The Southern Reach Series: Out from FSG in 2014, Optioned for Film

Jeff VanderMeer • March 30th, 2013 @ 12:28 pm • News

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(A photo I took while hiking out at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, here in North Florida.)

As part of my attempts to be more consistent about blogging, I thought I’d share some relevant info and links about my Southern Reach series, which is coming out from FSG in 2014 and was just optioned by Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions. The novels are, in order, entitled Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. The subtext and thematic concerns of each play off of those titles in what I hope are somewhat sneaky ways. All three are also words used as hypnosis cues by one character to maintain control over other characters.

I posted a short synopsis of Annihilation, the first book, awhile back on this blog—as well as a short, rough-draft excerpt of the opening back when I finished it. A little later, I posted a bit from a section on the main character.

The mysterious Area X, a seemingly pristine wilderness protected by an invisible border, in which odd things are occurring, is heavily based on the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. I’ve hiked there for over 15 years now, and the 14-mile trail I do is basically (transformed) the setting for Annihilation. Although none of the strange things in the book have occurred to me while hiking, some form of them has. For example, being charged by a wild boar or the peculiar dislocation of encountering dolphins in freshwater canals beside the trail. Other sections of the novel are based on exploring Botanical Bay on Vancouver Island. And there are other real-world affinities that make Annihilation very personal to me. (You can find nonfiction about me hiking in St. Marks in this blog entry.)

Meanwhile, the second book, Authority, is set back across the border, in the world we all know. The main character goes by the nickname of “Control” and has just taken over as the new director of the Southern Reach, the secret government agency that oversees the often ill-fated expeditions into Area X, trying to find out what’s going on. Control is another character, like the biologist, who goes his own way, but has been protected by his pedigree as a third-generation spook. What he finds in the Southern Reach is an agency that, over 30 years, has become more and more eccentric and less logical in its approaches. Not only does he have to negotiate his way through a toxic, Kafkaesque work terrain, but new information from Area X makes his job, and the tasks before him, ever more perilous and important. This situation combines with the odd notes left by the former director and newly uncovered video footage from the first expedition to go into Area X to give the novel the outward texture of a thriller. Learning more about the invisible border and other elements also makes Authority rather tension-filled.

That’s pretty much all I’m willing to share about book two for now, except to say that it starts with a few shocks and just ramps up from there, but all of it firmly grounded in Control and his viewpoint on things.

Here are some other links of possible interest.

—Happy to see someone getting the texture/tone of the Southern Reach series right.

—Speculation here about how quickly the movie rights to the books were picked up. In actual fact, they read the first novel and loved it.

—Short piece that talks about the books not being YA. This is true. But the generalizations about YA speak more to the fact it’s a catch-all category than the actual quality of individual YA books.

–Indiewire places the Southern Reach series in the dystopia category. I think that’s legit from the brief descriptions of the novel out there, but I don’t view it as a dystopic vision, really.

I’m also happy to say I’m finished editing Annihilation for FSG, except for some mop-up, and I absolutely love my editor there, Sean MacDonald. Great notes and just the entire time I’ve felt we were on the same page. I think the novel is much better because of his involvement, and I feel very relaxed about the process of completing novels two and three.

A couple of people have asked me if I feel more pressure about completing the second and third novel after the movie deal news. The fact is, I don’t at all. If anything, I feel energized. It’s great enough that it’s Paramount, but Rudin’s production company has produced some of my all-time favorite films and they have a knack for turning novels into great movies, so it just motivates me even more. Nor does the idea of there potentially being movie versions out at all influence my writing process. I’m focused on doing what’s best for the novels, period.

So, in all possible ways, I think this is just a great situation to be in, and the only thing I’m grateful for is that it’s happening to me in my forties not when I was in my twenties or something. That twenty-something Jeff probably wouldn’t have been able to take it in stride, to be honest. Forty-something Jeff has pretty much experienced every possible scenario in publishing and it takes a lot to knock him out of his rhythm.

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