Southern Reach by Jeff VanderMeer is as damn close to perfect as a trilogy can get

 The beautiful omnibus edition of   Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy .

The beautiful omnibus edition of Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy.

In my continuing roundup of the year's best stories and novels, it's time to mention the mysterious region dominating this year's fiction: Area X.

This region/wilderness/ecology/creature/entity is the star of Jeff VanderMeer's amazing Southern Reach Trilogy. If that description seems a little vague, I'm both trying to avoid spoilers and also dealing with a creation which is by design ambiguous. The trilogy lives and breathes within the opaque reaches of life, and it's this strange and unknown nature which both gives the story it's power and ensures the reader is both unsettled and fascinating by the world VanderMeer has created.

The trilogy's novels — Annihilation, Authority, & Acceptance — follow a fascinating arc. In the first book, we follow the newest expedition as they explore Area X, which appeared on the Florida panhandle decades before and ever since has devoured most people who enter its boundaries. In the second book, we witness the government's feeble attempts to contain Area X and the struggle of one man to understand what Area X might be. In the final book, the past and present-day worlds of Area X, along with the lives of those who have experienced Area X, implode into a surreal understanding of what the region/wilderness/ecology/creature/entity might actually be.

If you're not familiar with VanderMeer's writing, he's a master of description, psychological depth, and insightful, literary explorations. He's also very comfortable writing within the unknown realms of fiction, where unseen monsters bring a far deeper level of unsettling fear than anything we might truly see. When done correctly, as VanderMeer does, this level of ambiguity allows the reader to more deeply experience the truths of fiction than can be found in the concrete, black and white stories most authors create. 

The Southern Reach trilogy isn't merely one of the best stories of the year — it's one of the best of the last decade.

I'd love for the entire trilogy to be named to all the award shortlists, but that's probably expecting too much. So I will be naming Annihilation to my final ballots for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards and I urge others to do the same.

And if you haven't already read the trilogy, it's not too late. FSG Originals has just released the trilogy as a hardcover omnibus edition. This edition is beautifully designed and crafted, and is a great way to dive into the truths of Area X.