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REVIEW: Mushroom Blues by Adrian M. Gibson

Mushroom Blues

by Adrian M. Gibson

 

ENTER THE FUNGALVERSE. BEAT THE WINTER BLUES.

Blade Runner, True Detective and District 9 meld with the weird worlds of Jeff VanderMeer, Philip K. Dick and China Miéville in Adrian M. Gibson’s dark, hallucinatory, fungalpunk noir debut.

Two years after a devastating defeat in the decade-long Spore War, the island nation of Hōppon and its capital city of Neo Kinoko are occupied by invading Coprinian forces. Its fungal citizens are in dire straits, wracked by food shortages, poverty and an influx of war refugees. Even worse, the corrupt occupiers exploit their power, hounding the native population.

As a winter storm looms over the metropolis, NKPD homicide detective Henrietta Hofmann begrudgingly partners up with mushroom-headed patrol officer Koji Nameko to investigate the mysterious murders of fungal and half-breed children. Their investigation drags them deep into the seedy underbelly of a war-torn city, one brimming with colonizers, criminal gangs, racial division and moral decay.

In order to solve the case and unravel the truth, Hofmann must challenge her past and embrace fungal ways. What she and Nameko uncover in the midst of this frigid wasteland will chill them to the core, but will they make it through the storm alive?

Take a police procedural, add a heap of cultural dialogue, socioeconomic commentary, and a whole lot of ‘shrooms, and you get Mushroom Blues perfection.

“The children. It was always about the children.”

Mushroom Blues is not an easy read. It is, however, imminently readable. The prose is clean, precise, and beautiful. Its pacing is breakneck and breathless, hurtling us from the bodies of dead children, to institutional oppression, to corruption, crime syndicates, and the deepest of vice—and then back to compassionate humanity and the awakening of a conscientious soul. So many of the themes hit hard. Gibson’s inspirations are clearly historical—post-war Japan and Berlin, off the top of my head—but are also echoes of conflicts we still see now, unfolding before us.

Hofmann’s racism against the fungal people at the beginning of the novel is uncomfortable, confronting, and all too believable. Gibson’s skill carries us on a journey that doesn’t ask us to understand where she’s coming from, but rather begs us to demand better from her. The narrative populates the story with characters we can’t help but root for: Hofmann’s self-proclaimed enemies, at first, but ultimately the human (fungal?) core of trust, loyalty, love, and sacrifice that finally break down the walls that Hofmann has built for herself between her and the people she is tasked with protecting.

That disintegration of ego and prejudice is so brilliantly crafted that I was cheering for her by the end. The tenderness and the passion shines through. Gibson’s appreciation for food, languages, and the dichotomy between the things that separate us and the things that bring us together create a story arc that carried me through the whole gamut of emotions: horror, fear, grief, awe, resentment, empathy, love, relief.

I would be remiss not to mention the world building. Even with all my talk of big themes and heavy stakes and hard-hitting commentary, I think my very favourite thing about Mushroom Blues is the detail with which Gibson paints this world for us. He clearly put a lot of thought into the social and economic impact of a mushroom society. He treads the fine line of giving us enough information to always be able to understand the shift and picture the city of Neo Kinoko, but the world building never gets in its own way with overly long info dumps. The details are meted out with a steady eye on their impact on the pacing in a way that speaks of skill and instinct that constantly impressed me. I could feel that city, could see the snowstorms that drifted down around Hofmann, could smell the food she was so wary of, could feel the grief at the destruction that had been wrought before the story even started.

“It was an abstract expressionist painting that portrayed a story of conflicting cultures with every violent brush-stroke.”

As I said already, Mushroom Blues is not an easy read exactly. But trust me when I say, it is unmissable. You won’t regret it.


Adrian M. Gibson is a Canadian SFF author, podcaster and illustrator (as well as occasional tattoo artist). He is the creator of the SFF Addicts podcast, which he co-hosts with fellow author M. J. Kuhn. The two host in-depth interviews with an array of science fiction and fantasy authors, as well as writing masterclasses. He lives in Quito, Ecuador with his family.

His debut novel is Mushroom Blues, releasing on March 19, 2024.

For the latest updates, follow Adrian on Instagram, Twitter, and Threads @adrianmgibson. You can also stream/watch new episodes of SFF Addicts every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and more.

 

 


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