Acceptance – Jeff VanderMeer (Book Review)


Acceptance, book three in the Southern Reach Trilogy, tie together the stand alone novels that were Authority (book one) and Annihilation (book two). Control and the Biologist(or her clone), the Director and her expedition into Area X and the early history of the Area as well as the tale of the Lighthouse and its Keeper are brought to their final conclusion in Acceptance.

Expedition after expedition has been sent into Area X, only to return lost. Their memories of the interior of the wilderness vague and uncertain. But what is known is that the Area is growing and encroaching further into the surrounding lands. But after thirty years, The Southern Reach project is no closer to understanding exactly what has taken place. Desperately, Control decides to crossover into Area X accompanied by the Biologist who escaped from the wilderness on the expedition that entered it before. Only he knows that she is not the biologist that entered Area X. Instead she is a clone of some type, created in Area X to be the Biologist on the outside. Can he trust her? There is also the missing Assistant Director Grace and what role will she play in the secrets of Area X. Her dislike of Control constantly creating a riff between what they can accomplish in Area X. What will Control find as he ventures into the rapidly expanding wilderness? A wilderness; that has the power to create its own replicas of those who enter it and has the ability to mutate whatever it comes in contact with.

The first two novels in this trilogy are very much stand alone stories. The Biologist and her expedition the main characters of the first novel, Authority. Control the main character of the second novel, Annihilation. Both novels are written quite differently though they carry forward the story that is the Southern Reach Trilogy. The first more adventurous as a scientific expedition is sent into Area X to investigate the mutations on the environment and the elusive tunnel and Lighthouse of the island. The second deals with the repercussions of that expedition and the politics within the secret government agency known as the Southern Reach Project and its study of Area X.

Acceptance picks up right where book two left off with the added storyline of the Lighthouse Keeper and the original Director and her history of Area X. How both she and the Lighthouse Keeper were on the island that became Area X before it changed. How they may hold the secrets of what brought about the change itself.

VanderMeer does an excellent job with the pacing as he flows from one narrative to the next. At one portion of the book even balancing the narrative of three different characters at three different times in the evolution of Area X. Not an easy feat yet he does it very well. The theme and storyline also flow well and there is never a time in this story that you stop and say, “Okay I’m lost now”. But yet there is also never a time when you really say, “Okay I get it now” either. And that is the weakness with Acceptance. What exactly created Area X is left somewhat vague and where it goes from here isn’t really addressed either. Was it something supernatural, something alien, something man made that got out of control or has nature herself finally said enough and created an environment as hostile as it is beautiful.

Area X is not just a setting in this trilogy but a central character as well and throughout the story she is mysterious and shifting. In the final book one would expect there to be a clearer resolution but there is not. It is just there and its growing. Like the B movie Blob, a shapeless but intelligent force on the move. But the Why and How are not answered. And after three books and some really good storytelling, I really would like to know the why and how.

But don’t let this dissuade you. The Southern Reach Trilogy is an excellent science fiction novel, a throwback to the days when technology couldn’t solve everything and some things are just beyond our comprehension.

A very good read.


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