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The Darwin Elevator, by Jason M. Hough (Dire Earth Cycle Book 1)
published July 2013
where I got it: purchased new
When Skyler Luiken was a kid, a strange alien ship took up residence over the Earth, and plunged a spun thread into the Earth’s surface, creating a space elevator with the original alien ship acting as an anchor at the other end. Suddenly, Darwin, Australia was the most important city on earth, and Neil Platz, owner of the property where the elevator landed, was the richest man in the world.
A few years after the elevator landed, the plague hit. Within days, anyone not within the Aura of the Elevator base succumbed to the Subs disease, causing them to devolve to a near animal state. People flocked to Darwin, hoping to escape the disease, or at least slow it down.
These days, the area around the elevator base, known as Nightcliff, is a cesspit, and crews of scavengers use ancient shuttles and repurposed airplanes to travel to surrounding unsafe areas to find tools and machinery and metal, anything that can be sold. Soil and water go up the Elevator to the stations, and food and medicine come down. A small handful of people are immune to the Subs disease, including Skyler and the crew of his ship, The Melville. Russell Blackfield rules Nightcliff with an iron fist, playing politics for a seat on the Elevator Council. Yes, there’s plenty of politics in this book too!
The plot of The Darwin Elevator is a lot of fun, and it cracks me up that the story’s most implausible aspect one of it’s best features. There is a lot of unexplained alien technology, and “the aliens did it!”, which at first was tough for me to swallow. Props to Hough for extending my suspension of disbelief. Characters for the most part are interesting as well, Skyler isn’t exactly an hero or an anti-hero, he’s just a guy who wants to do his damn job, get his damn paycheck, and pay his crew. He doesn’t want to get involved in anything.
While the insecure Skyler is learning how to be a captain, and parachuting out of a plane to scavenge parts (yes, people jump out of airplanes. it’s hella cool), up on the Elevator Neil Platz has decided it’s time the world knows his secret. But he can’t be the one to tell them, so he feeds hints to his top scientist, Tania Sharma to see what she comes up with. Tania is sent down to the surface to go with Skyler to Japan to find the original data cubes from when the Aliens first visited. She gets a taste of the surface (yay! fresh air!), and a taste of Russell Blackfield (asshole!). But there’s something really fishy about this data, and even fishier about how Neil knew where it would be.
There’s an obvious has/has-not happening between the Elevator and the ground. Scientists and Technicians up in the Elevator, known as Orbitals, live the good life. Everyone is healthy and wants for nothing. Sure, there is work to do, but it is clean, safe work. Down on the surface, most people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it’s dangerous to be anywhere alone. Granted, Darwin hasn’t got much to offer, but there’s got to be a reason why it became such a dangerous shithole.
The Darwin Elevator was good, but not great for me. The plot kept my attention, and certainly kept me turning pages. Hough puts a lot of intelligent details in, such as the sound of engines attracts Subs, so the everyone parachutes out the back while the pilot circles above. The plane only lands for a few minutes to get everyone and whatever they’ve found on board. Another one is that for the planes to get more range, they hitch a ride up the elevator with a climber, so they can start their flight from the stratosphere.
Speaking of details, it’s the same area where I some issues with The Darwin Elevator. Hough does a ton of infodumping right at the beginning, giving us lots of details and info, but little context. Lots of and lots of telling, not enough showing, and the reader doesn’t yet know where any of this fits into the worldview of the book. A few side characters, like Prumble, are developed really well, but others came off as one dimensional, due to Hough focusing on only one of two of their character traits. We’re constantly reminded how beautiful Tania is, and Russell Blackfield with his obsession over fucking nameless whores makes him such a laughably over the top villain that he starts giving off that Sheriff of Nottingham vibe. Blackfield didn’t really fit in with anyone else. There were too many times where characters were referred to as “him” or “her”, and I didn’t know which guy or gal was being referred to. In the big action sequence at the end, I simply could not figure the mechanics of what ship or station or shuttle was attached to what. Little details like that really came to bother me.
I’m going to chalk my complaints up to this being a debut novel.
If you’re looking for a fun action-y scifi read that will keep you turning the pages and give you a good laugh now and again, give The Darwin Elevator a shot. I didn’t dislike it, it was just fine, I actually liked a lot about this book. The too much telling, not enough showing, non-character-specific pronouns, and a villain who didn’t’ fit in kept coming back to bite the book in it’s butt.
Will I continue reading in this series? Well, I bought a copy of the book because it’s the September book for my local Scifi bookclub. If they choose to do the 2nd book for a future meeting, I’ll read it.