Authority is a 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It is the second in a series of three books called the Southern Reach Trilogy. The book is said to focus on the Southern Reach agency. In an interview, VanderMeer states that, "if Annihilation is an expedition into Area X, then Authority is an expedition into the Southern Reach, the agency sending in the expeditions." It was released in May 2014.
Authority revolves around the operatives of the Southern Reach agency. The agency is responsible for the investigation into the unexplained phenomena of Area X. The second book takes place in the human inhabited areas unlike the first book Annihilation which was completely set within Area X.
John Rodriguez aka Control takes over as the new director of the Southern Reach agency. He is a secret operative assigned by the mysterious Central group which oversees the Southern Reach agency. He comes from a family of operatives, his mother and grandfather are prominent and influential members. Control reports to a handler called "the Voice" at the Central over phone calls and emails.
In his role as director, Control frequently encounters friction with the existing staff to various degrees: in particular, the deputy director Grace is against him and tries to outdo him at every opportunity. In spite of this resistance, Control methodically sifts through the accumulated data (interviews, photos, videos) and works out several key facts. Control learns that the previous director (whom he replaced) was the psychologist of the twelfth expedition. He also finds that there were many more missions than what has been made public. The 11th expedition alone had multiple iterations with slightly different control factors similar to a lab experiment. The 12th expedition had an all-female crew to see how this composition would interact with Area X. The biologist, who is protagonist of the first book, and the psychologist were both part of the twelfth expedition.
Control interrogates the biologist who is undergoing debriefing after she mysteriously re-appeared in a vacant lot. Slowly, he begins to empathize with her and understands her interest for the biological ecosystem. However he does not gain any information about Area X or what happened there so he decides to use unconventional tactics to get the biologist to talk.
Control suspects that he is under hypnosis and (correctly) guesses that his handler "The Voice" is hypnotizing him to steer his investigation into specific lines. He breaks out of this hypnosis cycle which allows him to work more independently and make quicker progress on the investigation. However, it alienates him from the bosses at Central and he relies upon his mother to protect him from any retaliation. Central forcibly moves the biologist into their own detention facility and away from Control as they believe Control has developed an emotional attachment with the biologist.
Meanwhile, Control finds out that the previous director/psychologist was the little girl in the photo found at the light house within Area X. This completely modifies Control's outlook about Area X as it is now clear that the psychologist is somehow deeply interlinked with the anomaly.
A replica of the psychologist re-emerges from Area X, and this breach makes the border to advance into inhabited areas. Control abandons the Southern Reach office as Area X envelopes the premises.
Elsewhere, the biologist escapes detention and Central is unable to trace her. Based on his knowledge of the biologist's background files and his intuition, Control correctly guesses where she would go. He follows her via a circuitous route without the knowledge of Central and finally meets up with her. The biologist finds another portal to enter into Area X. She jumps into a pool of water and Control makes a decision to follow her and jumps into the pool as well.
The second book concludes similarly to the first, as the protagonists jumps into a pool of water which serves as a portal in both books.
Authority made the best sellers list for trade fiction paperback for the May 25, 2014 edition of The New York Times. Entertainment Weekly gave Authority a B+, saying that the story in Authority "elevates the series beyond bio-thriller to something truly compelling." The New York Times also gave Authority favorable review:
As in the first book, VanderMeer also performs a careful character study of one of the few people strange enough to contend (debatably) with Area X. This elevates the whole exercise into something more than just a horror novel; there’s something Poe-like in this tightening, increasingly paranoid focus. But where Poe kept his most vicious blows relatively oblique, VanderMeer drives them deep — albeit in a corkscrewing way that is no less cruel and exquisite. There’s a slower buildup of tension in this book than the first, possibly because it’s almost twice as long. The payoff is absolutely worth the patience.