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on 27 July 2013
"The builders came to Earth and constructed an elevator from Darwin, Australia into space. No one knows why, or if they will return"

Following the arrival of the cable, humankind has built space stations at various altitudes along the space cable. Living in the space stations are scientist, agriculturalists and other, privileged people. Several years later a plague envelopes the planet turning humans into feral animals. The only ones protected are the rare "immunes" and the people who live within a 9 mile radius of the space elevator which exudes an Aura of protection. Of course those living in the space stations are also protected, due to their isolation from earth.

Skyler Luiken is one of a group of scavengers who roam the planet in mothballed ex air force aircraft, searching for anything useful which can be sold to the elites who live in orbit. What's unusual about Luiken's team is that they are all "immunes" meaning that they don't have to use cumbersome haz-mat suits while out plying their trade.

The political balance of Darwin sits on a knife edge with Neil Platz in control of the orbital habitats and Russell Blackfield controlling the ground station of Nightcliff, the anchor point for the space elevator. The orbitals control food production, owned by Platz, who has his own dark secrets, and the ground-station controls the supply of Air and Water to the orbitals.

This is the setting for this debut novel from Hough. First thoughts are that I liked this first book in the "Dire Earth Cycle". There have been a plethora of dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels released in recent years and it is reassuring to finally find one that doesn't make me want to "slash my wrists" after reading it. The main characters are well developed and, unusually for such a novel, actually have a sense of humour, something severely lacking in a lot of other books of this particular genre such as Hugh Howeys "Wool" series. Skyler Luiken is a reluctant hero, who more or less by accident finds himself drawn into the political battle for the ultimate control of mankind's destiny. He has to pit his wits against Blackfield who is a "baddie" in the true classical sense of the word.

And still, the power struggle may only be the start of humankind's problems; for the builders are returning...

The gulf in the quality of life between the "Orbitals" and the Darwinians is huge. The orbitals live in relative luxury, completely removed from the daily and constant struggle for survival which is the lot of most of the earthbound population, all of whom are dreaming of one day ascending to space to a life without fear of starvation or premature death.

This was a fast-paced and thrilling read. And while it is clear that there is more story left to tell I am grateful that the author didn't leave me stranded on one of those heart-stopping cliff-hangers that seem to be all the rage these days.

I was very pleasantly surprised with this first offering from Hough, who managed to instil a sense of hope and optimism, and not a little humour into a subject which too often is portrayed in a truly grim manner, and I look forward to the next two instalments in the series, "The Exodus Towers" and "The Plague Forge".
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on 26 August 2013
I have not read any Jason M. Hough books and was most pleasantly surprised when I downloaded The Darwin Elevator to my Kindle. Although rather confusing at first, because of the different locations for each part of the story, I was interested enough to persevere and found the story unfolded to an exciting finish. I will now read the other Dire Earth Cycle books and look forward to the new one out in the Autumn. I like the main characters and their descriptions and the story did not flag when the twists and turns took in all the different locations which I rapidly got used to.. Certainly nice to find a new (to me) author.
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The arrival of mysterious technology has managed, in a short period of time, to move humanity forward and then stop it almost dead in its tracks. Briefly, the Earth experienced a golden age and then suddenly a disease has put pay to all that. Society has effectively split, becoming two distinct groups - the haves and the have-nots. Those that live off planet in a series of space stations that connect via the elevator to Earth. Meanwhile, those that can't attempt to survive in the only other place left, at the base of the machine in Darwin.

In Darwin, the cast of characters are an eclectic bunch. The lead, Skyler Luiken has a roguish charm that will no doubt be a hit, you can't really go far wrong with an amalgam of Solo and Reynolds. His crew, particularly the enforcer Samantha, are also a highlight. Even the local smuggler's fence/fixer, Prumble, has some moments to shine.

The economics of Darwin play an important part in proceedings. At the base of the elevator is a fortress know as Nightcliff. Here, an official called Russell Blackfield has created his own little fiefdom. He knows that those humans who now live off planet require a constant flow of traffic up and down the lift's route. He uses this to his advantage, scheming and manipulating every situation he can in order to gain more and more control. Ultimately he dreams of being in charge of everything and you can sense it is only a matter of time before he is going to make his move.

The most intriguing of all the characters however is Neil Platz. His company were the first to exploit the alien technology when it first arrived and he is directly responsible for humanities move closer towards the stars. He has moved his scientific exploration into orbit and he has become obsessed with discovering as much as he can about the enigmatic Builders. The nature of his obsessions are key to events as the plot unfolds. He's an interesting mix, imagine meeting someone who is all child-like wonder one moment and then ruthless business man the next.

