranoia. It's a pretty strange move to slide that kind of novel in between the other two! After the first book I think I was ready for some boring realism to help sustain my suspension of disbelief.

Authority also has a sort of 50s monster movie vibe, the team of heroic scientists vs. the weird menace, but with those familiar tropes subverted by bureaucratic pettiness, lack of resources, lack of coordination, Control's weak leadership/managerial skills, etc. I think past work experience helps explain why I found the book so queasy and funny.

Brad C., Sunday, 26 April 2015 19:49 (seven years ago) link

the 2nd book was a relief of sorts. i don't think the family history (especially his all-seeing mother) was that interesting, but the work-place stuff was suitably surreal. i LOVED the dueling narrator thing in the 3rd book though. it just added to the insane tension.

scott seward, Sunday, 26 April 2015 21:00 (seven years ago) link

i remember dislike this guy ... back in the day ...

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Monday, 27 April 2015 11:03 (seven years ago) link

i read that 'city of saints and madmen' thing. had to look it up. can't remember why ambergris is meant to be like distinct or anything

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Monday, 27 April 2015 11:04 (seven years ago) link

I read the first one in two days, very good.

calstars, Tuesday, 5 May 2015 01:32 (seven years ago) link

Feel like I'm being really negative at the mo but just read the first one and it didn't do much for me. Was clear from fairly early on that despite the sci-fi trappings it was planting itself more firmly in the weird genre, more about atmosphere than answers. Which is fine, I'm not always after after a whodunnit style nice pat "the butlerian jihad did it!" conclusion, but in this case I just wasn't drawn in. I found the emphasis on hypnosis rather ridiculous.

ledge, Monday, 11 May 2015 08:47 (seven years ago) link

my wife enjoyed these but said they were kinda bad, they look like roadside picnic rips?

vandermeer gives off a strong cherry vape and musty fedora vibe imo

adam, Monday, 11 May 2015 14:06 (seven years ago) link

weirdest thing was probably the note in the third volume giving a nod to The Coming Insurrection.

ryan, Monday, 11 May 2015 15:47 (seven years ago) link

Enjoyed the first, diminishing returns on the second, didn't get halfway through the third.

calstars, Sunday, 24 May 2015 16:38 (seven years ago) link

Keep thinking of reading these, but probably should read barely cracked copy of the one that takes place on Albumuth Boulevard in Ambergris first. He seems to like names that begin with the letter A.

Proclus Hiriam (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 24 May 2015 18:13 (seven years ago) link

one month passes...

"All of us were women this time, chosen as part of the complex set of variables that governed sending the expeditions."


♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Tuesday, 21 July 2015 15:55 (seven years ago) link

"The expedition could last days, months, or even years, depending on various stimuli and conditions."

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Tuesday, 21 July 2015 15:58 (seven years ago) link

the next sentence i was going to quote had 'foodstuffs' as two words: 'all of our food stuffs'

then i remembered the copy i found was a second-hand proof and checked, and, yes, they did fix that

but, anyway

jeff vandermeer is someone who thinks that 'food stuffs' is a thing

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:03 (seven years ago) link

B-b-but The Ideas, man!

Archaic Buster Poindexter, Live At The Apollo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:28 (seven years ago) link

loved these books!

scott seward, Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:39 (seven years ago) link

i kinda do feel like i never need to read anything else by him cuz i can't imagine that they would be better or as interesting to me. unless he wrote a three book sequel to these books....that i would read immediately.

scott seward, Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:40 (seven years ago) link

after making fun of the prose style last night i sat here and read it straight through all morning so hm

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Wednesday, 22 July 2015 04:39 (seven years ago) link

tbf, the writer of the first book, from which those quotes come, is a very odd woman

as verbose and purple as a Peter Ustinov made of plums (James Morrison), Wednesday, 22 July 2015 05:08 (seven years ago) link

"after making fun of the prose style last night i sat here and read it straight through all morning so hm"


maybe i'm just a simpleton but i found it riveting.

wait, JAMES MORRISON, did you read these books?

scott seward, Wednesday, 22 July 2015 05:28 (seven years ago) link

and as far as the third book goes, i am a big fan of the multiple narrator novel. or whatever you would call that. can't think of any offhand, but i know i have read some.

scott seward, Wednesday, 22 July 2015 05:31 (seven years ago) link

I did, and I really lied them, but like you have not gone near any other vandermeer because it looked very "I'm so wacky" that it gave me hives

as verbose and purple as a Peter Ustinov made of plums (James Morrison), Wednesday, 22 July 2015 05:50 (seven years ago) link

