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Literature / The Fungus

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You might wanna see a doctor about that...
"It grows on you."
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The Fungus is a 1985 Science Fiction novel written by John Brosnan (Carnosaur, Slimer) and Leroy Kettle (who co-wrote Slimer with Brosnan) under the pseudonym "Harry Adam Knight."

London mycologist Jane Wilson's efforts to cultivate a new species of agaricus bisporus fungus, using an experimental enzyme, CT-UT-8471, have success in the laboratory. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts at containment, she accidentally carries several thousand microscopic cells of a. bisporus infused with CT-UT-8471. The enzyme spreads throughout England, causing all manner of local fungi to begin growing like crazy, soon overtaking the whole country, including infesting the bodies of human beings.

With the threat of an epidemic on the rise, the government goes to Dr. Wilson's estranged husband, Irish author Barry Wilson. Along with fetching South African tropical medicine specialist Dr. Kimberley Fairchild and British Army Sergeant Terence Slocock, Barry is to lead a mission into the fungus-infested heart of London in order to either locate his wife or her notes at the Institute of Tropical Biology to find a meands of combating CT-UT-8471 before the entire world winds up like England.

But as the group travels deeper and deeper into the heart of fungus-infested London, riding in a specially designed armored personnel transport, tensions begin to mount, placing the mission in jeopardy.

Long out of print, it was finally reprinted in 2017 with a new introduction by co-author Leroy Kettle.

Tropes used in this novel:

  • Absurdly Long Stairway: The spiral staircase leading to the top floor of the post office, where Jane's makeshift laboratory is. Barry and Kimberley have to fight their way through several Amazon Brigade Mooks on the way up.
  • The Alcoholic: Terence Slocock. He was a heavy drinker before the crisis began and has only gotten worse.
  • Amazon Brigade: All of Jane's fungus Mooks are women, including her daughter Jessica and one of her lab assistants, Hilary. This is due to her belief that the fungal plague is Gaia's Vengeance for the evils of the male sex.
  • Apocalypse How: Regional (England, Scotland and Wales) bordering on Continental (if it spreads to mainland Europe), and potentially Planetary if the heroes can't find Jane's notes in order to develop a cure.
  • Asshole Victim: A few of the characters who get taken by the Festering Fungus aren't presented in a particularly good light.
    • Norman Layne is a short-tempered, surly Jerkass who blames everyone else for his own shortcomings and has some extremely racist opinions about black people
    • Shirley is emotionally abusive towards her girlfriend Barbara
    • Derrick Lang, while well-meaning, is still an insensitive Fat Bastard who thinks saying racist things doesn't make him racist.
    • Slocock might also qualify. Yes, he does save Kimberley, and his accidental demise is unfair, but he was still kind of a sleazy, drunken douchebag who only helped her out because he thought she'd have sex with him. Kimberley doesn't even bother tell Barry who it was he torched.
  • Awesome Personnel Carrier: The armored car the protagonists use, a heavily modified Alvis PV2 "Stalwart."
  • Big Damn Heroes: Slocock saves Kimberley from some of the fungus-ridden Londoners who want to rape her. Unfortunately, since he is himself pretty badly afflicted by the stuff himself, the understandably panicked woman runs from him, and when he runs after her, Barry, who doesn't recognize Slocock in his mutated state, torches him with a flamethrower.
  • Blob Monster: The enzyme causes some aspergillus fumigatus, which ordinarily just gives chickens lung diseases to turn into one of these, taking over an entire plane and engulfing and absorbing everyone in a manner similar to the title creature in The Clone.
  • Body Horror: And lots of it! The fungi infused with the experimental enzyme basically infest people's bodies. The lucky ones die. Others undergo a kind of Symbiotic Possession, becoming basically mushroom zombies.
    • One poor character in particular, Derrick Lang, thinks he's wearing a pair of fuzzy socks until he reaches down to take them off and realizes it's athlete's foot run amok when his fingers sink into his fungus-infested flesh. When he tries to get out of bed to go phone for help, putting weight on his feet causes them to just squish, snapping one off and causing him to fall to the floor.
