The Anomalous Archive, Part VII: 'Fungus Among Us' by Grace Bridges

[This review was originally posted on the Anomaly forum on April 12, 2010.]

"Fungus Among Us," 1st in Issue 3 of The Cross and the Cosmos

"Fungus Among Us" by Grace Bridges essentially deals with one strange science fiction phenomenon. In other words, this short story is the sort of speculative fiction that explores a bizzare occurance, asking "What if there were...," rather than the more common type that asks, "What if in such a world..." I don't know much about the classification of the many genres of science fiction, so I can't really say what species this story belongs to. However, if it were fantasy instead of science fiction, I would call it "low fantasy" as opposed to "high fantasy."

However, in the case of this well-crafted little short story, the difference between the two types of speculative fiction is not so clear cut. Even though the purpose of the story is basically to present a bizzare occurance, a few significant details of the futuristic setting are revealed. A character is described as having "cyber enhanced eyes", and the plot unfolds against the setting of a planet with a "red landscape" -- sounds rather like Mars. For what I think is the main purpose of the story, the setting could just as well have been the present day, in any laboratory in any city. There is a distinct possibility that I may be wrong about what the main purpose is. Perhaps the story really is trying to ask "What if in such a world...", postulating a future world where the strange relationship suggested by the bizzare phenomenon can exist and have more meaning than it could have had in a version of our real world. At any rate, "Fungus Among Us" asks both questions to different degrees.

A surprising amount of characterization is conveyed in the fewer than two-and-a-half pages that comprise this short story. Several characters are developed through only a couple lines of dialog each. Grace Bridges cleverly associates the character archetypes with personalities that everyone is likely to have encountered, or least to have a stereotype in mind. The result is somewhat funny, I believe intentionally so. It helps that only one of the characters actually has to be seen interacting with the environment to a significant degree, due to the very nature of the premise.

One of the tools that allowed such a great level of characterization in such a small short story is the writing style. The writing proceeds with constant changes in point of view, often after only one or two paragraphs. The point of view may be semi-omniscient, at least in part, which serves the purpose of the story well. The choice of words is creative and descriptive, allowing the scene to appear in the mind and fully-formed and colorful. The prose feels natural and comfortable.

For all its careful construction, "Fungus Among Us" is not particularly deep or hard to understand. It provides a delightful bite-sized portion of speculative pleasure.

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