Welcome to Realm Explorers! In this weekly series, we visit a variety of unique worlds created by talented science fiction and fantasy authors. Enjoy your travels! And don't forget to read to the bottom of the post to find out more about each author and see how to purchase the featured book.
Title of book and/or series:
Book 1 of The Flames Chronicles
Brief summary of the story:
They woke up seven years ago with no memory. They found themselves in a land of glowing flowers, mushroom houses and psychedelic spores. They have only dreams, flashbacks—fragments of thoughts they can’t explain.
But now the land is withering. Mushrooms are crumbling to ash, trees turning to mush—and no one knows why.
Enter the aiethepa spore. This fungus grows fast and thick throughout Ayphae. No one knows what it does, and no one can open it. Some blame it for the withering—others think it will breathe life into the land.
Paths cross, and an alliance is born: the three with lost memories, a field scientist, a ranger-turned-speaker and a pragmatic politician. But can they find the problem—before it’s too late?
Brief description of the world or location you created for this story:
Ayphae is a world of mushrooms that think using your brain. So for instance, sparkler mushrooms will send out sparkles that arrange themselves in pretty patterns—using your brain to determine what defines “pretty.” Murmuring mushrooms will use your subconscious to bring out thoughts that are comforting to you, which you will hear as a sort of “murmur.” Memory mushrooms will search the recesses of your mind for lost memories and restore them to you (or make you forget things). Mirror mushrooms will alter your visual center so they look like an exact duplicate of you. All these mushrooms think using your brain—provided you’re in their neural net.
Mushrooms with a neural net are known as “net mushrooms.” Apart from you, they have will, but no brain to exercise that will. You grant them that intelligence by wandering into their net. However, you are not aware of them thinking using your brain. It does not affect you in any way, shape or form.
If we were to visit Ayphae as tourists, what would you recommend that we see or do there?
Visit the Obo Mushroom in Obo City (the capital). It’s a giant mushroom the size of several cities—and its cap is so wide, it spans the entire horizon. This mushroom sits at the very center of Ayphae, and people live inside it. The Marden (Ayphae’s ruler) also has his office there.
Though no one knows why, the sun will always rise from behind the Obo Mushroom. No matter where you’re standing, it will always seem like the sun’s rising from behind it and setting behind you. And the Obo Mushroom itself is a net mushroom—it’s sustained by the emotional energy of Ayphae’s inhabitants. Its roots stretch across the whole land.
What dangers should we avoid in Ayphae?
Beat mushrooms (called “drums”). These dangerous mushrooms are taller than you, have large legs to stomp the ground and are fiercely territorial. If you come across one, it will demand that you match its beat. After stomping out a rhythm, it will expect you to stomp the same rhythm in return. If you don’t, it will attack you. There are five colors of drums in the wild, and they like to travel in herds with the same color. If different colors meet, they will challenge each other for the land by stomping out beats or outright brawling.
Yeast marshes—glowing ponds of ultraviolet muck—should also be avoided, as they are nearly impossible to get out of. You’ll have to be rescued by a pathfinder (Ayphae’s equivalent of a ranger, but more extensive).
Is there a distinct or unusual type of food or meal that we might be served in Ayphae?
Like everything else, the food in Ayphae is quite unique. Marvel mushrooms are usually the main ingredient. These fungi are net mushrooms, and they can change their molecular structure to taste like anything. The caterer programs them to have a specific taste when making the dish, and the best caterers can even invent their own flavors (and combine them). Soups are most prevalent as the main course, as the most nutritious mushrooms (felrusii) can only be eaten cooked. (I actually have a real mushroom soup recipe in the back of my book.)
Scent spores can be programmed to smell like anything, so they help the dish further.
What types of weaponry or fighting styles are common in Ayphae?
Slingshots are the most common weapon. These can fire frost puffers—fungi that explode and freeze whatever they land on—as well as firebuds. Firebuds are mushrooms that burst into flame when you bop their cap. Firing them is more about intimidation than anything else, as they won’t inflict any serious burns before their flame peters out. In fact, firebuds are usually dropped into jugs of water to make them boil quickly. The frost puffers are better weapons. (Some people use tar as well, though this is less common.)
The martial arts style used is unique to Ayphae, and mostly focuses on agility and defense. Ayphae doesn’t have much crime, so the police usually don’t have to bother.
What types of vehicles, animals, technology, etc. are used to travel in or through Ayphae?