    • The body horror was one of the novel's main selling points; the cover of the original Star paperback (pictured) with the "fungus mustache" is quite memorably icky.
    • Bartender Eric Gifford suffers a particularly nasty demise. He gets infected with CT-UT-8471 after having participated in a drinking contest. The enzyme causes the yeast in all the beer in his stomach to basically grow wildly out of control and eat him from the inside-out, causing him to "ferment," swelling up and exploding.
  • Bury Your Gays: Among the first victims of the fungus are Barbara and Shirley, a lesbian couple who die in bed together.
  • Captain Obvious: BBC reporter John Lurton. While reporting from a news helicopter, he sees another chopper crashing nearby. He then basically narrates what's happening: "Yes, it's a helicopter! It appears to have been attacked by that jet fighter!" This is even Lampshaded by Slocock, who is watching the broadcast, who considers Lurton's description of the crash "redundant."
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Eric Gifford the bartender. He likes hitting on his female employees and "accidentally on purpose" brushing up against them, but it's common knowledge he's a sweet guy.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: With a dash of Insane Troll Logic. Derrick Lang has some very... unusual beliefs.
    • He calls all Indians he encounters "Panjit," whether that's their name or not, because he believes this somehow proves he isn't racist.
    • He eats lots of vegetables as part of an attempt at dieting, but insists he doesn't need to exercise because the "vitamins" in the veggies block the fat intake from all the meat he also eats.
    • And lastly, he is convinced that only athletes get athlete's foot, and that because he has athlete's foot this must mean there is a superstar athlete inside him just waiting to get out.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Lang is accompanied by his best friend Philip Bell, who finds himself perpetually baffled by Lang's way of thinking and does what he can to make sure he doesn't do anything too stupid.
  • Collapsing Lair: The post office, where Jane had her Mad Scientist Laboratory.
  • Cool Boat: The HMS Speedy, the Royal Navy's first hydrofoil.
  • Cool Plane: The Tupolev Tu-144, a Soviet supersonic airliner, makes an appearance.
  • Crippling Castration: One of the fungus-infected Londoners who tries to rape Kimberley has his penis break off inside of her because the afflicted people are very fragile and thus Made of Plasticine. Not only does it leave him howling in agony and (at least initially) unable to hurt her any further, but the broken off dick remains stuck inside of poor Kimberley, forcing her to pull it out later.
  • Deadline News: A BBC news report about the situation in London ends when reporter Tom Southern realizes his hand has become infected with fungus, leading to the station abruptly ending the broadcast and substituting a "technical difficulties" screen.
  • Did Not Think This Through: The International Socialist League, their leader "Comrade" Henderson in particular. Their response to the crisis was to seek shelter underground in some caves, but they only stocked up on enough supplies to last them a few days. It isn't long before they're out of food and running low on water and left bickering over who ought to venture out into the fungus-infested world for more supplies.
  • Disposable Pilot: Inverted. Russian pilot Ilya Nechvolodov survives the longest out of everyone aboard the TU144 and is the last person to get taken by the rampaging aspergillus fumigatus fungus.
  • Does Not Like Men: Jane and her Amazon Brigade, although not out of genuine sexism but because of their insanity, which has led them to believe the fungus taking over the country is Gaia's Vengeance. Although this hatred never goes into Gendercide territory, it is nevertheless so extreme that Jane uses her own son Simon as a test subject to force him to "atone for his maleness.
  • Driven to Suicide: Kimberley throws herself off the roof after realizing she is infected with fungus because she doesn't want to end up like the other mutated denizens of London.
  • Dwindling Party: The expedition quickly starts getting whittled down towards the end.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: A guy trying to ram the blockade in London crashes his car into a house after being shot. The vehicle explodes spectacularly for no readily apparent reason.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Jane's lair at the post office.
  • Extreme Omnivore: One particular type of fungus devours everything that isn't made of metal inside the team's armored car.
  • Fat and Skinny: Lang and Bell.