While reading about the disparity between the lifestyles of those living in Darwin and those living in orbit, I was taking my visual cues from the trailer for Neil Blomkamp's forthcoming movie Elysium. In his novel, Hough has captured that same sense of inequality. Those in Darwin don't have any choice; the risk of being exposed to the contamination is too great. They have to live as close to the elevator as they can, the only safe zone, where the disease is held in check. Meanwhile, high above, the Orbitals live a more comfortable existence. At its core, the writing rather cleverly explores the divisions that have arisen in what's left of the Earth's dwindling population. Rather than banding together in order to survive, strong egos cause clashes between the various factions vying for power.

The story also excels when the author turns his descriptive powers towards action. For reasons that I'm not going to explain, spoilers and whatnot, our lead and his crew quickly find themselves in a race against time. These chapters whip by at breakneck speed and it's easy to get caught up in the relentless pace. Doesn't matter if it's on the ground, in the air, or in outer space, Hough knows how to deliver first rate thrills and spills.

The chapters that feature the sub-humans have a suitably creepy vibe. The "subs" come across as almost a kind of primal zombie. I rather like that there are moments where The Darwin Elevator moves from science fiction and nearly becomes post-apocalyptic horror. It's a sure sign of Hough's skill as a writer that he is able effortlessly traverse that fine line that exists between these two respective genres.

There were only a couple of things that I think didn't work for me. There were some instances where I felt the plot seemed to fall into a bit of a holding pattern. More than once characters danced around a reveal that would move things forward, that came across a little unnecessary. My other minor quibble is what's missing from The Darwin Elevator. They are eluded to throughout, but there wasn't an appearance by the mysterious alien Builders. In fairness, I do suspect that it won't be too long before they do finally show themselves.

Overall though, this is a rock-solid debut that showcases some fine writing and, more importantly perhaps, bucket loads of potential. As far as the story goes I can only hope that book two features more of the same. More sub-human mayhem, more zero-gravity warfare and *fingers crossed* much more from those damn elusive Builders. Based on what I've read so far, I think I'd be keen to read more of this author's work.

The Darwin Elevator is published by Titan Books and is available on 26th July. The sequel, The Exodus Towers, arrives at the end of August and the final book in the trilogy, The Plague Forge, at the end of September. If you like your science fiction intelligent but action packed, with a blistering pace, this could well be the series for you.
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on 12 February 2014
The book itself is worthy of 5*, it's your standard zombie apocalypse fare, with the shotgun armed protagonists eking a living by scavenging the remains of civilization and headshotting any feral plague infected zombies they meet along the way.
But it is very well executed and the addition of details like parajumping into zombie infested locations via sub-orbital military dropships give it a nice futuristic feel. The story is fleshed out with a potential extra-terrestrial origin for the zombie plague and a mysterious alien built space elevator that has an unknown but pivotal role in the whole affair.

Unfortunately this isn't a stand alone book. It's part of a trilogy - and the trilogy ends itself on a note which could lead to future novels. Unfortunately the quality of the books drop as the story progresses and by the end the whole narrative just feels tired and limps to an unsatisfying conclusion.

It almost feels like the author has spun two books worth of plot out into three (quite long) books and in the meantime hasn't paid enough attention to how he was going to end the whole thing. Despite the fact the trilogy is (arguably) too long the ending feels rushed and many plot points are left hanging and unexplained. It reminds me a bit of the TV series Lost - the author gives us lots of cool scenes which pose more and more questions about the whole ET/Zombie mystery but then in the end all the questions are dismissed/ignored and no satisfying answers are given.

Perhaps these are to come in a future trilogy but by now I no longer trust the author to deliver them and am unwilling to invest the time to find out. For me a drip feed of answers to at least some of the questions and an indication that the book is more than a load of cool scenes strung together - that there is a satisfying overarching story that is going to link it all together - is needed.