LIKED them

as verbose and purple as a Peter Ustinov made of plums (James Morrison), Wednesday, 22 July 2015 05:50 (seven years ago) link

you never them!

resulting post (rogermexico.), Wednesday, 22 July 2015 05:51 (seven years ago) link

i mean, i realised later that the awful clunky sentence-making was meant to tell us something about the narrator, but i'm not convinced by it at all! there are a couple of other things i'd point at, i'm at work now but maybe later, anyway he thanks his editor in the acknowledgements and his editor really doesn't deserve it afaict

i'm probably in for the ride now tho /:

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Wednesday, 22 July 2015 07:14 (seven years ago) link

one month passes...

yeah, i wasn't very affected by these -- i think maybe, perhaps reductively, is that i'm not convinced by the weirdness and ineffableness of whatever lies beyond the human, because there are no humans in these books

but maybe that was the point ~

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Friday, 18 September 2015 08:40 (seven years ago) link

"he sat on a stool, his favorite neoclassical composer playing on his laptop"

"he wished he had his neoclassical music on headphones for the full experience"

"He slipped out the front door, deciding to leave Chorry alone, put on his headphones, turned on some of the classical music that he loved"

when i read this i see a comment vandermeer left for himself in word that says 'learn names of some composers before submitting manuscript'

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Friday, 18 September 2015 08:44 (seven years ago) link


resulting post (rogermexico.), Friday, 18 September 2015 17:29 (seven years ago) link

that said i didn't feel the dropoff other posters said they ddi, i thought two and three were equally successful in their tension. i didn't like the structure of three though -- seemed like the benefits of doing all the stories in parallel were fairly minimal.

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Friday, 18 September 2015 22:13 (seven years ago) link

didn't realise there was a thread. neoclassical composers thing made me laugh as well, it was really jarring. also terroir. terroir terroir terroir. stop saying it. terroir. stop. terroir. it.

Fizzles, Friday, 25 September 2015 15:51 (seven years ago) link

terroir didn't bother me that much, it's quite a nice word. hi btw

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 27 September 2015 14:51 (seven years ago) link

yeah, terroir was ok seeing as it's part of the point, but it cropped up enough to make me feel it was carrying more weight than a single word should be allowed to carry. i'm finding three a bit of a grind. agree about the minimal benefits. and yes, hi.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 September 2015 19:05 (seven years ago) link

six months pass...

I was going to say, odd to lead with a male casting when the book is almost entirely female, but I guess he'll be the husband who goes missing before the book begins?

jjl seems like an a+ psychiatrist

mookieproof, Thursday, 31 March 2016 23:46 (six years ago) link

one year passes...

finally read the first one and caught a very strong solaris / stalker vibe but not much else.

postmodernism. yeah.

i think maybe, perhaps reductively, is that i'm not convinced by the weirdness and ineffableness of whatever lies beyond the human, because there are no humans in these books

but maybe that was the point ~

― ♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Friday, September 18, 2015 1:40 AM (one year ago)

^^ booming post

the late great, Monday, 17 April 2017 21:42 (five years ago) link

i bought all three books together but now i'm not really sure if i'm going to read authority and acceptance or return them

the late great, Monday, 17 April 2017 21:50 (five years ago) link

ten months pass...

Prev. posted on Rolling Fantasy, Science Fiction etc.:

Haven't read it. but the movie of the first one opens tomorrow, already rates 81, Universal Acclaim on metacritic. Directed by Alex Garland, who did Ex Machina, which I enjoyed and posted about upthread---seems like he's going for something deeper now, judging by a recent interview I can't find, and of course you have to be a good talker to make it in media, but his style seems attentive, resourceful, flexible, so maybe--a also like that he's working with Ex M lead Oscar Isaac again, and of course will see anything involving Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Here's the Garland interviewhttps://www.theverge.com/2018/2/21/17029500/annihilation-ex-machina-director-alex-garland-sci-fi. Excerpt:
It’s super original. So many stories are retellings of other stories in a really self-conscious way, to the extent that I almost feel like it’s ritualistic. Like, you see the beats of that particular story starting, and you think, “Wow. We’re doing this again. It’s happening again.” What is the ritual? Where’s the comfort? What’s the need [this is addressing]? Particularly because so many of them are not comforting; they’re kind of disturbing. It’s just a weird thing. And Jeff’s book seems to just sit totally outside that, which I thought was really interesting. But that in itself is not a reason to adapt it, I think. It was really the atmosphere. It was just the feeling of reading it was so strange. It’s got a very strong dreamlike aspect. Reading it is like being in a dream, in a weird way. I thought, “That’s really interesting, and I’d like to have a try...There’s also a sort of metaphorical element to it, a sort of unknowable expanding existential thing. But the top-line narrative can satisfy the people who are not interested in the metaphorical side.

