At a time when novels that are carbon copies of an author’s previous work and pastiches banged out due to contractual obligations have been short-listed for major genre awards, it is immeasurably refreshing to encounter a book that feels carefully yet ambitiously wrought to maximize the potential of its project. This is not to suggest that Filaria is (or rather, was) award-worthy, but the book is a reminder that this mixture of care and ambition marks a useful baseline for what we expect of fiction. Filaria is not a work that dazzles with new ideas, rather it impresses by deploying a greater set of storytelling techniques than many better-known works, and in so doing renews the sense of wonder associated with familiar concepts of SF and horror. The result is a novel that is entertaining in the commonly understood, page-turning sense, without fatally insulting the intelligence or the aesthetics of a cultivated reader. Filaria is a short book whose movements occur in a tightly enclosed space, that nonetheless manages to capture a great deal of the horror and the hope of human endeavor.
There is a level, I admit, on which the review plays to my ego: here is an interesting, under-appreciated novel, it says, and I think ooh, I want to know about the cool thing. Of such reactions is buzz made. But rather more important factors include the thoroughness of the analysis, the clarity about the reviewer’s own tastes and expectations, the care taken in composition — the review is a good piece of writing in itself, which makes me trust the recommendation that much more — and the modesty and specificity of its claims. It does not say Filaria is a criminally neglected masterwork; it does not say that it is flawless. It says: “Filaria is good because it handles the basics of entertaining storytelling so well, balancing plot, character, setting, prose, and pacing, while encompassing core themes of both SF and horror”; and that what it uses those elements to do is interesting. And so I ordered a copy for myself, and it arrived a couple of days ago.