There’s been a bit of chat around about FUNGOID in the past few days. Here’s some thoughts from me on how it came about.
When the end came, it wasn’t zombies, asteroids, global warming or nuclear winter. It was something that escaped from a lab. Something small, and very hungry.
In this one you’ll find a chunk of Newfoundland, a fireman, some nasty rain, a bit of real science, a lot of unreal science, some Canadians, many cigarettes, some trucks, boats and planes, and plenty of spores, mushrooms and rot.
It’s for fans of John Wyndham, William Hope Hodgson and H P Lovecraft, and is a wee homage to a lot of the things I’ve loved since childhood. As such, its origins come from several different life strands.
There’s something a lot of people don’t know about me: I used to be a botanist. And no, it doesn’t mean I know about gardening. For my honors thesis I studied how much archaeological information could be gleaned from analyzing pollen grains in the strata of peat bogs in Central Scotland, I spent a year after graduating in cataloging the plant fossil collection in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, and after that I had an abortive attempt at doing a PhD in the causes of rot in apples as they ripen.
Along the way I also learned quite a lot about fungi. The pollen analysis stuff hasn’t made it into a story of mine yet, but the fungi have; there’s something insidious about the creeping of mycelium, something obscene in the flesh of the caps, something scary in the fact that they spend so much time in the dark, just sitting there… growing.
I started to get a germ (or should that be spore ) of an idea a few years back of a fungal takeover of the planet, and I tried it out in a piece of flash fiction that I sold to NATURE FUTURES. It was just one image I had in mind, of a dark sky and vast, endless fields of high fruiting bodies. The image wouldn’t leave me, and it came back in another story, THE KEW GROWTHS, in my Challenger collection where the Prof has to tackle a giant fungal menace threatening London. That story was fun, but the image I had in my head was still for something a lot darker – something insidious, obscene and scary.
Then in early 2016, another, accompanying, image came, this time of a man in a HAZMAT suit, with nothing inside that was remotely human, just creeping filaments and bursting spores. As soon as I had him in my head the story all came together.
So that’s one thing. Another is the fact that I love end of the world stories.
There’s something cathartic about seeing everything being torn down. It also makes for amusing daydreams when the boss is being a tool or when the commute seems to take forever. And who doesn’t think they couldn’t do better at building a society if given a chance?
So there’s that, and there’s also the sheer spectacle of the thing… the same reason people like to slow down to look at car crashes. There’s a “there but the for grace of God” vibe you get when watching or reading the world being torn down. Emmerlich and Devlin hooked into that early and have made a pot of money out of those very same vibes.
I started my fandom of the genre young and at first it was from a Science Fiction perspective. The British ones from the ’50s and 60’s got my attention, in particular John Wyndham’s DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and THE CHRYSALIDS. Them, and A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ were my earliest introductions to the form. After that came tales of cosmic disaster, mainly Lieber’s THE WANDERER and Niven and Pournelle’s LUCIFER’S HAMMER. My interest was further piqued by Terry Nation’s TV show THE SURVIVORS, and Stephen King’s THE STAND, the first to being real horror to the genre IMHO. But my favorite in the genre is by Robert Macammon. His SWAN SONG is a roller coaster blockbuster which eschew’s King’s religious trappings for non-stop action and gritty realism mixed with a slug of the supernatural. My kind of tale.
There is much that is good about civilisation that I’d certainly miss if it went, such as books and entertainment, central heating and modern medicine. But on the whole, civilisation as mankind defines it is hell-bent on destroying the ecosystem and we’re too stupid to stop shitting where we eat. I don’t think it’s a matter of why or why not. We’re now at a stage where it’s only a matter of when. I just hope it’s a few more years yet.
As for FUNGOID – it’s pretty obvious there’s a big Day of the Triffids influence, and that’s deliberate, as Wyndham was one of my favorite writers when I first started reading in the genre back in the late 60s/early 70s. There’s also several William Hope Hodgson touches, again, mostly deliberate. If there’s any unintentional ones there, I haven’t spotted them.
The third strand that weaves its way through FUNGOID is a sense of place.
Having written a lot of stories set back home in Scotland or in London, and now a bunch in Canada, there’s no real difference between them at all for me. A story is a story is a story. This one, however, is set firmly in my new home.
We came over for a holiday in 2005, and fell in love with the place. I was considering writing full time, and when the opportunity came up to sell our house in Scotland, we took the plunge and came on over and got a great house on the shore with a sea view for a tenth of what it would have cost back in the UK. I’ve got a great view from the writing desk, I can write full time, and watch the eagles fly over the bay and icebergs go past in Spring. It’s a quiet fishing village, and it suits me just fine. It’s still pretty rural and unspoiled, a lot of the old traditions, mainly Irish ones, are still followed, and a lot of the old songs are still sung in the bars. It feels more like a Scots/Irish community than anything else. It feels a lot like home to me.
The story begins with spore-filled rain over Newfoundland. I’ve trashed my new homeland in this book. Sorry.
All of the above were in my head when I sat down to start. And thats the fourth strand that makes this book what it is – the writing of it itself.
Below are two quotes from reviews of FUNGOID, and both of them pleased me greatly. I love it when I connect with a reader who gets what I’m up to.
“William Meikle is a talented writer, the story is perfectly paced so that the story isn’t bogged down by character, drama or the science – instead it’s a perfect blend of all three. He doesn’t mince words or add any excessive detail, each word he writes is essential to the story.”
“The story is extremely fast paced, leaving little room for breathing as you flip through the pages.”
I work hard at getting the pace and flow of my work right. Actually, I work hard at all of it, but the pace and flow is what I concentrate on. FUNGOID came through fast and hard, and I let it come at its own speed. It rolled along so smoothly it was as if a film was being unwound in my head.
And that’s how I think of it, now that its done – a glorious, ’50s influenced, B-movie with a creeping menace, an end of the world scenario, and plucky survivors – and scientists – trying to save the day.
I love it, and I hope you do too.
Get it HERE