A drug-addled boy pines for his ex; a man deserts his post as a lift operator on his 100th birthday; a girl is exiled by her father and learns more about her ancestors than she bargained for; and a fisherman searches for the god of all gods to demand why his wife is wasting away. In Brent Hayward’s Filaria, each of these four characters sets out from the relative comforts of their lives into a “crumbling world.”
Filaria is the first novel from a new Canadian genre press, ChiZine Publications. Before I even opened the book, I was impressed by its production. From its gorgeous cover to the typesetting, Filaria looks and feels like a book that should have been published by a major house—no small feat for the first outing of a start-up publisher. But looks aside, the true wonders of the novel lurk within.
The title of the book refers a genus of fluke-like parasites that infest the blood of mammals, a role the inhabitants of Hayward's novel replicate, as they roam the claustrophobic corridors and bowers of the many-leveled structure that is their home, world and prison. Hayward weaves their stories together as they claw their way upward in search of answers.
Filaria is a startlingly original and unsettling vision of humanity's possible future, blending post-apocalyptic SF with the suspense and weirdness of Lovecraftian horror.
—Chadwick Ginther, McNally Robinson
Filaria is a double debut: the first book to be published by the new macabre fiction imprint ChiZine Publications (an offshoot of the Chiaroscuro website run by Toronto author Brett Savory), as well as the first novel by Toronto writer Brent Hayward.
The story’s framework borrows from a pair of science-fiction conventions—a future society with a rigid system of social stratification, run entirely by machines. Beneath a dead planet a sort of human ant colony has been set up by a legendary engineer. The colony consists of 32 levels—each a city in itself—connected by an advanced elevator/transit system. At the top, Level One, the beautiful people live on plantations. At the bottom, sickly ghouls labour as garbage collectors and sewer workers. At the beginning of the novel, the network that runs this claustrophobic system has broken down. Chaos ensues. What’s more, an alien force seems to have invaded the subterranean biosphere, motives unknown.
The narrative has four parallel threads that never actually meet but are each indirectly related. A young Morlock from the 32nd floor is chased upward, pursuing an unlikely destiny. A privileged plantation princess climbs to the edge of the known world and beyond. A centenarian lift attendant begins his last ascent. And a troubled family man finds himself drifting to the lower depths, seeking some kind of primary energy source.
Much of the story remains a little vague, and is made more so by Hayward’s technique of eliding crucial plot points, but this also leads us to sympathize with the characters’ confusion in their newly out-of-joint and de-compartmentalized world, and emphasizes the story’s prominent (but not restrictive) allegorical qualities.
First and foremost, however, Filaria is a great read, crackling with invention, energy, and suspense. For both ChiZine and Hayward, it’s an auspicious start.
—Alex Good, Quill & Quire
Two men, one young and curious, the other old and as set in his ways as a grandfather clock, guide a beat-up car through a seemingly endless maze of uninhabited tunnels as they search for a missing girl. Young Phister (as he’s known) works look-out as his cantankerous partner navigates the car, which keeps informing them via a voice box that they are “grossly abusing” a Public Works vehicle. When they are flagged down by an aging playwright also searching for a missing person, Phister is forced to question everything he has believed about the world and himself up until that moment. Why? Because the playwright, in his 50s, still has his hair and teeth, and everyone Young Phister has ever known has been toothless and bald since childhood.
Brent Hayward’s debut novel is full of such jarring moments, in which various characters stumble upon each other in the back stairwells, elevator shafts and forgotten corridors of a vast underground city that has fallen into disrepair over the centuries, isolating its citizens in a series of unique, parallel worlds. Is the city a crumbling bomb shelter? What drove its inhabitants underground? A plague? A nuclear firestorm? No one can remember, and some, like Young Phister, have lived for generations in total isolation.
What makes Filaria so compelling is Hayward’s innovative narrative structure, which effortlessly shifts between the interlocking journeys of four major characters, each from one of the underground city’s radically different worlds. Hayward forces the reader to experience the four journeys through the limited perspectives and life experiences of his confused protagonists, and in doing so dramatizes the ways in which environment, history, disease, social hierarchies and technologies interact to create what seem to be self-evident truths about the universe and our place in it. Even better, the heady ideas are brought to life by an increasingly creepy story of artificial intelligence gone very bad, entire ecosystems of mutated creatures both organic and robotic, and a cast of all-too-human characters as frightened and curious as the reader.
—James Grainger, Rue Morgue Magazine
A disquieting, claustrophobic, compelling hybrid of China Miéville and J. G. Ballard. I first read Filaria almost two years ago: its subterranean imagery has been stuck in my midbrain ever since.
—Peter Watts, author of Starfish and Blindsight