I’ve said before that original anthologies are usually a mixed bag, and for the most part that remains the case. Therefore, it’s a special thing when one comes out that manages to be great throughout. Innsmouth Free Press, a Canadian “micro-publisher”, has already produced some quality anthologies. Historical Lovecraft and Future Lovecraft both have a spot on my bookshelf, and were quite satisfying. Fungi, their latest anthology, stands as their best work yet.
The brilliant cover by artist Oliver Wetter blends strangeness and beauty, and gives an idea of what’s to be found within the pages. Fungi itself is such an interesting species, and days could easily be spent reading about different types that are strange enough on their own without having to be fictionalized. Editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey wisely saw the potential of such a theme, and have compiled together a variety of tales. The stories themselves range from horror to fantasy. Some are dark, some are silly, some are chilling and some are just plain fun. The paperback edition contains twenty-two stories and a poem, while the deluxe hardcover edition includes three extra stories and ten black and white illustrations by Bernie Gonzalez.
Some (there are many) stories that I particularly enjoyed:
Hyphae, by John Langan, opens the anthology. It’s a good, solid horror story like I’ve come to expect from this author.
Lavie Tidhar is an author who writes beautiful short fiction. The White Hands reads like an excerpt from a weird encyclopedia detailing a mushroom world. Although not a typical, narrative story, it’s quite captivating.
Camille Alexander is an author that I’m not familiar with, but His Sweet Truffle of a Girl showcases her talent. The story is about a man on a “fungal submarine”, on a mission to win over his heart’s desire. It’s a weird, sad tale.
The next story, Last Bloom on The Sage by Andrew Penn Romine, is a fast-paced weird western. This could be one of the weirdest westerns I’ve read, as it seems to add steampunk, magic, and Lovecraftian creatures into the mix. Romine writes a rip-roaring train heist filled with action and strangeness, yet hinting at a much larger world. This is one of my favorite stories, and I’d love to see more stories set in the world Romine has created.
Another favorite is The Pilgrims of Parthen by Kristopher Reisz. It’s a beautiful, chilling tale of a special type of mushroom that causes shared hallucinations. Reisz manages to write a tale that could also work as a metaphor for real life drug addiction, and shows just how obsessed and dependent people can become. Parallels can be seen to Lovecraft’s A Shadow Out of Time and tales by Clark Ashton Smith. All in all, one of the best stories in the anthology.
W.H. Pugmire’s Midnight Mushrumps (my second favorite story title) is typical of Pugmire’s work. The prose is dreamy and decadent and the story is quite haunting. Any fan of weird fiction or eerily beautiful prose should mark Pugmire as a must-read.
No weird, fungal anthology would be complete without a story by Jeff Vandermeer. The author/editor is, without a doubt, the King of Fungi. Corpse Mouth and Spore Nose revisits his fictional city of Ambergris (which is explored in his previous brilliant works: The City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword, and Finch). This short story involves a detective coming to the city of Ambergris on a job, but finding more than he bargained for. The story is weird at its best with some disturbing visuals and elements of body horror.
Goatsbride, by Richard Gavin, is another beautifully written story. Although I found the fungus element to play quite a small role, I loved this story. It explores primal lust in a village reminiscent of a religious, conservative settler town. Gavin is highly talented, and balances fluid prose and brilliant imagery to weave a tale that is not easily forgotten.
Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington show what’s possible when two impishly warped minds come together. Tubby McMungus, Fat From Fungus (favorite story title – obviously) is easily the weirdest, funniest, most memorable tale (tail?) in the anthology. Anthropomorphic animals, scheming nobles, fungus, and merkins come together in a story that will not soon be forgotten. Fungal fun for the furry in all of us.
Where Dead Men Go To Dream by A.C. Wise is a dark tale of anguish and loss. There is some beautiful imagery to be found in a tale of mushrooms and dreams.
Daniel Mills recently caught my attention with a brilliant story in A Season in Carcosa. With Dust From a Dark Flower, Mills uses fungus in a more traditional weird horror style. Mills is quickly becoming a new favorite of mine.
Nick Namatas brings us a tale of an urban housing project’s garden, and the hope it brings to the neighborhood before taking a darker turn in The Shaft Through the Middle of It All. Namatas paints a very convincing urban picture in a stand out tale.
Go Home Again showcases Simon Strantzas many talents. The melancholy story is full of beautiful, dark imagery, coming together for a hopeful ending.
And ending the anthology (for the paperback readers) is a powerful tale by Laird Barron. Gamma is a disturbing, spine-chilling tale. It works as an example of how literary, powerful, and brutal Barron’s stories can be, adding another example of how he is the Cormac McCarthy of the weird. A perfect closing story.
There are several other fun stories as well, Julio Toro San Martin spins a steampunk yarn, Lisa M. Bradley writes an intriguing environmental tale where not everything is as it seems, Polenth Blake pens a hilarious little ditty, Ian Rogers brings back his recurring paranormal investigator Felix Renn in a supernatural noir, and Chadwick Ginther brings fungus into the realm of Sword and Sorcery.
Also of note are the three additional stories available in the hardcover edition. Catherine Tobler writes a poetic, gloomy tale of a ruined earth, while J.T. Glover and Claude Lalumière bring light-hearted, funny tales to the table. The three stories together are totally worth the extra money.
Fungi is definitely an anthology any fan of the weird should get ahold of. There is just so much offered in terms of content that it is entertaining throughout. Also, the hardcover is worth dishing out the extra dollars for. Not only would I dub this anthology “highly recommended”, I would even go so far as to say it’s my pick for best original anthology of the year.
The book can be bought straight from the publisher HERE.