Four inhabitants of a crumbling world, each with a story of their own:
These stories intersect and wrap around each other, revealing deeply disturbing truths about the artifical world they inhabit.
©2008 Brent Hayward (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"Hayward's debut is a powerful, beautifully-written dystopian tale concerning four inhabitants of a gigantic but dying artificial habitat. Young Phister has lived his entire life on the radioactive lowest level, until he sets off in pursuit of a friend, and soon becomes lost among endless passageways. Ancient Mereziah, who's devoted his life to servicing the habitat's elevators, decides to hitch a ride on the outside of one of them, hoping to rise to the fabled top of the world before he dies. Tran so Phengh, a fisherman plying his trade on a polluted and retreating lake deep within the artificial world, leaves his dying wife and sets off on a quest to ask important questions of the Gods. Deidre, a pampered young girl who lives on the beautiful pastoral level at the top of the habitat, is wrenched away from her family by monstrous angels. Eventually, each learns some small part of the secret behind their claustrophobic artificial world and its impending collapse, though the tale ends abruptly, with no real resolution and little hope. With well-developed characters and four strong plotlines told through alternating chapters, Hayward delivers a fulfilling read." (Publisher's Weekly)
"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)
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Filaria is similar in concept to Hugh Howey’s Wool, but predates that book by a couple of years and didn’t make the same splash. Like Wool, it’s set in an immense installation where people have been living for generations, stratified into different social classes, and have mostly forgotten the reasons why. Where Howey’s book (which I liked a lot) was escapist entertainment focused on the workings of the Silo and the mysteries surrounding it, Brent Hayward goes for more lyrical territory, imagining a world where the machinery and social order have been steadily breaking down.
Here, the four main characters, who have lived their lives in different parts of the great structure, have only myths and rumors about what takes place in other locales. In a waste-treatment area, a drug-addled teenager who lost his hair and teeth to his toxic environment (like everyone else there), searches for a missing ex-girlfriend who may have gone to a higher level. In a more prosperous zone, an orchard keeper’s daughter befriends a computer system whose avatar is the reanimated corpse of a dead boy and who manufactures moths and other insects for her enjoyment. The most poignant story, though, concerns an old man who has spent all of his life as an elevator operator/technician, and, on his one hundredth birthday, decides to finally leave his post and ride a car up to the world above. Soon all four protagonists are caught in the shakeup created by unseen events near “the top”.
What I liked about this book is the way Hayward doesn’t spell everything out, but lets us make connections for ourselves. Though the denizens of Filaria have a sort of Cargo Cult mentality towards the various robots and manufactured beings that operate throughout the structure, we can guess at their original purpose. The main POV characters don’t interact with each other, but secondary characters make their way between threads, allowing us to perceive the answers to several mysteries. I enjoyed the looseness of the narrative and the ambivalent ending.
What didn’t like so much was the world’s inconsistency. Sometimes, the characters behave as I would expect them to, as members of cultures that have evolved their own unique customs and perspectives over generations in a strange place. Other times, their level of sophistication seems out of place for their experience, and they employ too-familiar 21st century vocabulary and attitudes. The background seems inconsistent as well -- sometimes Filaria comes across as a fairly organized place, like a city; other times, it just seems like a jumble of zones with only machines in charge. Suspension-of-disbelief issues kept me from fully embracing this story.
Still, the concept was interesting and there were several beautifully-written scenes. Not a book I’d recommend highly, but not a bad one, either.
Filaria is a variation on the generation ship theme. In this case, the "ship" is a structure sunken in the ground with clearly a long time having passed since its inception such that the inhabitants are unaware of their own origins. The structure is multi-leveled with the top most serving as food production and administration and the lowest level comprising now largely defunct public works including a functional nuclear reactor of some type. The story follows four individuals who for various reasons move off of their natural levels (which is unusual behavior), encountering various mysteries along the way that slowly reveal the bigger picture (but only for the listener). The is little if any enlightenment for the characters.
The sci-fi elements are fairly standard with long neglected AI systems still attempting maintain order, gimmicky genetic engineering with talking crustaceans, nanotechnology to reanimate the dead, and angels. In most cases, the "technology" is first presented as almost magical and subsequently detailed. There is also an inherent hierarchy with the lowest levels losing their hair and teeth (presumably due to low level radiation exposure) while the uppermost levels live in pre-industrial comfort.
There is little resolution other than the suggestion that outside forces are attempting to deal with this dystopia. The four individuals remain separate, although various elements of their lives and relationships do overlap with one another. The author is eloquent and the descriptions are rich and complex. The narration is adequate, but unremarkable, although, ironically, this suits the mood of the tale. This is a slow listen due to a combination of the the narration style as well as the writing style.
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