If you enjoyed "The Gardener
," you can look forward to the sequel I am writing, "The Pioneer." I'm still putting on the finishing touches, but here are some reflective thoughts about The Gardener and a hint of what is coming next (without any plot spoilers for either story, so read ahead without fear).
I'm not familiar with very many stories set in the far, far future like this one is. I'm not sure why that is the case, but I really enjoy how this setting provides almost limitless worldbuilding while still being grounded in the history and biological realities of life on Earth as we know it. Extraterrestrial life is a fascinating concept, but it's kind of overused in science fiction, and I'm a bit of an alien skeptic anyway (if they exist, and if they are at least as complex and intelligent as multicellular terrestrial life, and if they are close enough to us in the universe that we'd be able to interact with them, then that would be really cool, but the probabilities associated with each of those ifs might be pretty small). Terrestrial life after millions of years of evolution gives you many of the same imagination benefits as aliens, while remaining slightly more plausible. Plus you can assume that something different evolved in every solar system seeded by humans, which can be combined with diverse technological and cultural advances, leading to practically infinite storytelling options. Human differentiation raises other fascinating questions. What if racial variation were real and significant, not just skin deep?
The idea for "The Gardener" originated when I wondered what phenotypic plasticity taken to the extreme would look like. Would a totally plastic species have a high probability of survival? How would it interact with other members of its species that occupied distinct niches? In the story I don't go into details about how the fungus species evolved, but in my head I assume it included natural or directed horizontal gene transfer, so the fungus didn't have to reinvent from scratch many of the adaptations found in various species today. As a biologist, I'm tempted to include detailed physiological descriptions of some of these forms, but to keep the action moving I have mostly maintained brevity. Some of the adaptations can be (I hope) inferred by the reader; e.g. the vegetation is black because that pigment would absorb the full energy spectrum of sunlight, an improvement over green chlorophyll. One challenge in writing was to avoid taxonomic terms; there are no "birds" or "insects" in Yorel's world, because every organism is a fungus, not an animal, even if it looks and behaves like an animal. But the distinction between taxonomic words and ecological words can be blurry. For example, a "carnivore" is either (taxonomically) a member of a particular order of mammals, Carnivora, which includes cats, dogs, and weasels, or it is (ecologically) any meat-eater, such as a shark or a venus fly trap. Yorel's world includes carnivores of the latter sense but not the former. Another interesting challenge was to avoid the trappings of sexual reproduction, since the fungus reproduces with spores. There is no pollen in Yorel's world, for example. Although there are "fruits" and "flowers," I assume these have an asexual purpose, such as to attract mobile organisms to spread spore.
"The Pioneer" takes place twelve years after The Gardener ends, and it focuses on the new character that was introduced in the epilogue. It begins kind of like "Little House on the Planet," but then the young heroine's peaceful life is disrupted when strange visitors land and are not happy with the fact that they are not permitted to leave. I can't say more without any spoilers, so you'll have to check out the story when I get it posted.