The Darwin Elevator
(Dire Earth Cycle, #1)
Jason M. Hough
Mass Market Paperback, 496 pages
Del Rey, July 30, 2013
Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction, Thriller
This gritty, dystopian science fiction novel is, amazingly enough, a debut, and yet it's already a New York Times bestseller! Having gone for some time without reading any science fiction, I decided I had to check this one out to see what all the fuss was about.
I can honestly say that this is indeed a very interesting, highly complex novel that introduces a compelling set of characters, placing them in a very bleak future in which an alien plague has struck Earth, wiping out large segments of the population, while turning the survivors into savage, irrational creatures known as "subhumans". Indeed, the disease itself is called by an acronym -- SUBS; this is clearly reminiscent of the AIDS virus. About twelve years before this plague first appeared, another strange phenomenon manifested -- a space elevator, installed in the city of Darwin, Australia, by mysterious aliens known only as "The Builders". Even more puzzling is the fact that this elevator emits an aura that suppresses -- although it doesn't cure -- the plague symptoms. It also protects anyone who hasn't yet caught the disease. Needless to say, everyone who can do so immediately travels to Darwin, in hopes of getting under this protection. Eventually, a 'city' of space stations grows around the upper reaches of the elevator, being inhabited mostly by scientists. These inhabitants are known as "Orbitals".
There are humans who, for some mysterious reason, are immune to the plague, and can move around safely in what is known as the "Clear" -- all territory outside the invisible influence of the Aura.
Skyler Luiken, one of the main characters, is an immune. Together with a crew of other immunes, he embarks on scavenging missions to bring back usable items requested by those who can afford to pay for them. The crew flies to different parts of the world on an airship known as Melville, which is a nice literary nod to that author. They are sent on these missions by someone named Prumble, the intermediary between the scavengers and his clients.
I really like Skyler. He has a lot of self-doubts, and yet, when the situation requires it, he meets danger head on. He's resourceful as well as courageous. He's also a tenderhearted romantic, although Hough doesn't allow that side of him to be seen too much in this novel.
Dr. Tania Sharma, the Orbital scientist, meets Skyler and his crew when Neil Platz, the world's wealthiest man, sends her to Hawaii on a secret project. This trip sets off the novel's central conflict, which pits the villainous Russell Blackfield, with his overbearing lust for power, against Platz and members of the Orbital Council, chief of whom is Alex Warthen.
Skyler and Tania are caught in the midst of all the mayhem, and Hough throws in a hint of romance between them, which I do wish he had developed further. Perhaps he will, in the subsequent novels of this series. However, there's no doubt that he focuses mostly on all the action and intricate plotting.
I found Dr. Sharma somewhat disappointing as a character, at first. Samantha, a member of Skyler's crew, came on too strong, but Tania Sharma was barely there. While she was surely competent in the gathering and interpretation of the data needed for Platz's project, she seemed to be a bit too much on the bland side. It was not until the very end of the novel that her intelligence and shrewdness really became apparent.
I have mixed feelings about Samantha. Although I do admire kick-butt heroines, and she certainly is one of them, I don't like that she curses more than all her fellow scavengers, who are male.
Then there's Neil Platz, the rather enigmatic financial genius behind most of the technology in the novel, with the exception of The Builders' elevator, of course. He is the architect of the Orbital world clustered around the Darwin Elevator. Yet, he holds a terrible secret that not even his protégé, Tania Sharma, knows about.... He is, I think, the most fascinating of all the fictional people created by Hough for this novel.
Of all the characters, I found Russell Blackfield to be the most distasteful, with his perverted sense of humor and delusions of grandeur. Of course, these qualities made him an excellent villain.
It's undeniable that all of Hough's characters are realistically drawn; although they do lack some depth. I wish he had made them more well-rounded. Still, they do interest me enough (except for Blackfield, of course) to draw me into their story. However, it is indeed the plot that takes center stage throughout.
The world-building is excellent. Hough takes some time with that, so the book does start off a bit on the slow side, while every detail is laid in for the reader's benefit, but it does pick up toward the middle. The technology is very well extrapolated from our current cutting-edge developments. This is a very plausible, believable future scenario.
The desolation and eerie loneliness of the places the scavengers visit is well described, and it's horrible when the "subs" break the bleak mood to attack our heroes. The terrible conditions of the "Clear" are well contrasted with the sterilized, squeaky clean environment of the space stations, and the first hints of what seems to be, on some level, class warfare, appear.
The climax of the novel is riveting, with dramatic impact on the whole Darwin/Orbital scenario. The author left the ending open-ended, because the action will continue in the next two novels in this fascinating series.
I think this novel would translate quite well to the silver screen, and I hope it will get there within the near future, because I'd love to see it! Given the book's length, I'm sure some scenes would be altered or completely left out. This would be a fascinating film saga, if the next two books also become movies. And I really don't see why this wouldn't happen; this is a solid space adventure with a very interesting science backdrop, as well as speculation on who these alien 'Builders' could possibly be. In fact, the style of the novel reminded me of the great Arthur C. Clarke. I'm thinking specifically of his classic, Childhood's End, although The Darwin Elevator bears no similarity to it. Still, the sense of an apocalyptic ending to humanity hangs heavily over both novels, and I would say that Clarke and Hough share the same creative and scientific mindsets.
In conclusion, I would say that Hough is a writer to watch! This is science fiction which not only entertains, but also creates thought-provoking speculation on the ultimate fate of humanity. I really enjoyed reading it, and highly recommend it to all science fiction aficionados! (To which group I am proud to say I belong!)
I'd like to thank TLC Book Tours
for including me in this tour, as well as
for providing a copy of this exciting novel!
Jason M. Hough
About the Author
Jason M. Hough Online
For the list of all participating blogs,
just click on the button below!