Area X

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I recently finished “Acceptance” the final book in Jeff Vandermeer’s trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) about Area X and the Southern Reach. This trilogy deeply impacted me. It has been classified as horror, fantasy, science fiction, and an environmental manifesto, and I can see all of these things in the books. For example, there is a strong flavor of Lovecraft in the trilogy, especially of my favorite Lovecraft story “The Mountains of Madness”, but without the florid language and overwhelming unease with nature that you can often find in Lovecraft’s writing. As far as environmental/societal commentary, that is obviously in the books as well, and the author states that he garnered some ideas out of the French anarchic Semiotic(e) tract, “The Coming Insurrection”.  Personally, I am less interested in the horror/science fiction/societal aspects of the books than I am in the fact that this trilogy is an amazing exploration of liminal spaces and psychotopography.

Briefly, if you haven’t read these books (and I won’t spoil it), the story centers around a geographical/dimensional anomaly that has suddenly appeared in the southern US. This anomaly is termed “Area X” and access to it is closed off by the government. There is a “Border” that must be crossed to get into Area X and interesting and often terrible things happen to the people who cross it. The government has been sending expeditions into Area X, but everyone dies or becomes…different. Inside Area X the landscape is reverting back to a pre-human state. And it’s spreading.

The Border is an amazing depiction of a liminal zone and in the second book, “Authority”, there is even an evocative theme of white rabbits, an echo of Wonderland. There is also a central character called Ghost Bird who is a biologist and whose husband dies due to an expedition into Area X. She signs up for a subsequent expedition. What happens to her, and her observations throughout the books, are for me, a deeply resonating distillation of the concept of psychogeography/topography.

I don’t want to reveal anything more about the story so I won’t go further—the entire trilogy was put out just this year. But, I did notice that there are plans for a movie, at least of the first book “Annihilation”, so you’d best read it soon if you want to get a jump on the movie. On a final note, the cover illustrations for these books are amazing—they are done by Eric Nyquist.

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