So 5* for the book itself and the concept but I couldn't really recommend anyone who wasn't a massive space zombie fan taking on the trilogy as a whole - so 3* for the trilogy, 4* overall.
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on 19 November 2013
I am always wary of titles by authors unknown to me so I took a bit of a flyer with Darwin Elevator. Let me just say that in classic-style SF I expect a solid background of explanation for the various wonders in the book otherwise it just becomes fantasy. I was initially intrigued by the elevator subject as I have read several good novels using this theme, Arthur C Clark's being the first. (I forget the title as it was such a long time ago!). The set-up and premise started well and believably then I began to get a bit restive as very little hard science backed up the talk of the thread and the factories, agricultural rings and so on. There is a diagram of the placing of the various parts of the ring which gives absolutely no feel for the distances involved or relative sizes and such. 40.000 kilometres was given as the distance from ground to the topmost point of the elevator but no idea of travel time which could well be several days, or ... well I could go on ... but this left me floundering a little and asking irritable sotto voce questions from time to time. However, the rest of the story bounced along very well and when I came to the end I immediately ordered Exodus Towers as, unusually for a trilogy, Darwin Elevator ends on an unresolved cliffhanger leaving the reader breathless and wanting more. In this second of the three books several of the SF questions were answered in quite an offhand manner, almost as if the author had been nudged by someone who pointed out that they should have gone in a lot earlier. Still - that was me satisfied. I have already completed Exodus Towers and have the final book of The Dire Earth Cycle on my Kindle but I am teasing myself to leave it for a couple of weeks as this is the last bit and I'm going to be sorry when it is finished. In other words a d*** good read!
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on 11 November 2013
...and it doesn't. I have now read all three of the Dire Earth Cycle and after the first I thought "he can't keep this up". All three have been serious page turners and not the usual zombie rubbish. The stories are more about the people in difficult physical and emotional situations and how they deal with them as opposed to the usual gorefest. I readily admit there is gore and violence but it's in context with the (likely) situations and scenarios the characters would have to deal with if your next door neighbour turned animal.

No spoilers here, because the reader's journey and interpretation of the plot and drama is important (as with any work). Jason M. Hough's characters are well described which ensures early reader adoption, the use of technology plot devices is not fantasy, as with one example; VTOL aircraft which use electric motors powered by super capacitors are a present day reality.

It is a voyage of mystery and an immersive adventure. It makes you think - a story which will make you stop and look around you and ask "how would I survive?"

My only comment which is not really negative is the title; before I read it The Darwin Elevator had me conjuring images of Charles Darwin and this was the story of the evolution of the species. Darwin = theory, elevator = evolution, yes I know I'm too deep for my own good.

The series deserves high acclaim and I eagerly await the cycle getting another wheel.
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on 29 December 2015
Kinda interesting concept let down by utterly inconsistent characters and a bad guy who is both a) comically evil and b) apparently impossible to kill.

Earth is now a wasteland filled with mutated humans (NOT zombies, honestly...), all except for a small enclave in Darwin Australia. Anyone leaving the safe zone becomes infected and will turn into a not-zombie unless they get back within the borders, whereupon the mutation will stop at whatever level of partial not-zombie they are. All except for a few "immunes" who make a living leaving the safe zone to salvage equipment that the survivors of the not-zombie apocalypse so desperately need for survival. Oh and there's a space elevator that has been constructed by an unmanned alien ship that may or may not have something to do with the initial outbreak. Mix in the troubled hero, the unbelievably beautiful (but still intelligent) love interest, previously mentioned OTT bad guy and some plot twists that will have you rolling your eyes and there you go.

I've read worse.
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on 22 November 2013
To me, the best books are those where you can visualise the scenes and characters as though they were on tv, or in a film. I could certainly do that with The Darwin Elevator. The action is fast paced, with most chapters switching between several of the main characters. This steadily builds the plot, and keeps the action coming from all angles.
While there are a lot of 'zombie' style films and books out there are the moment, Hough manages to keep the ideas fresh by the involvement of alien technology.
I felt as though we really get to know the main characters, especially Skyler Luiken - who is immune to the zombie plague.
Be warned, this is the first part of a trilogy, and ends on a cliff-hanger. Personally, I had to know what happened straight away, so I went straight on to the 2nd book.
I'd recommend this book to anyone. I personally don't like complicated sci-fi where there are lots of different peoples and technology, but this was great and easy to dive into.
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on 28 September 2013
After reading this novel I have added Jason Hough to my relatively short list of SF writers that I like. He keeps you engaged all the way through with characters that engage, plots that you can believe in and keep moving at a good pace.

However, my first complaint is that the book is not self contained and is just the first installment of a longer story, and consequently stops at a completely arbitrary point. Since I enjoyed this book this wasnt a big problem because I was more than happy to buy the next books.

Which brings me to my main gripe. While each of the books is a good read, the promise is that the strange goings on were all part of something that made sense. Sadly once I had finished the final novel I realised that there had been no plan, just random occurences of "strange and awesome alien artifacts".

To be fair there was a big reveal at the end, but for me it simply was not credible and was a big let down.
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I genuinely wanted to like The Darwin Elevator and I did manage to push through to the end, but overall I have to mark this one down as a miss.

A combination of weak characterisation, a rambling, unfocused narrative, world-building that just doesn't feel even vaguely plausible (and seems designed more to support the plot than because its supported by any inherent logic) and ignorance over the basic laws of physics that would govern the titular Elevator, leave Jason M. Hough's novel holed below the water line. Add in excessive, unjustified length that tried this reader's patience and you have a first novel that works hard but trips over its feet too many times.
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