Book Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
Expected Date of Publication: July 30, 2013
Wow, what a pleasant surprise this was. My thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing me with an e-ARC of The Darwin Elevator in exchange for an honest review. Loved this book! I don’t think I’ve had this much fun with a new sci-fi novel since James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes.
The book takes place in mid-23rd century Darwin, Australia. The city is home to the last bastion of humanity, thanks to an alien plague that’s wiped out most of the planet, turning its victims into mindless, savage “subhumans” or “SUBS”. The unknown aliens were also responsible for the presence of a giant space elevator that keeps Darwin enveloped in an invisible plague-suppressing Aura. So too, one other effect of the great Darwin Elevator is a clear division of classes, with the privileged “Orbitals” living high up on one end of it, and the less fortunate masses living down below.
Skyler is the head of one of the many scavenger teams that operate out of Darwin, but he and his specially handpicked crew have the distinct advantage of being immune to the plague, allowing them to travel beyond the Aura without the aid of vac-suits or fear of infection. Their immunity, however, does not protect them against the violence of the infected, so it is disconcerting to all when the elevator begins to experience power instabilities, and even worse — cases of SUBS are being reported within the Aura, which everyone had thought was too secure to ever fail. Amidst conspiracies and the rising class tensions, Skyler is unwittingly pulled into a conflict whose result could determine the fate of humanity.
With all the talk of aliens, I first thought I should be settling in for a rollicking space opera, but as it turns out, the story is mostly all earthbound (for now, at least). Despite that, the book still has all the good stuff, just without the space. It’s intense. It’s dramatic. It’s sweeping. And most important of all, it’s fun. Throw in plenty of action and adventure and also some of that post-apocalyptic goodness, and you have this book. The descriptions of the abandoned, desolate and crumbling landscapes outside the Aura put me in mind of games like the Fallout series, just without the radioactivity. You really get the feeling like a subhuman can jump out and attack at any second. It’s fantastic.
Another thing that made me like this book so much was the pacing of the story, the way it teased me into these “not-quite-there” action-suspense sequences at the beginning (that almost got me all frustrated!) before coming down seriously hard with the gun-fighting and battle scenes for real. Basically, things really heat up around the midway point, and they don’t slow down from there.
For a sci-fi novel, this book was also very easy to follow. Even with all the advanced science fiction elements and alien technology, it wasn’t hard for me to grasp the concepts and picture the descriptions in my head. I’m always a fan of books that can do this without bogging the story down with all the techno-lingo. Thanks to very natural and sometimes humorous dialogue, the characters are also very likeable, and even the disgusting perverted pig of an antagonist is someone you’ll love to hate.
All in all, just a really impressive debut. I really wish I’d gotten to this sooner. Can’t wait to find out what happens in the next book, Jason M. Hough is going straight onto my list of new science fiction authors to watch.
Note: Just found out that The Darwin Elevator started life out as a NaNoWriMo project! Even more cool!