Note: this review first appeared on
The Fungus is a romp of a horror story, mixing black-humour with a classic Promethean horror motif of science run amok. Part of Valancourt Book’s revamp of 1970s and 80s creature horror, The Fungus delivers on the nostalgia and a wickedly grotesque monster, well, mutated fungi really, but they aren’t without animation. The story is packed with action, gross-out moments and good old, fashioned 1980s sex scenes, a la Eric Van Lustbader.
A pesky scientists whose trying to solve world hunger, a female no less (right on, man, er I mean, woman), unwittingly creates an enzyme that when it is released into the atmosphere causes all the fungi it touches to mutate. As fungi are quite literally everywhere, an athlete’s foot or itchy yeast infection become a death sentence (tut, roll eyes – meddling women! Whatever next, a woman Prime Minister? Oh, wait Margaret Thatcher is PM then and Theresa May – at least at the time of writing – is now – poignant contemporary parallel anyone?). The fungus spreads quickly (like a Bros song), knocking out London first and then quickly moving across the rest of the country, leaving the UK isolated in a mire of it’s own making (poignant contemporary parallel anyone?).
These opening chapters were some of the best, quickly establishing the tone and mixing a nice bit of well researched mycology with some beautifully written horror vignettes that are neatly tied together. The mainland of the UK is quickly cut off from the rest of the world and the French (typical!) are threatening to nuke the entire country, probably taking out Ireland too as collateral (poignant contemporary parallel anyone?). If only the pesky woman scientist (tut and eye roll everyone) had a husband who was also a mycologist, but who is estranged because he couldn’t handle his wife being the star, so he’s buggered off to Ireland to write some trashy crime thrillers. Well, as luck would have it…
Actually, this worked very well. The main protagonist is a dis-likable character who loves his children and is therefore reluctantly drawn into a last chance caper to save the day with a mysterious and beautiful (phew!) South African female scientist-doctor, and a grumpy, overly violent Sargent with erectile dysfunction (it plays a part in the action later, fear not). The last bastion of the UK is trapped in Northern Ireland, and with paramilitaries ramping up their effort the fate of the Union is in the hands of a rag tag group in Ulster (poignant contemporary parallel anyone?).
There is much to enjoy in The Fungus. It is fast paced and tightly written – i.e. everything joins up in the end. The science based Promethean monster was fun and menacing. The constant tinge of black humour works well with over-the-top mushroom apocalypse scenario. There were only a couple of things that might irk a reader. The first of which are a few of pretty graphic sex scenes. More than anything I think this placed the novel in the time it was written. There is nothing that dates an 1980s novel more than the gender relationships and particularly the sex scenes. James Herbert’s novels, which I still love, have to be read with this in mind. It wouldn’t be a Herbert novel without the obligatory passionate sex scene at the end of the third act between the strong male lead, who has taken a bit of a beating, and the female he is protecting, who while not weak is no active heroin. However, I wouldn’t say that The Fungus suffers quite as badly. There are a strong female characters for one, and a women’s lib riff in the plot too. The lead male starts off as a weak, reluctant figure who ultimately finds his motivation. One last potential criticism would be the ending. It is good, but could have gone bigger. However, others might disagree. This is more a comment on how much I enjoyed reading it and how big the idea of the story is.
In sum, The Fungus is more fun than Pac-Man with the A-Team. I looked forward to picking it up and pretty much devoured it. It is fun and grosser than the Garbage Pail Kids with engaging characters and a warm, cuddly, nostalgic feeling for a bygone era (poignant contemporary parallel anyone?).