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June 26, 2014 / schulerbooks

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer

9780374104115

Call her Ghost Bird. That’s not her real name. But then, when she was the Biologist, she wasn’t supposed to use her real name, either.

But then, was she ever the Biologist at all? Or is she merely a copy of the woman who went into the topographical mystery known as Area X to find answers about her dead husband?

Yet another explorer who went into that deadly and subversive enigma and never came back out again?

That’s just it — she’s not sure. She’s not sure of a lot of things, to be honest. But she knows that here, in Area X, she might just be able to get the answers she needs.

And if it kills her, well, she’s done that before, too — hasn’t she?

This time, though, she’s got better company: the man known as Control, who sought her out when she escaped the Southern Reach. He has his own reasons for going into Area X with her — like how to stop this hungry zone from expanding any further — but somehow he knows he can’t find the answers without her.

Answers he feels duty-bound to uncover, if only to make his otherwise-abortive time at the Southern Reach actually mean something.

To find that truth they’ll have to keep their eyes and ears open. Things change, here in Area X — shifting and mutating as unknown forces work their way upon them. And the longer they stay, the more likely it is that they will begin to change as well.

But that’s not the only danger. They are not alone, here. The changed are with them, always.

And they may not know what they’ve discovered until it’s too late..

Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation, was a near-perfect piece of modern weird fiction — a brilliant meld of cosmic horror and personal discovery that created more questions than it could ever answer. Sadly, its follow-up, Authority, was nowhere near as good — a mostly-dreary slog that lacked enough genuine shocks to make the venture worth reading, and provided only a handful of answers while raising new questions that, frankly, distracted the reader from what happened in the first novel.

Thankfully,  in Acceptance, VanderMeer recoups some of the momentum and horror that was lost in Authority. It’s still not as good as Annihilation, but, given what a work of genius that book was — worthy of standing alone, without its companion volumes — it remains a hard act to follow, much less beat.

For example, we finally get the right people back to Area X. Once there, they are able to deal with what’s been going on, and with what they’ve left behind or undone, or have blissfully forgotten. The right questions are answered — though not entirely, which is a good thing in this kind of novel — and the fear returns to take us by total surprise at the right moments, moving us towards a conclusion worthy of the first novel in the trilogy.

So, what’s holding it back from being great? For one thing, the way the novel is set up — the  tale told from different perspectives, each illuminating a different portion of Area X’s history — its focus is a little too skewed to have an epic, forward drive. Sadly, one of those perspectives brings us back into the less-excitingcorporate conspiracy drama of Authority. And, while some of what happened there is scary and intriguing, a lot of it just doesn’t carry the nervous energy from the more immediate sections. Things get bogged down too often, and even when it leads to an “aha!” moment, it feels like we lost a lot of momentum getting there — kind of like driving well out of one’s way to see an interesting tourist stop, rather than barreling down the highway to the true destination.

Having said that, the destination proved worth getting to, in the end, and the trilogy was brought to a satisfying conclusion. But getting to that destination means having to brave the grossly unsatisfying slog of the second novel, because a lot of what happens in Acceptance requires Authority to understand.

As such, I’m going to make two recommendations with this imperfect trilogy:

1: Pretend there is no trilogy. Start and end with Annihilation, and bask in the knowledge that you have read what is destined to become a weird fiction classic.

2: Read the trilogy, knowing that the second novel is going to be a chore, and see if you agree with me that the finale provided in Acceptance was worth the effort.

The choice is yours 🙂

Acceptance comes out September 2nd of 2014. You can buy it at all Schuler Books and Music locations, or get it at our website.

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood

 

 

 

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