  • Fat Bastard: Lang isn't a particularly pleasant person, although in his defense it's mostly unintentional; he's less of an actual jerk and more of an obliviously insensitive Cloudcuckoolander.
  • Festering Fungus: The fungi which grows inside of people's bodies is quite gruesome.
  • The Food Poisoning Incident: Lang initially attributes his condition to the food he ate at the Indian restaurant.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Barry never learns that the infected person he torched who'd been "chasing" Kimberly was actually Sergeant Slocock and that he'd just gotten done saving Kimberly from two rapists. He just never asks where Slocock went and forgets about him. For her part, Kimberley never tells him, both because she dislikes Slocock and because "it doesn't matter."
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Due to the fungus eating people's clothes, the climax has Barry and Kimberley confronting Jane (herself in nothing but a lab coat) completely buck-assed naked, after having fought their way through Jane's equally naked Amazon Brigade fungus zombie Mooks.
  • Fungus Humongous: Not only does Jane's enzyme cause fungus to grow wildly out of control, it also causes it to grow larger than normal. Barry's expedition encounters gigantic mushrooms as big as buildings in the infested London.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Having gone completely bonkers and turned into one of the fungus people, Jane believes that CT-UT-8471 is giving nature the means to fight back against humanity.
  • Genre Savvy: Sheena Blakey. After they hear Horace Snell scream and Geoffrey Henderson insists that they go investigate, Sheena refuses to come along unless Geoffrey walks in front of her. This ends up saving her life when the same ravenous arthrobotrys oligospora that killed Horace grabs Geoffrey with its Combat Tentacles.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: CT-UT-8471. Or Gone Horribly Right, depending on one's perspective of exactly what Jane and her colleagues were trying to achieve.
  • Hellish Copter: Some people trying to escape the London quarantine in a helicopter get shot down by an RAF Phantom. The falling chopper comes apart in midair, dumping the people inside out to fall to their deaths.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dr. Bruce Carter remained behind in London to try and help the sick and the dying, and ended up becoming infested himself. He later proves to be an invaluable ally to Barry once he finally reaches the city, despite having become one of the fungus monsters.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Slocock and Feely. After Slocock's messy divorge from his wife, Marge, he spends all his time with his subordinate Corporal Feely who is the only one who seems to like him and find his cynical, acid sense of humor at all appealing. While at the base, they're practically Those Two Guys, leading to Baxter thinking they might be gay.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Slocock, constantly.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Slocock repeatedly hits on Kimberley, and justifies it by insisting he's a man and she's a woman and that's all there is to it.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Some mutated arthrobotrys oligospora does this to "Comrade" Geoffrey Henderson and Horace Snell in order to feed on their insides. Later on, Kimberley kills the mutated Hilary Burne-Smith by jamming a metal spike through her.
  • Intrepid Reporter: What Barry aspires to be, although he isn't terribly good at it.
  • It's All About Me: With a heapin' helpin' of Dirty Coward. "Comrade" Geoffrey Henderson of the International Socialist League. He declares himself too valuable to risk, insisting that his (apparently) only surviving companions, Sheena Blakey and Horace Snell, risk their lives in his stead.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The novel was published in 1985 and is set 20 Minutes into the Future, but one chapter takes place on a Tupolev Tu-144, a plane that was already withdrawn from service by then.
  • Kavorka Man: Slocock is apparently quite popular with the ladies (or at least he likes to think he is) despite not being terribly handsome.
  • Kill It with Fire: The fate of anyone found to be infected with fungus contaminated with CT-UT-8471 outside of the quarantine zone. It's never actually depicted, but Slocock mentions an incident that took place before he and Kimberly met. He himself ends up suffering this fate, after he becomes so far gone physically that Barry doesn't recognize him and charbroils him after they encounter one another after some time apart. This despite the fact Slocock had just gotten done saving Kimberley.
  • Mad Scientist: Jane becomes one.
  • Made of Plasticine: The afflicted people are very fragile as a result of the parasitic fungus burrowing through them, weakening their bodies. One guy who rapes Kimberley has his penis break off inside of her, much to his agony, while Barry decapitates Jane simply by punching her.
