Reading level: Adult
Mass market paperback: 496 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: July 30, 2013
Series: Dire Earth Cycle #1
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Reviewed by: Jenn
Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi.
In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.
Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.
I'm a huge fan of good sci-fi movies and TV shows but I don't actually read much science fiction. I've been trying to rectify this oversight, getting recommendations from my good friend, House, but it's not my go-to genre. That might be changing now, in large part due to Jason M. Hough's amazing debut, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR. I first heard about this book over on Kevin Hearne's blog, since he's blurbed it, and I'm really glad I took a chance on something a little outside my wheelhouse because I really enjoyed THE DARWIN ELEVATOR.
THE DARWIN ELEVATOR is the first book in Hough's Dire Earth Cycle, a new series set in Darwin, Australia, in the mid-23rd century. Darwin is the last human city on Earth, the rest of the world having succumbed to an alien plague that transformed most of the population into subhumans, these savage, beastial creatures who roam through the wreckage of human civilization. Darwin is also home to the elevator, this sort of umbilical cord into space that was created by the alien Builders who also created the plague, which connects Earth to a space station above. This elevator emits some sort of plague-suppressing aura, which makes Darwin the only safe place left for humans who want to stay, well, human.
THE DARWIN ELEVATOR follows a bunch of different characters but the main ones are Skyler Luiken, a human immune to the plague, who scavenges through the wreckage of the world for goods, and Tania Sharma, a beautiful and brilliant scientist who's lived her life on the space stations. It's a large cast of characters but THE DARWIN ELEVATOR is long enough that you get to know the main characters, Skyler and Tania, pretty well. Through them, we also learn a lot about the others. I found Neil Platz, a prominent businessman with lots of alien-related secrets, to be quite interesting. The longer the novel went on, the less I liked him, but he's still one of the most complex and real characters in the story. Skyler and Tania are also well developed and Hough does a great job of making them fallible but determined. I don't really click with those hyper-perfect characters you sometimes see so Tania and Skyler really worked for me, as individuals and as a team. Through Skyler, we see what life is like for an immune living on the fringes, and through Tania, we see the more privileged, science-y side of life. The contrasts between their lifestyles is quite dramatic and it gives you a good sense of the very split society that now exists on Earth.
There's also the issue of subhumans. SUBs are people who aren't immune but didn't make it to Darwin or space. They are semi-intelligent and violent, traveling in groups and operating with a pack mentality. They sort of reminded me of Arag from MAGIC BITES, the first Kate Daniels novel, in the sense that they are intelligent enough to have a bit of a personality and are even creepier for it. Watching Skyler and his team face hordes of SUBs makes for some great, suspenseful action sequences, and it really brings home the otherness that Earth now has in THE DARWIN ELEVATOR.
I do have to issue one word of caution: THE DARWIN ELEVATOR is very much a first act in this trilogy. You get some answers but I got to the end of my eARC and kept trying to read on because I didn't want the book to end when it did. Thankfully, the books are being released only a month apart, so the agony won't last too long.
I'm really glad I gave Hough's debut a shot. THE DARWIN ELEVATOR is straight-up sci fi and I quite enjoyed it. And now that trailers for that new movie , Elysium, are out, I can offer it up as a similar situation, at least in Tim's of the two split societies and the social and economic imbalances between them. I do hope you'll give this book a try.