More Travels with the Fungus

Author: Iain Rob Wright

In this fourth addition to Iain Rob Wright’s The Spread series, the situation for human survival has become dire. The fungus from space continuous to spread. It has infected most of humanity, and the remaining bastions of survivors are turning feral, turning on one another.

As Aaron and the remaining group from Choirikell continue to debate staying with the army or striking out on their own, Ryan’s fiancé and his mother set out on the road. The story goes back and forth between these two groups, revealing both the beautiful and the ugly: those who continue to fight for humanity and goodness and those who have turned to darker means of survival. When a new alien arrives, however, everything could change. This alien is fighting on the human’s side and has some important information about the fungus’ history and weaknesses. But is it too little too late?

This series has always been campy, but it began with strong character development and certainly had some haunting, truly heart-pounding moments. By book four, it’s more campy than thoughtful, and we’ve lost a good deal of the original cast along the way. Our relationship with those who remain is less deep and more tenuous, yet something about the story continues to entrance. Perhaps its Aubrey Parsons’ narration, which captures all the glorious accents from British to Scottish, perhaps it’s the fact that the fungus is a truly terrifying idea, and the author has allowed everything to go fully apocalyptic so quickly. Perhaps its because we want to see Ryan’s legacy and how (or if) the series can carry on without him, through the eyes of his little brother.

The truth is – without Ryan, it’s not as good. Aaron follows the ages old paradigm – a kid who becomes tougher, smarter, better than the adults and finds all the right solutions, growing up overnight into the hero no one wanted, but everyone needed. The truth is, though, his ideas are pretty stupid, and everyone blindly follows out of a strange kind of loyalty that, while one of the more charming elements of this series, remains unearned.

Meanwhile, Nancy and Sophie are aimlessly working their way along the road, hoping to find Ryan and Aaron. Their story is smaller in scope: one of finding their inner humanity. They are faced with the temptation of becoming as brutal and heartless as those they see, or of being more merciful. Their experiences and debates along the way build their characters and perceptions, presumably preparing them for a larger role in book five.

The addition of the new alien, Helper, is an interesting turn, but not as deus ex machina as expected. Helper’s abilities are limited, and his wisdom and understanding of the fungus may be a day too late, leaving the companions with quite the cliff hanger. How will the author resolve this series? Despite its silliness, and the slower, more rambling nature of this installment, it still holds a certain charm. We’re enmeshed, mesmerized by this potential ending for humanity. So few are left. Things have gone so far. How can the world possibly survive? The author is not afraid to kill off main characters . . . so maybe there is no hopeful ending here. I plan to finish the series. Despite its imperfection, and the fact that it never quite got back the amazingness of the first book that started it all, the dark magic is still strong. Onwards, as the infestation grows.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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