  • Male Gaze: Frequently, with Slocock being the primary offender.
  • Market-Based Title: Published as "Death Spore" in the US.
  • Mercy Kill: Captain O'Connell is said to have shot his infected wife, and Barry kills his infested son at the end.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Baxter calls Slocock a homophobic slur to insult him when he's hitting on Kimberley in the pub. This appears to be because Slocock's wife Marge left him and since then he spends all his time with his best friend Corporal Feely.
  • Nervous Wreck: Captain O'Connell, due to having killed his infected wife.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted. The prime minister is explicitly identified as Margaret Thatcher.
  • The Nudifier: The fungus eats away at Barry, Kimberley and Slocock's clothes, leaving all three naked for the remainder of the novel.
  • Off with His Head!: Barry cuts his crazed Mad Scientist wife's head off.
  • Offing the Offspring: Barry has to kill both of his children. Jessica became a fungus zombie and served as one of her mother's Mooks, forcing her father to torch her with a flamethrower, although he only learns Jessica was one of them after the fact and isn't sure which one she was. Not long after this, he also has to Mercy Kill his son Simon who Jane had been using as a test subject.
  • The Only Way To Be Sure: The military discusses bombing London, but decide not to provided that Barry can find Jane's notes on the enzyme in order for them to develop a cure. On the European mainland, the French are also strong proponents of dropping a neutron bomb on all of England, maybe even all of the British Isles, not just London. After he fails at the end, it is strongly implied that they'll go through with the bombing when they don't hear back from him.
  • The Plague: CT-UT-8471 causes an infestation of killer fungus (both of the "festering" and "humongous" variety) to spread throughout the British Isles.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Slocock refers to other soldiers in the pub as "faggots."
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: After being called a homophobic slur by Slocock, Baxter calls him one right back when hitting on Kimberley. This may count as Mistaken for Gay, though.
  • Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice: The British government's quarantine of London is quite brutal. They shoot people who try to rush the barricades at the city limits, using both lethal and non-lethal means, and RAF Phantoms even shoot down aircraft trying to leave the city. Later in the novel, as the plague gets worse, the French get in on the act, sinking any ships that get within three miles of the French coast and also shooting down any planes that get even anywhere near France, and are major proponents of dropping a neutron bomb on England.
  • Rape as Drama: Kimberley gets raped by two of the infected people in a pretty horrific scene.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After spending the entire novel being a Jerkass, an infected Slocock saves Kimberley from two rapists. Admittedly, his motives aren't exactly pure (he's drunk and doesn't know he's infected and thinks that if he saves her, she'll sleep with him), but nevertheless it's probably the only nice thing he does in the entire novel. And then Barry torches him because he doesn't recognize him in his mutated state. Ouch.
  • Religion of Evil: After going insane and becoming a full-fledged Mad Scientist, Jane starts a Cult of women that believe The Plague is Gaia's Vengeance and that all men are evil and that the "Earth Mother" (i.e., the fungus) must destroy civilization and reclaim the planet from the wickedness of men. She even uses her own son Simon as a test subject in her experiments just because he's a boy.
  • Sex Signals Death: First, Barbara and her girlfriend Shirley have sex and then get killed by the fungus after they fall asleep. Later, although they don't die but merely get turned into fungus zombies, Dermot and Sally Biggs have a good romp in their sleeping bag while camping before getting taken over by some of the afflicted fungus Dermot tracked in on his shoe. Kimberley also later commits suicide after she and Barry have had sex because she discovered she was infected.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Nina Tsvigun, the stewardess aboard the Russian TU144.
  • Screw the Rules, It's the Apocalypse!: All Slocock wants to do is shirk his duty and get drunk, reasoning that they're all doomed anyway and he might as well party. Major Peterson manages to talk him out of it, at least for a while. During the actual mission, though, Slocock's cynical and fatalistic attitude result in him not being much help to Barry and Kimberley.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The ending could be considered this. The expedition fails to retrieve the cure, and Barry is stuck in fungus-infested London. Meanwhile, it's implied that the British government has given up on trying to cure the fungus and is preparing to bomb the city. To say nothing of the French having also campaigned to bomb the ever-loving crap out of the British Isles altogether.
