The Darwin Elevator

Just because I have it on hand and because I really am off reading for a new review, you get an retro review.

This one is from July 16, 2013, and the review copy came through Amazon Vine.

Review: The Darwin Elevator, Jason M. Hough, 2013.Darwin Elevator

About the year 2257, aliens show up and give us a space elevator. A few years later they show up again, and they give us zombies. Oh, they’re not called zombies. They’re called subhumans. They’re creatures of all consuming emotion and not brain-eating cannibals. But they are mindless and usually aggressive. The alien Builders, however, have handily provided the solution to the problem they created. The 39,000 km. cable to space puts out the Aura – a field that mysteriously stops or, at least, arrests the disease that turns people into “subs” within hours.

The Aura’s effect, though, doesn’t cover much area, and the small remnant of humanity huddles in Darwin, Australia at the bottom of the cable and in orbital stations along the elevator. Locked in a resentful symbiosis, the clean, well-fed, well-educated orbital dwellers supply the slums of Darwin with food and get water, air, and scavenged parts in exchange. Many of the scavengers are like hero Skyler, a select few who are immune to the subhuman plague and go on dangerous missions to pick up requested items. The trouble is Russell Blackfield, ambitious, thuggy leader of the Darwin contingent skims off the scavenged hauls before the crews can sell them. Desperate to keep his crew together, Skyler takes on one more desperate mission to gather some astronomical data in a Japanese observatory.

What eventually unravels – and at much faster pace and in unexpected directions – is a story pitting Neil Platz, the billionaire who cunningly profited off the Darwin Elevator, against Blackfield and that tangles both up in the still unraveling alien contact with Earth. There’s battle, intrigue, double dealing and double crossing, explosions, snipers, mysterious alien artifacts, a beautiful scientist, and a warrior babe.

Yes, along with the subhumans, Hough gets close to cliché. But, as the subhumans aren’t conventional zombies, the romance between Skyler and Tania Sharma – that beautiful scientist – isn’t rushed and feels real in the way it plays out. Sure there’s a warrior babe – but she’s a giant of a woman which makes it more plausible. And, as nasty and ruthless as some of the characters have been in their past, they are not cartoonishly evil in their actions and capable of moments of kindness and sympathy. In other word, Hough’s skill is the aura keeping brainless predictability at bay.

Conceptually, this isn’t a significant novel. Apart from some advances in aviation, little seems to have changed technologically between now and 2257. There are certainly no significant differences in biotechnology or electronics and no transhuman elements. And, oddly for a former 3D artist and game designer, Hough’s description of the elevator is a bit sketchy at times.

On the other hand, that could have been me because I was so eager to continue with the story because this, with the above reservations, is a fine science fiction adventure novel. Del Rey, in an unusual move, has promised the second two books of the Dire Earth trilogy in the next two months. I will certainly be there for them.


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