Spincars • These cars use spinning mushrooms for wheels. Spinning mushrooms will spin by themselves (they go faster when injected with alter spores), so they can propel wooden carts. Since the carts are covered, you would most likely view them as a wooden car. Spincars can come in many sizes and be convertible, but they all share a few common features. Rearview mirrors, brake stems (flowers growing in the spincar’s wood whose roots grip the spinners to keep them from moving—as otherwise you wouldn’t be able to park the car!), a shroomshift to change speed or go in reverse (they just change the level and type of alter spores being injected into the spinners), and so forth. Now and then you need to replace the spinners, as they do wear out.
Pravel • To keep the roads in good condition, a type of pavement called pravel is used. It’s actually an intelligent yeast that repairs itself as you walk or drive over it. It compensates based on pressure, so areas where more people walk will still be in pristine condition. Essentially, the roads you walk on in Ayphae’s cities are one unicellular creature that adapts to your footsteps.
Jellibs • Transparent pink eggs with the consistency of Jell-O that grow on the ground like watermelons. They open up so you can hop in (size varies—some carry only two people, while others can house an entire dance troupe), and you float along the stream. They can also travel through the roots of obosas (giant mushrooms people live in) at about 60mph. This allows swift transportation, and it’s the standard means of getting around outside the big city. Spincars would be used in the villages, but dirt roads can’t handle them very well. Since pravel is in limited supply, only the cities use spincars.
Aerophytes • these glider-like spores appear to have leaves for wings. They can fly you along any air current, but they nest inside aerophytus flowers to rest. Like other net flora, they read your mind.
What types of plants, animals, or sentient races might we encounter in Ayphae that we don’t see on Earth?
Dancing Mushrooms • They usually travel in “troupes.” If you come across some in the wild, they’ll want you to dance with them. They’re especially impressed by good dancers—so if you perform well enough, you’ll get a reputation across Ayphae. Pretty soon, any dance troupe will be able to recognize you and demand your performance.
Mirror Mushrooms • When you look at a mirror mushroom, all you’ll see is yourself. And your reflection might be doing something different—so it’s not quite like staring into a mirror. Instead, these fungi read your mind and alter your visual center so you always see what they want you to see when you look at them. They’re quite mischievous, and their laughing sounds like birds chirping. But they really value athletic feats, and they’ll shower you with applause (a sound like rustling leaves) when you do backflips and other tricks. They’re classified as prankster mushrooms because they like to mess with you.
Flying Mushrooms • These unruly mushrooms fly across the sky. When they land, they usually nestle in groupings. Frills likes feather dusters spread out from beneath their caps, which are very sensitive to movement. Their most common predators are birds.
These are just a couple examples, but you can find others in this questionnaire. Most of the transportation uses wildlife (aerophytes, spinners, etc.), for instance. In fact, pretty much everything in Ayphae relies upon mushrooms of some sort. Clocks, houses, cars, medicine, you name it. Everything is a fungus or flower of some kind, from the pavement to the lamps.
What role, if any, does magic or the supernatural play in the lives of people in Ayphae? If there is magic, please give some examples of what it involves or how it’s used.
Ayphae has a plant-like Sage who protects it (his name is L’Hwon). However, he can only protect it from outside dangers. Currently, there is a barrier protecting the land of Ayphae and isolating it from the outside world. No one can come in or out, and no one knows how the barrier got there. Otherwise, magic has no impact upon Ayphaeans.
These are the only magical elements in Ayphae. Some limited magic will be involved in future books, but I’m more of a sci-fi-in-a-fantasy-setting kind of guy. I want rational explanations, imaginative functions and things that will make people wonder. None of the same-old dwarves and elves kind of thing.
Is there any advanced or unusual technology in Ayphae? If you haven’t described it already, please give some examples.
Earphones • Have you ever seen a picture of a fungus that looks like an ear? Imagine one growing on a tree—then imagine you can speak into it and someone will answer. These are Ayphae’s equivalent of telephones. An operator sits at a central earphone and patches people into other earphones (they’re net fungi, so they read the operator’s mind). This allows information to travel much more quickly across Ayphae. It also allows for tunes to become popular, along with talkshows.
Running mushrooms • these small mushrooms can run very quickly. No human can keep up with them, so there used to relay messages. A note is tied to them, the sender concentrates on the destination in their mind—and the runner reads your mind and sprints to that location. This can also be used to deliver small packages, although jellibs are preferred for larger products. Running mushrooms are used to steer cargo jellibs, so no one has to make the trip from town to town.