    • Then there's Slocock. He saves Kimberley from being killed by the guys trying to rape her, only for her to run away screaming from the sight of him, because he has by this point turned into a fungus creature. Without realizing that it is physical appearance that has frightened her, Slocock rushes after her, whereupon he encounters Barry, who is wielding a flamethrower. Without recognizing Slocock, Barry torches him.
    • Kimberley herself. She came on the mission hoping to steal Jane's notes as part of a complicated scheme to cripple South Africa's economy using mutated lichen in order to force the Apartheid government to release her parents from prison, and not only is she raped by two of the infected Londoners but after becoming infected herself, she commits suicide by throwing herself off of a building. And she had just started falling in love with Barry, too.
  • Sole Survivor: Barry. Every other named character who goes on the expedition dies. And things look bad even for him at the end.
  • Staking the Loved One: O'Connell's wife became infected and he shot her.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Sergeant Slocock, for a given definition of "evil." He's mostly just a Jerkass.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: An angry mob of infected people attack the team once they arrive in London.
  • Too Happy to Live: The Biggs family. They go camping and are having a fun time; Dermot rekindles his romance with wife Sally for the first time in years, their kids are well-behaved for once, and they've also befriended a kindly old farmer who lives near where they've pitched their tents. Then in the night they all get taken over by the fungus. A subversion insofar as they don't die, but get turned into zombie fungus creatures, but nevertheless Brosnan and Kettle's insistence on showing how happy Dermot and his family are definitely fits the trope.
  • Typhoid Mary: The plague begins because Jane leaves the lab without realizing she's got some fungal spores contaminated with CT-UT-8471. She goes to a movie theater, an Indian restaurant and finally a pub, spreading the stuff to everything and everyone she touches. And from there, whoever encounters the afflicted people spreads the enzyme further. None of this was on purpose, but once the overgrown fungi have taken over all of England (and Scotland and Wales), Jane goes full Mad Scientist and declares that it is Gaia's Vengeance, so she goes from unintentionally causing catastrophe to being glad that she did. It's eventually revealed that she isn't as immune to the fungus as she thought, and after Barry punches her head off, it turns out her insides are riddled with the stuff.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The staff at the Indian restaurant are more mildly surprised than genuinely shocked to discover giant mushrooms growing out of their dumpster during the early stages of the outbreak, and their primary concern is getting rid of them before the health department finds out.
    • Later in the novel, a few members of the International Socialist League seek shelter from the plague in some caves. When two of them, Geoffrey Henderson and Horace Snell, are killed by some arthrobotrys oligospora that got in through tree roots protruding through the ceiling, the third member, Sheena Blakey, seems relatively unconcerned at what she sees, muttering only that with her male companions dead it'll be peaceful and quiet at long last.
  • Uriah Gambit: Although never actually confirmed, it is suggested that Peterson sends Slocock on the mission explicitly so he'll get killed because Slocock is the most unpopular man under his command.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Jane believes that when the fungus takes over the world, it'll usher in a new age without any suffering.
  • Was Once a Man: The people who become infested and survive, transforming into what can only be described as fungus zombies. Bruce Carter in particular survives the longest, and before succumbing completely he basically exists as nothing more than a fungus monster with a human scientist's mind. This is also the fate of Jane and her and Barry's son.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: After Tom Southern realizes he's become infected, the BBC cuts the feed and shows one of these screens.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The main characters do not get along, although Slocock is the main instigator of much of the arguing and tension.
  • Western Terrorists: The IRA. In addition to Barry briefly mistaking Smythe-Robertson and his men of being the IRA, come to kill him in revenge for their negative depiction in his books, the group is said to be taking advantage of The Plague by making attacks against the British government in exile.
  • Wham Line: Jane revealing to Barry that their daughter Jessica was one of the fungus Mooks he just got done killing and that their son Simon has been turned into some kind of sentient moss in a glass tube as part of her experiments.