The Fungal Horror Continues

Author: Iain Rob Wright

The alien fungus has continued to spread across the world. Ryan, his younger brother Aaron, and a few rag-tag survivors from the church have a moment of hope when they run into the army, but soon it’s clear that the fungus is a global problem – one that the shrinking army can hardly contain. There is no such thing as safety.

As Ryan and Aaron continue to hope that their friends and family in Manchester are alive and well, possibilities for escape dwindle. It will come to a harsh decision – abandon the group and strike out on their own or help a doomed rescue mission back into the center of a fetid town. There is only one moral decision – but it might very well cost them everything.

Continuing the green-tinged drama started in The Hill, The Spread series follows the few survivors from the first book as they meet more friends and enemies and lose more group members. The series has been going downhill. The terror and close personal relationships of The Hill slumped into the trite tropes of The Village and continue to do so here, in The Stand, where, of course, the army has nothing on a bunch of plucky survivors.

The group dynamics started in The Village also continues here. Helen is still out there, still hating Ryan for his perceived actions (or inactions) that led to her son’s death. A new group, one with Helen and her bad-news-ex, is holed up in the village pub. Power struggles are ongoing, and Helen is having realizations about the person she is becoming. Oh yeah, and “the Greens” or “the Kermits” as the army calls them, are still out to get everyone, and “that” one monster Green is continuing to mutate to ever more horrifying proportions.

Meanwhile, Ryan, Aaron, the priest from the first book, the pink-haired lesbian, and the bigoted Scott, who talks a tough game but comes through in the end anyway, decide to strike out on their own and help save the rumored survivors still left in the village. Que near death moments, more losses of minor characters, and a sudden realization that goes against an established precedent in the first book. It’s getting hokey, although narrator Aubrey Parsons keeps it real and oddly enjoyable with his mastery of accents and emotions. I could probably listen to him read the Taco Bell menu and feel edified.

At this point, logic is a thing of the past. That’s no surprise, considering many of the decisions in The Village. The characters here aren’t quite your normal horror movie protagonists, in that they are not self-serving, but all selfless. There is an incredible sense of morality, of humanity, that runs throughout this series, and while it does make the characters do some truly stupid things (being selfless doesn’t mean you don’t have a battle plan, come on), it is nice to see characters represented who care about other people and keep their hearts amid chaos and death.

Now.  . . back to that logic. Let’s talk about bleach for a moment. Remember in the first book where Ryan’s vet friend uses bleach to clean himself . . . even AFTER the infection has obviously taken over? Remember how it did nothing? Well . . . the universal fungus-against-man rules have apparently changed, because now bleach is the ultimate weapon, the nuclear bomb of man against invading alien fungus warfare. One character gets a small scratch on her face and upon application of bleach her head immediately implodes . . . because the fungus is just that adverse to bleach. This leads to some Saving Private Ryan like moments of exploding corpses with our heroes happily spraying bleach everywhere. No comment. Just no comment at all.

The army is dumb here, as you would expect, and the precautions against the fungus oscillate wildly based on the needs of the plot and the current mood of the writer. Minor fights with army officials are started and used as catalysts for drama, leading to some showdowns which our characters somehow manage to survive. These people must be built of Teflon.

And then, there is the entire Helen thing that has been going for two books. Admittedly, this storyline has been a stretch. Helen’s desire to blame Ryan never made even a shred of sense, and the author seems to see that now, or to maybe just not care anymore. If you expect the big showdown we’ve been promised, look elsewhere. This confrontation is anticlimactic.

That being said . . . there is one very surprising, series changing death in The Spread, one that signifies a shift for the next book. For some reason, I’ll probably keep reading. I don’t know. I kind of have to see where it goes now, where the remaining characters end up, and if the alien invaders ever take over the world or if we send some cosmic bleach into the sky and rescue humanity. Color me curious, and obviously tasteless in literature. 2.5 stars.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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