Malady mushrooms and bevel lichen • These net mushrooms (and lichen) can be programmed to combat any disease—viral, bacterial, fungal or protistal. As a result, disease has been virtually eradicated in Ayphae, along with allergies and other nuisances. The malady mushrooms tend to be better at combating more advanced diseases…but they have a nasty sense of humor. Sometimes their spores will make you sicker instead of curing you. For that reason, they’re usually kept in reserve and only used if the bevel won’t work.
Bubble-scopes • a special tree resin creates a bubblelike film over these microscopes, allowing scientists to see on a microscopic level. This has given them an atomic-era level understanding of chemistry, so they are beginning to understand fission (though they lack the tools to split the atom or do anything remotely close). They do have laser tulips—special plants that emit a laser from their piston—but that only helps them so much. Their ability to conduct advanced chemistry has allowed them to create mixes from all sorts of different mushrooms in Ayphae. These mixes can do crazy things, like make you sweat mist that glows in colors that represent the emotion you’re feeling.
Shroomlamps • In lieu of electricity, which has not been developed, people light their houses with shining mushrooms that act as lamps. With their caps reversed, the smaller lamps can be used as flashlights. Glowing mushrooms are also a thing. They are planted near the front walkway and light up when anyone comes near. They act as porch lights.
There’s so much more. For instance, trumpet mushrooms project your voice, like speaker boxes on a stage. I don’t want to detail everything here, though. You’ll find out more when you read Ayphae.
Tell us about any sports, games, or activities that are available for entertainment in Ayphae.
Parties are the main feature in Ayphae. People gather around to hear singers, speakers and debaters—not to mention watching dances, eating food and whatever other special events are present.
The dances are quite unique. Dancers can ingest special mixes to make them glow. In addition, they can camouflage themselves, sweat glowing mist and so forth—all depending on the fungal mix they ingest. They often dance on a field of glowing flowers that makes ripples of light with each step—like waves from a pebble tossed into a still pond. Many other tricks are used involving mirror mushrooms (you’ll see what those are), but I don’t want to spoil it for you. (I’ve got over 40,000 words’ worth of notes on Ayphae, so there’s a lot to tell. It’s quite a world, and I’m only showing you a little in this questionnaire.)
As for sports, it’s mostly about hopperball. Hoppers are mushrooms with stems coiled like a spring, which propel you if you jump on them—much like a trampoline. In hopperball, one of the few rules is that you cannot touch a hopper while holding the ball. You must toss it into the air—then in your next jump so you will catch it before it lands. You can also pass to a teammate. Opposing players try to intercept the ball whenever you toss it, so there is a constant give-and-take. Four timed quarters are played.
People also like to play with melody mushrooms (melodies). If you eat them, melodies can give you perfect pitch or make you sing off tune—but either way, they’ll make it so you sound perfect to yourself. You might be singing horribly, but you’ll sound fine to your own ears. People like to eat them, sing to their friends—and based off their friends’ reaction, guess whether they got the positive or negative effect. It’s really more a game about reading people than anything else.
Are the days of the week and months of the year the same in Ayphae as on Earth? What holidays or special events are celebrated regularly there?
Days of the week, months, etc. are the same. One peculiarity is the complete absence of holidays. Ayphae has no real concept of special days—other than days when certain events are going on, such as an election or party. People are usually more laid back about things like time.
Is there a particular religion practiced in Ayphae? Please describe what it involves.
Informally, yes. There is a general belief in a set of moral systems set into effect by something, but no real concept of an afterlife or specific deity to go with it. It’s more cultural than anything else.
Truth be told, I wanted the emphasis to be on this society’s real deity: entertainment. I do mention a church somewhere in there, but Christianity or whatever is not present. I made this choice because I wanted to focus more on core issues of philosophy and morality rather than centralizing on a specific system of beliefs. I also wanted to avoid making an allegory. Another fantasy world that does this kind of thing is J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle earth. However, I hope to foster critical thinking about deep issues significantly more than he did as the series unfolds.
What is the political or government structure in Ayphae? Who is in charge there at the moment, and what kind of leader is he/she?
Democratic Monarchy. That is to say, the people elect a king. So he’s not really a king so much as a president with almost absolute power. He must abide by the sacred rules: a seven-year term, after which you can reelect him or elect a new ruler; no executions (that’s for the court of law); no silencing the press…and if he’s smart, he’ll hold a vote and let the people decide on major issues. This makes the people feel listened to. His official title is the Marden.
