William C. Tracy is joining us today to talk about his novel, To A Fungus Unknown. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Forty years after landing on Lida, the colony still isn’t finished.
Agetha has survived many more battles than she anticipated when she first landed on her new home planet. She’s older and wiser, has gained family and lost loved ones. And yet her reward for four decades of service is to be pushed to the colony’s outer edges with the other aging Generationals.
But that was only the beginning of her adventure.
The biomass has spent years studying the intruders who landed on its surface, carving a new home from its very essence. Never satisfied in its attempt to communicate with this new and invasive species, finally it has found a way to express its intentions. The colonists may never be the same.
Discover the fate of the colony in the second book of The Biomass Conflux trilogy.
What’s William’s favorite bit?
William C. Tracy
I was very excited to finally write this book, as it meant I could add my favorite part of this story: a scene that had been bouncing around in my head for about ten years. The first book in this series was all about settling on an alien planet and learning about the creepy/cool fungus that lives there (and that the colonists don’t know is sentient). If you missed the first one, you can read my writeup about that book and the mycology that went into it here (https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit-william-c-tracy-talks-about-of-mycelium-and-men/).
The second book was where I could build on all the groundwork that went into the first book, and I could also include the scene that kicked off this whole trilogy: the market drop. In fact, it started with a Writing Excuses podcast exercise from many years ago (episode 10.5 if you’re interested). I created a lot of the idea behind this book from listening to the tenth season, from episode 3 to about 22. These aired in 2015, so very nearly ten years! At any rate, the tone of this book was very definitely influenced by episode 10.3 as well, which was about describing reactions to something horrific, without actually describing the thing.
All this comes together into chapter 4 of To a Fungus Unknown, which is a chapter split across four POVs, as each observes the other players during a market drop scene. Except that horror aspect also got included, so one of the parties was controlling one of the others without their consent. I hope the chapter is as tense to readers as it was to me while writing it. Here are a few sections from it:
His fingers moved of their own accord toward a hat. Juliane had long ago found resisting took too much effort and was a losing battle anyway. But this time felt more…deliberate. The three sensations had burrowed into his mind. They were—arguing? His hand passed from a high fez-like hat to a broad-brimmed conical one, to one that looked like a helmet. The sensation of fingers rubbing dirt grew stronger and his hand clasped on the wide-brimmed hat.
“This one, then? Interesting choice.” His other hand took off his current hat—a shapeless and beaten-up wool thing, though with a brim, and he put the new one on.
“That one’s thirty time credits,” the booth’s owner said. It was more than Juliane had to his name at the moment. More than he’d had in a while.
“Maybe I’ll just put it back then,” he said, his hand gripping the brim. It didn’t move.
For the first time in weeks, a spot of panic rose in him. These connections were new, not his old friend. Who else had a hand in—
No. No blanking. He had to figure out who…
His other hand dropped the wool hat on the table and for the first time, Juliane’s tongue refused to obey him.
“Take thissss one.” His voice slurred. “Exchannngshe.”
“I have to get back to work now, though. Maybe another time.” Choi set the hammer down and tried not to glance at the case they’d left on the ground. Seed and information. They were five meters away before the booth’s owner called after them.
“Muux! I think you dropped—”
Choi walked faster. The Vagals were looking around at the raised voice and Choi ducked under a stall and around a wall, cradling their drymelon.
“You alright there?”
“Oh! Stars above!” Choi jumped at the voice and turned to see Beth, her braids swinging as she stopped next to them.
“What are you doing out in Zeta?” she asked them. So much for avoiding her.
Agetha made the gesture that seemed to mean a connection between Others Who Liked to Walk. Phyllis had made it a few times, but Agetha hadn’t had a chance to do so yet.
“Seems like there’s something else to do today besides selling vegetables,” she said.
“I like selling vegetables,” Beth grumbled, but made one of the gestures she knew—brushing hair back behind her ear, but not touching her neck. Rider.
Agetha knew better than to try to touch the back of her neck. Something always—
The connection with Phyllis grew, from a distance Agetha hadn’t felt before. She closed her eyes, and the friend was in the middle of them. Phyllis was on the other side of the market, and Beth sitting here beside her.
Anderson pounded his prosthetic hand on the table, making a large mallet shake. The booth owner shut up, eyes wide.
“Who was here?” he asked.
“A person who had bought a drymelon stopped to look at my tools,” the man said. Anderson’s head swiveled to where the first person had disappeared.
“But when I called that he’d left his case, another man in a large hat picked it up. He went that way. I think he stole it!”
Anderson’s head swiveled the other way. What had been in that drop? There were now at least two other factions in play, and Anderson didn’t know either of them. Who had called with the tip? What was it? And who had intercepted the pickup? Finally, how had they known?
Muux, urgent information to report, Anderson texted. He was in for a good old reaming.
Little did I know when I first started some simple writing exercises that they would turn into an entire trilogy! People ask sometimes where I get my ideas from, but I’ve found that’s never the problem. Instead, it’s taking the multitudinous ideas I have and turning them into cool stories. Writing exercises are a great way to do that, and this book comes from a conversation about mushrooms, a bit of body horror, some political intrigue, alien communication, and a bunch of characters who are just trying to survive. I hope you’ll check out To a Fungus Unknown, and the whole Biomass Conflux series!
William C. Tracy writes and publishes queer science fiction and fantasy through his indie press Space Wizard Science Fantasy, which is open to submissions (spacewizardsciencefantasy.com).
He is an NC native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003 and runs his own dojo in Raleigh, NC. He is an avid video and board gamer, a beekeeper, a reader, and of course, a writer.