By Brent Hayward

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.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, September 2008.

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