Top Ten Tuesday: Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Books Featuring Killer Plants & Fungi
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: Freebie!
Spring finally feels like it’s here, so in honor of the beautiful plants and flowers that are blooming all around us, I’ve decided to celebrate by using this freebie week to showcase a list of books featuring my favorite and most interesting (or scariest) deadly botanicals. Hopefully everyone’s enjoying the warmer weather and having fun spending more time outdoors. Try not to worry about that innocent little shrub growing in the corner, it’s not going to sneak up on you or anything.
Probably the most well known sci-fi novel about killer plants, this classic features the Triffids, a tall and mobile poisonous plant species whose origins are never fully revealed, but speculation has ranged from bioengineering to extraterrestrials. Whatever the case, I think everyone can agree they’re nasty creatures. Towering at over seven feet tall, they move by propelling themselves on three blunt leg-like appendages, using their venom-filled stinger to attack and subdue its prey. Their poison kills on contact, after which the Triffid can root itself on the corpse to feed at its leisure, drawing nutrients as from the body as it decomposes. Yuck.
Fans of fantastical plants and fungi will find a treasure trove of them in the Harry Potter series, from the Mandrake, a plant with a root that looks disturbingly like a human and whose cry can be fatal to anyone who hears it, to the Whomping Willing, a violent tree that will attempt to pummel anyone or anything that comes near its branches. Other plants with dangerous or unpleasant effects include the Mimbulus mimbletonia, a cactus-like plant with boils instead of spines that when burst will spray stinking goo all over anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby; the Snargaluff, a carnivous plant which will disguise itself as a dead tree stump in order to lure out its unsuspecting prey; as well as the Devil’s Snare, a constricting vine that will strangle anyone caught among its tendrils and will only squeeze tighter the more its victim tries to struggle.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a zombie book, featuring a world that has been infected by a variant of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus. Originally known to parasitize only insects, somehow a strain of this fungus has evolved to attack humans, making those it infects lose their mental powers and develop a taste for human flesh. The disease spreads through bodily fluids including saliva and blood, hence a person can be infected by a single bite. Over time, the fungus will also take over the host from within and sprout a fruiting body which will release its spores into the atmosphere, spreading the infection to more healthy humans thus creating more “hungries”.
Another book that plays on the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis idea, The Rains begins with an introduction to the quiet and rural community of Creek’s Cause, where the peace is shattered one evening by a meteor strike. Not long afterwards, our fifteen-year-old protagonist Chance and his older brother are awakened in the middle of the night by a commotion at their neighbors’ house, leading the two of them to sneak out and investigate. They arrive just in time to stop an attack on some kids by their stepmother, who appears to have been transformed into mindless raving husk by a mysterious and unknown parasite. After saving the children, Chance finds his neighbor on top of a water tower where millions of alien spores look to have exploded from out of his bloated corpse. Funny thing about the Cordyceps fungus in this book though, is that they only infect adults, sparing the young. But as soon as you turn 18, watch out! Yeah, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, but since when do killer fungi follow the rules of logic?
Semiosis is a multi-generational story that takes place over the course of many years, following a group of human colonists who have traveled light years from Earth to settle on a planet they dubbed Pax. However, they were wholly unprepared for the alien environment that awaited them, nor did they anticipate Pax’s bizarre plant life and the surprising ways it interacted with the surroundings. Many of the original settlers died within a matter of weeks, some because they ate fruits that they previously thought were safe. But through hard work and perseverance, the colony managed to survive, giving rise to the next generation. Still, certain sentient plants on Pax continued to behave in dangerous and unpredictable ways, manipulating the animal life around them to challenge the humans.
The protagonist of Uprooted is Agnieszka, just another simple girl from yet another simple village, but the bucolic setting belies something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. Surrounding Agnieszka’s valley home is the ever encroaching Wood, a forest filled with dark energies and spirits, whose corrupting force has trapped and stolen the lives and minds of many. Author Naomi Novik uses vivid imagery and “traditional” magic (the kind you would find in classic fairy tales) to create the idea of the spiteful and malignant living forest, so that the entire Wood itself becomes a formidable and terrifying villain.
This is another book about a fungal plague, but unlike the examples above, it has a twist. Let’s face it; in most stories, being infected by a fungus is usually bad—like you can be turned into a mindless zombie, for example. Yet in this case, the fungus actually makes you smarter, though things don’t turn out so well for the humans in the end either. While conducting research deep in the Amazon rainforest, our protagonist Paul Johns picks up a lung infection from breathing in the spores of an unknown species of fungus. Back in the United States, he is treated for his pneumonia and recovers, though afterwards, it appears that the fungus had altered his brain functioning as well, improving memory centers and enhancing pattern recognition and communication skills. Excited about what this could mean for the human race, Paul believes that a symbiotic relationship with the fungus is the next step in human evolution, but his brother Neil, a little more circumspect, is not entirely convinced that joining with an unknown organism would be in humanity’s best interest.
This collection of four novellas take place in a shared world taken over by a fast-growing kind of bramble that feeds on magic. It also poisons the soil so that nothing can grow without making people very sick. As a result, the once great city of Khaim has turned into a crumbling ruin, and any kind of magic has been outlawed to prevent the bramble from encroaching any further. The stories here all feature characters who have been affected by the bramble in some way, like the alchemist whose daughter has a fatal lung disease from being infected with the bramble’s seeds, or the young man whose sister has succumbed to “bramble sleep”, a type of coma caused by the deadly plant.
I wasn’t a big fan of this book and can’t say I remember much from it, though I have to admit the world-building was pretty cool. We have everything from magic linked to satellites to female warriors who ride bears and dogs, but the thing that has stuck with me the most are the murderous trees. If you ever find yourself in the world of The Mirror Empire, best watch your step because you never know when you might run afoul of the semi-sentient trees and another carnivorous plants that won’t hesitate to gobble you right up.
I might be fudging it a bit here, since I can’t recall if I really read this book or what I’m remembering is from the film adaptation (both came out a while ago). The story follows a group friends vacationing in Mexico, and they become trapped in the jungle after one of their group goes missing and the others decide to go look for him. Our hapless characters then come upon some ancient ruins, covered in what appears to be a bunch of your run-of-the-mill jungle vines – except they’re very wrong about that. In fact, these vines are deadly and feed on human flesh. Worse, if one of their tendrils come in contact with an open wound, they can infect their victim and germinate their spores from within the host’s body. I’m shuddering just thinking about it.