4 of 5 stars.
Perhaps no lifeforms on earth are as alien as the Fungus Kingdom. They have the weirdness of the Archaea Kingdom [extremophile bacteria] but with complex forms and life cycles. Most of their bodies are hidden from sight until they reach out with often parasitic filaments and fruiting organs plump with spores. They also parasitize animals in horrific ways. It is no wonder that Laidlaw turns to Fungus to explore Lovecraftian elements on earth.
In particular, the narrator is a mycologist, fungus scientist, which also allows for a dispassionate relating of events as was often used in Victorian narration and in the writing of Jules Verne and Mary Shelley. The short story claims to be “expeditionary notes of the second mycological survey of the Leng Plateau Region,” which is on the heels of the first survey in which the two lead mycologists never returned . . .
The alien/Lovecraftian elements accumulate beautifully as the narrator delves further from his safety zone. He pushes into remote Tibet, deals with religious beliefs and practices far older than Buddhism, and seeks unknown parasitic and hallucinogenic fungi all while trying to solve the mystery of the previous scientists’ disappearance. This is appropriate grounds for a story rooted in the outre if not horror.
This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. Interestingly, Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 also includes a “story” comprised of the notes of a missing mycologist in Jeff VanderMeer’s “Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist”. One cannot help but wonder if he was inspired by this tale and then landed in the same anthology series.