The Big Idea: William C. Tracy
Always have a backup plan. And if that doesn’t work, have another back up plan… and another after that. Let’s just say Plan A didn’t work out for the characters in William C. Tracy’s new novel, Of Mycelium and Men. Follow along in his Big Idea as he tells you of their Plan B, and Plan C.
WILLIAM C. TRACY:
The generational fleet planned to make landfall after eighty years, but eleven planets and four centuries later, they still had not found a home. Finally, they landed on Lida, but something already lives there, and it’s big.
Agetha and her husband have spent their whole lives in the fleet’s zero-G. Now all is turmoil as the fleet lands, discovering they are surrounded by a single fungal biomass spanning the entire planet. To build a new home, the fleet must confront a dangerous organism, and Agetha must decide if she can raise a family in this inhospitable landscape.
Jane Brighton holds tenuous command over the colony and its administrators. She and the other gene-modded leaders emerged from their four-hundred-year suspended animation to find a crew much different from the one that departed Old Earth. Jane must direct the colony’s fragile growth and defend it against being overrun by the fast-growing biomass.
But there is something none of the colonists know. The massive organism that spans the planet is not simply a fungal mass, nor even a chimerical combination of species that once roamed the planet. The biomass has desires and goals, and one is to know these strange beings carving out a home in its midst.
Dealing with age and cryosleep, or “Get off my starship!”
I’ve had parts of this book (and parts of what will be the second and third books) tumbling around in my brain for probably ten years, but I didn’t have a chance to write it until now. One of the biggest questions I wanted to dive into was how to deal with people who remembered Earth and helped set up a new colony, as opposed to the people on a generational ship whose families had lived through the intervening time—changing and growing.
To make things more conflict laden, I also decided to impose a fairly strict hierarchy, assigning those in cryosleep as a sort of temporal autocracy, arising from rests of hundreds of years to make proclamations for the masses. This would make them into legendary figures for the generational descendants of the original crew.
To crank it up another notch, the fleet found their original target was a lump of slag (oops), the second had no atmosphere (oh well), the third and fourth were no good, and so on until the fleet had traveled about five times as far as they were supposed to. By this time, the Admins are nearly myths, having been sleeping for most of the journey.
Oh yes, and did I mention that the Admins and their supersoldiers have been gene-modded to live for three or four hundred years—while awake? In contrast, the ones who lived through the journey were not modified, and only live about as long as we do.
Everything changes once they find a planet. Now the Admins are awake and guiding the fleet once more, and those who had been acting as stewards find themselves…displaced. At the same time, the colony is under extreme threat. The planet they finally land on turns out to be entirely covered by one rather aggressive fungal biomass, which expresses itself through fungus, plant, and animal-type entities. Tension builds in the colony between the Admins, and those who had directed the fleet and made decisions while traveling. Though they’ve devoted their lives to making sure over twenty thousand people keep living, breathing, reproducing, and growing in knowledge, they are now treated as second-class citizens.
The colony is planned to take ten years to build, but the biomass throws a wrench into that plan as well. The generational crew will literally spend their lives creating the first colony and battling the biomass, and only their children will really be able to enjoy it. Meanwhile, the Admins will live to (hopefully) see the spread of the colony to other cities.
I’ve always been fond of writing about gray moral areas. In this case, people must pull together to complete the colony, or they will be overrun by the biomass. The ones who say they are best able to plan for the future colony (supposedly) are the Admins, who will live to see it come to fruition. Other viewpoints might be useful, but everyone is so busy surviving there’s not a lot of time to foment rebellion against these autocrats. The original fleet crew is far larger in number than Admin or their supersoldiers, but that also means they’re the only ones able to build the colony in time. So, what’s the right answer here? Autocratic rule with the fleet treated as stepping-stones for their children? Risk the safety of everyone in order to replace those at the top with better candidates?
My usual answer when writing through conundrums like this is, “it’s complicated.” I have viewpoints in the book from several of the fleet crew, one supersoldier, and one of the Admins to try to understand the whole picture as it builds. But there’s another very important viewpoint I’ve included: that of the biomass. As a final piece of complexity, the biomass is sentient, but in a very different way than you or I. In fact, so different that no one in the colony makes that connection (in this book). Some of the external pressures on the colonists are misinterpreted until it’s a bit too late to do anything about it. As I said, this will be a trilogy eventually, with the second book coming out early next year, and the third one later on in 2023. This last conflict will become a much bigger player in the next books, but I wanted to lay the seeds of it here, in hopes to provide you with an enjoyable, crunchy, character-driven tale.
I hope you like it!
Of Mycelium And Men: Amazon