The current Marden is Joven Marshalltoe. He’s quite a character, and in Ayphae he feels like everyone is getting on his case for the withering land. They’re blaming him for just about everything. He’s done what he can policy-wise, but it’s clearly not enough—the land is going downhill, the crops are failing, everything’s going wrong. He doesn’t want to let the people down—but something has to be done.
And no, he’s not supposed to represent Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton or any other president. He’s his own character, and should be treated as such. I really like his pragmatism, as it sells his polite but no-nonsense demeanor.
Are there any other unique cultural practices that we should be aware of if we visit Ayphae?
Everyone gets up early. This is because the houses they live in—obosas—are giant mushrooms that feed off the neuroelectric energy they emit. Specifically, they feed off your emotions. They do this the way you would absorb heat from a campfire—they don’t drain you or anything. So it’s a mutualistic relationship between the humans and their mushroom houses.
This is important because humans put out less emotional energy while asleep (obviously). The obosas need them to be awake for a good part of the day, so they have musical cords running through them called tonal cords. The obosas twang these cords to wake up their inhabitants. Think harp strings, but longer.
This means if you sleep in, your obosa must not be working properly. People will express concern immediately. Getting to bed earlier is an excellent way to compensate.
Otherwise, the culture is remarkably similar to ours. Out in the small towns, people are touchy about private business—but in the big city, they may be straightforward to the point of rudeness. Nothing too unexpected. (Their colloquialisms may throw you off, however. They’re all fungi-related expressions.)
Has anything in your actual life inspired the locations, cultures, etc. in your book?
I love studying science, so whenever I come across new and interesting fungi, they get featured. I also love geology, which will be featured in an upcoming book. Basically, whatever inspires me in creation gets a slot in my books.
The idea of giant mushrooms is just natural. You see something strange and weird, and you want to enlarge it to make it even stranger and weirder. One should think the dancing mushrooms would be credited to a certain Disney movie…but surprisingly, Fantasia had nothing to do with it. I just thought it would be fun if the mushrooms danced. That’s how most of my ideas work. They just happen. (I give credit to God for my creativity.) 🙂
What, if any, “hot-button” or controversial topics do you touch on in your book?
Most people would like to blame their problems on one political party or the other. In Ayphae, everyone is pointing the finger at the politicians. The question I raise is whether people should look in the mirror. Politicians can’t change your heart—only reflect what you value. Rather than blaming this political party or that party for everything, why don’t we look at ourselves as the potential problem?
I don’t take a conservative or liberal approach. I dismiss politics altogether and foist the responsibility to produce change on us. If we don’t fix things, no one will.
But I don’t like preaching at my audience. So I bring in some counter arguments as well. Government can surely do a few things right—some problems can only be fixed by them. I admit that. But again, I’m as politically neutral as possible. I really want to emphasize individual responsibility. Honestly, it feels like an appropriate message for our time. Everyone wants to play the blame game.
I’ve also taken safeguards to prevent any of my characters from being mouthpieces. I’ve ensured that each protagonist disagrees with me on at least one major thing (different for each character)—and to prevent villains from being reversed mouthpieces, I’ve ensured that each of them agrees with me on at least one major thing. I want my readers to think and question rather than being spoonfed my morality. I believe critical thinking is the best tool we have, as without it we can never improve.
Everything I write puts a new spin on fantasy as you know it. And when I’m not writing, I’m imagining my next book.
I love science and incorporate it heavily into my fantasy worlds. I also love philosophy—and since I hate going with the crowd, I resolve to take the reader on a journey of questioning and suspense, watching my characters struggle with interpreting and reacting to unfolding events.
As I live near the foothills of Colorado, I enjoy exploring the outdoors with my wife—soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of creation. But we are most passionate about our strategy games, usually spending hours or even days nerding out on one game alone.
Where, and in what formats, can we purchase your book(s)? Please include links.
Enjoy! You can also subscribe to my newsletter on my blog and get a free copy of part 1. That way you can sample it. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (Since I’m still looking for more reviewers, you could be one of them.) 😊
I love interacting with my readers!
I hope you all enjoyed the trip to Ayphae. Questions about the world or the book? Ask them in the comments and the author will get back to you!
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-Annie Douglass Lima