The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
Author: Jason M. Hough
Genre: Fiction (Future / 23rd Century / Australia / Dystopia / Alien)
Publisher/Publication Date: Del Rey (7/30/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked a good deal. Possibly even loved.
Did I finish?: I did. I stayed up until 3am to finish.
One-sentence summary: A scavenger and a scientist find themselves unlikely allies in 23rd century Australia when human rebellion and alien technology collide. (I did this as a joke tagline for my wife but I'm still going to keep it.)
Reading Challenges: E-book, Immigrant Stories
Do I like the cover?: No, but I suppose I'm not the book's target demographic.
I'm reminded of...: Robert Charles Wilson
First line: Blood streamed down inside of the tiny vial and pooled at the bottom.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like
Why did I get this book?: The comparison to Firefly totally got me.
Review: I'm a picky reader when I take on light sci-fi/dystopias: I don't want to spend a long time trying to get up to speed; I hate fight scenes; I have a high squick factor when it comes gooey bodies, be they diseased or zombified; and loads of technical jargon make my eyes glaze.
Happily The Darwin Elevator worked even though it came with fight scenes, some gooey bodies, and a tiny bit of technical jargon. I was so invested in this book I stayed up until 3am to finish, because I had to know, and I sent about ten million emails to various friends every few chapters, squeeing about the fun I was having.
Set in 2283, the novel covers about 44 days, from January to February. Almost thirty years earlier, aliens built a 'space elevator' in Darwin, Australia, a massive structure that went 40,000 kilometers into space. It brought with it a plague that turned humans into 'subs' -- wild, savage, driven by base instincts like anger. An 'aura' around the elevator site made Darwin a safe zone -- the sub disease was halted if one was within the aura -- which made Darwin first a booming metropolis before it turned into a decaying, collapsing city.
A few humans were immune to the alien virus, among them Dutch pilot Skyler Luiken (thankfully, a character makes the same Luke Skywalker joke I did!) and his ragged crew of scavengers: Jake, his stoic sniper; Angus, his youthful pilot; and Samantha, his kickass security lead. Traveling outside the Aura for goods around the world, they're the much needed source of electronics and other supplies. (And they very much reminded me of the crew from Firefly.)
Humans have started using the elevator, building numerous habitations and farming and industrial stations to support life. Stunningly gorgeous researcher Dr. Tania Sharma is an 'orbital', protege to Neil Platz, the industrialist made a fortune with lucky purchases in Darwin just before the space elevator came, and who drives the secret research into the 'Builders', the aliens who made the elevator.
Things get messy when it seems a new strain of the alien disease breaks out, and there's a power struggle between the man who runs Darwin and those who run the stations on the elevator. Tania's research is teasing out details about the aliens and the elevator -- and might explain why things are suddenly changing.
I'm trying to think of non-cliched ways to describe just how wildly fun this book was. Relentless plot, which was great, and the kind of creepy tension that comes from wondering if our aliens have good or nefarious intentions toward us. The characters were a tiny bit thin, but whatever, I came to this for adventure, not a subtle exploration of the human psyche. The world-building -- and Hough's unspooling of it -- was fantastic: I was plunged in but didn't feel overwhelmingly lost, and the reader education felt subtle enough it didn't feel like reading a futuristic history text.
While the book doesn't end on a cliffhanger, it's clear there's a sequel, and happily, both books two and three are coming out in the next few months -- so no waiting. This is a perfect summer read for fans of alien-themed summertime action films (I'm thinking the Alien franchise, including a household favorite Alien vs. Predator) as well as those who like dystopia-ish settings but aren't in the mood for zombies (as the focus).
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Darwin Elevator to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 8/30.