― dow, Thursday, February 22, 2018

dow, Wednesday, 28 February 2018 19:49 (four years ago) link

Also, this just in--from Subterranean Press newsletter:

We're pleased to let you know that we'll be getting in a very small quantity of the signed limited edition of The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, due to be published later this year. Publisher: Cemetery Dance.

(For those keeping score at home, and minding their budgets, we'll also be announcing a very exclusive Jeff VanderMeer signed limited edition of our own soon.)

About this Special Edition:
Gathered together in this beautiful, oversized special edition is the complete text of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) along with a massive bonus section of TOP SECRET MATERIAL that we're collecting exclusively for this special edition.

more info (price may start yer own cemetery dance---but description of ed. looks real nice)

dow, Wednesday, 28 February 2018 19:57 (four years ago) link

I thought Borne was a much more satisfying novel than any of the Southern Reach books, individually or collectively

Number None, Wednesday, 28 February 2018 23:25 (four years ago) link

There's a Borne sequel/companion novella out this week

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 1 March 2018 02:22 (four years ago) link


the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Friday, 2 March 2018 04:49 (four years ago) link

one month passes...

god, the movie is somehow worse

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Friday, 6 April 2018 15:07 (four years ago) link

one month passes...

So how come there seems to be so little discussion of how these books & the movie are just a big Strugatsky Bros / Tarkovsky “reboot”

El Tomboto, Tuesday, 22 May 2018 03:02 (four years ago) link

it's discussed quite a bit on the Annihilation thread

Number None, Tuesday, 22 May 2018 06:53 (four years ago) link

the similarities are exaggerated imo

flopson, Tuesday, 22 May 2018 07:06 (four years ago) link

The basic premise is the same. But the plots and styles and what they're ABOUT are miles apart.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Tuesday, 22 May 2018 07:15 (four years ago) link

i read through all three of these books a few weeks ago and they've stuck with me more than i expected, given that i didn't enjoy them particularly while i was reading them

elliptical, allusive storytelling about investigations of the unknowable is really hard to pull off and i think this trilogy largely fails - the questions raised and the absences deliberately left by roadside picnic and stalker are fascinating but they're also satisfying stories in their own right, but vandermeer's attempts to do the same are just frustrating imo

Roadside Picnic also does a very good and odd thing of Hard-Bitten Capitalism running up hard against the Ineffable, which Area X is not interested in.

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Wednesday, 23 May 2018 03:00 (four years ago) link

I've heard Vandermeer has been annoyed about the association and insisted on a whole other bunch of influences which he listed in the books?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 25 May 2018 19:06 (four years ago) link

have you got a link for that? i enjoyed the books, tho the first the most, which combined organic/psychic/linguistic fear (that last important) with mystery and inconclusiveness.

roadside picnic is obv wonderful but as JM says doing something different. v working class, v making use of new technologies in a commercial way. area x is an environmental threat and a biologically uncertain zone.

Fizzles, Friday, 25 May 2018 19:17 (four years ago) link

it feels odd that he shd get so antsy about it. that said, authors and stuff they’ve written. it’s a sensitive matter (and in fact i sympathise having gone off the deep end at someone who i felt had ripped me off. i mean i was right but i was rong)

Fizzles, Friday, 25 May 2018 19:18 (four years ago) link

I cant find what he said. Maybe it was on twitter

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 25 May 2018 19:41 (four years ago) link

two years pass...

In the past month or so I have read the Borne semi-trilogy and once again I'm wondering why I gave that much of my time to someone who thinks "food stuffs" is two words

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Tuesday, 6 April 2021 10:11 (one year ago) link

I feel like these books could convince committed vegans to start eating meat again. I am finding I want to buy a car and learn to drive just so I can accelerate global warming.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Tuesday, 6 April 2021 10:14 (one year ago) link


mookieproof, Thursday, 8 April 2021 17:15 (one year ago) link


pomenitul, Thursday, 8 April 2021 17:16 (one year ago) link

lol thom. 'The Strange Bird' was way better than Borne, and the best thing I've read from him apart from the Area X books.

His bad books are very bad, and he writes way too many books, it's unbecoming.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 8 April 2021 17:27 (one year ago) link

four months pass...

the strange bird was a lot better than borne!

dead astronauts was worse than both tho

i can't understand having the self-confidence to write even one mediocre book

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Saturday, 21 August 2021 12:35 (one year ago) link

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