Jeff VanderMeer is the award-winning author of Finch, Wonderbook and many, many others, as well the co-editor of The Weird (and many, many others). He is, in short, one hell of an author with incredible taste. We're delighted to host this (abridged) discussion of Jeff VanderMeer's Authority - an interview by Rick Kleffel, originally recorded for his Agony Column, and for his radio show on KUSP in Santa Monica, California.
A huge thanks to them for allowing us to host this terrific interview - touching on monsters and bureaucracy and monsters and humor and movies and monsters (monsters!). You can download the full audio here.
Jeff VanderMeer’s latest novels, Annihilation and Authority, are part of the Southern Reach trilogy, with the concluding volume, Acceptance, coming out in September. The series features a strange, pristine wilderness called Area X where mysterious things have been happening. The series has received a ton of praise (including a review here by Andrew Liptak).
Annihilation chronicled the twelfth expedition into Area X. In Authority, out now, John Rodriguez - "Control" - is brought in to clean house as the new director of the Southern Reach's secret agency after thirty years of failure to solve Area X.
Jeff VanderMeer: I'm glad you saw that.
RK: I really like the sense of humor. It's very low key but I really loved it. It made me laugh a lot. Also, I think you have a great spin on spy novels. I think that that is really outstanding. It's very nicely done. Talk about spy novels and weaving those kinds of themes in because they work perfectly. I mean secrets, what more do you need?
JVM: Authority is basically an expedition into Southern Reach, just like Annihilation is an expedition to area x, and I have to say that one of my favorite novelists of all time is John le Carré, and I think that his best work is just absolutely brilliant in terms of the way that he brings to bear a certain interiority of character. You're really there with the person, but also paranoia and secrets and what people would disclose and not disclose, which is something you find in an ordinary life too, but the stakes are higher. There's a spy novel for that. In fact, I think somebody, I can't remember, described the second book as being like House of Leaves meets John le Carre or something, in terms of the tone of it and whatnot.
Yeah, so I had a lot of fun with that. I had a lot of fun with the idea of this director coming in and having to make sense of this dysfunctional organization. Of course then, the major thing is deciding what details would he be discovering that are basic, that the reader needs to know, and which ones are less interest to the reader and just can be summarized. Really, it was all about exposition too. It was like, "Is this a scene? Are a bunch of rabbits jumping into the border—is that a scene or just a throwaway line?"