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7 Sporror Books to Scratch That Scary Fungus Itch After The Last of Us

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The first season of HBO’s The Last of Us is over, and until the second season premieres, likely more than a year from now, we’ll have a mushroom-shaped hole in our hearts. The series explores a lot of themes and poses several questions: Is there a dark side to unconditional love? Can someone who does monstrous things still be a hero? And how would humanity fare when confronted with a fungally induced apocalypse?

You may also be thinking about how malicious (or worse) mushrooms are. If so, you’re not alone — there are many frightening stories to tell when there is fungus among us. In the literary world, there’s even a spore-horror subgenre (a.k.a. sporror, a.k.a. sporecore), where mycelia and mosscaps become a driving force of terror, death, and destruction.

Here are some delicious sporror books to check out if you’re hankering for another tale based on fungal fears. Note: This is a straight-up shroom list — that means there are no lichen stories below. Sorry! (Although I do recommend you check out Trouble With Lichen, by John Wyndham, if you’re looking for a novel laden with algae-fungus symbiosis).

This Lovecraftian-inspired novella also gives off strong X-Files vibes. It centers on the Signalman, a government agent who teams up with an enigmatic, otherworldly woman while he investigates a doomsday cult based near the Salton Sea. Things are cosmically bonkers with this cult, whose members (among other things) inject themselves with an alien fungus with unsurprisingly horrific results. It’s a purposefully an uncomfortable read, and one that entwines fungi with the existential dread of trying to understand the infinite cosmos that engulfs our tiny paltry planet.

Shroom Score: 5/10 spores. Agents of Dreamland has a lot of cosmic horror going on, with the fungi being only one ingredient in this disturbing story.

At 775 pages, Wanderers is a honker of a book, made that much more so given it’s the first in a duology. The novel, which has understandably been compared to Stephen King’s The Stand, starts out when some people inexplicably enter a trance-like state where they perpetually sleepwalk toward some unknown destination. The Walkers, as they’re called, cause societal upheaval, and things only get worse when a fungal infection called White Mask threatens to kill all of humanity. We follow these cataclysmic events through a handful of those affected, and the mystery of the sleepwalkers eventually unfolds as the story progresses and more succumb to a fungal death.

Shroom Score: 6/10 spores. White Mask plays a pivotal role in the book but there are other post-apocalyptic shenanigans that make death by fungus only one of many issues its characters face.

If you took the haunted-house-on-a-hill motif, set it in 1950s Mexico, and used a malevolent mycorrhizal network to tell a postcolonial tale full of weirdness and horror, you’d get Mexican Gothic. The book centers on Noemí, a young woman who travels to a manor in the Mexican countryside after her recently-married cousin wrote her an enigmatic letter that pleaded for Noemí to save her. When Noemí gets there, things are far from well within the manor’s walls, where her cousin is either catatonic or insensible and her new, very racist and very misogynistic husband is the opposite of a doting partner. The manse itself also houses a decreasingly subtle presence writhing in its walls. If you want to see those walls writhe on your small screen, you’re in luck — the novel is getting a series adaptation at Hulu.

Shroom Score: 7/10 spores. The fungi make a late appearance in the book. But when they show up, they make their presence known.

Creatures of Want and Ruin takes the Prohibition era, a group of diabolists, and an unquantifiable evil sprouting up all over Long Island in the form of sinister-looking mushrooms to tell a fun (yes, I said fun) story. The book follows our protagonists: a bootlegger named Ellie West who finds some shroom-injected moonshine that causes its imbibers to have horrific visions, and a reluctant socialite named Fin who would rather be shooting arrows in the woods than boozing with her husband and his friends. The two couldn’t be more different, but it’s up to them to stop a mushroom-loving eldritch being from consuming all of Long Island, as cosmic eldritch beings are wont to do.

Shroom Score: 7.5/10 spores. Those mushrooms infiltrate all sorts of places in this tale.

The Last of Us isn’t the only story to imagine zombies created by Cordyceps. Some of the infected in this novel by M.R. Carey, however, are markedly different from the Clickers, Bloaters, and Runners that Joel and Ellie face. While most of the fungally challenged in The Girl With All The Gifts act in expected zombie fashion, some of the younger ones retain their intelligence along with their need to consume human flesh, and scientists want to know why. Ten-year-old Melanie is one of those children, though she doesn’t know it at first. She starts out the book in a research lab, where she and other subjects are studied and, ultimately, vivisected in hopes of finding a cure. But one of her doctors, Dr. Justineau, still sees Melanie as human, and when some of the not-so-smart infected attack the research lab, Melanie saves Dr. Justineau and realizes her true nature. The two flee the lab, join some other humans, head to a larger stronghold, and find out more about the fungal infection along the way. While there are obvious similarities here to The Last of Us, The Girl With All the Gifts does something quite different with that basic premise — especially with the ending, which is drastically different.

Shroom Score: 9/10 spores. Fungi have their roots in every aspect of this book, including the protagonist.

Mycologists are hot right now, thanks to The Last of Us. And thanks to Netflix and Mike Flanagan, retellings of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” are also in vogue. These two facts along with T. Kingfisher’s compelling prose make it no small surprise that What Moves the Dead was a literary hit last year. The story takes place in 1890 and follows Alex Easton, a former soldier who heads to their friend Madeline Usher’s manor after they hear that she’s dying. Madeline isn’t doing too well, folks, and neither is the rest of the Usher family, the house (old mansions and fungi appear to have their own lichen-like symbiosis in literature), nor the environs around said house, including the hares that live there. (Check out the book’s cover to get a clue as to what those hares are dealing with. It doesn’t look pleasant. ) Alex gets help from a doctor and the formidable de facto mycologist Ms. Potters to sort out what’s going on, which leads to quite a climactic end.

Shroom Score: 10/10 spores. Did you see that poor hare on the cover?

VanderMeer is a leader in the New Weird literary genre, and many of his works, including his popular book Annihilation (of which Alex Garland created a very loose, relatively fungus-light film adaptation), use mushrooms as a vehicle to bring psychedelic vibes tinged with cosmic horror to the tale. Before VanderMeer wrote Annihilation, however, he wrote the Ambergris trilogy, which lives up to the disturbing otherworldliness that New Weird espouses. Those three tomes — the short story collection City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword, and Finch ​— take place in the metropolis of Ambergris. The city was created by the gray caps, a mushroom-esque people that humans initially drove underground in their colonization endeavors. The gray caps are still there, however, and are enmeshed in Ambergris in inextricable ways.

The third book, Finch — which follows a detective trying to solve two murders —  is arguably the most accessible of the trilogy; you could read it on its own and thoroughly enjoy it. If you’re looking to grasp the full depth or dimensions of this fungally tinged world and/or are really into Jorge Luis Borges, however, you’ve got to read all three.

Shroom Score: A billion trillion spores. The fungi run deep and strong in this one.

7 Sporror Books to Read After The Last of Us