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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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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 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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on 25 November 2013
I read a lot of SF. Two things, to me, can make it good:

1. Consistent, coherent and convincing science
2. Decent writing skills

Now, I'm pretty tolerant of middling writing skills if the concepts are interesting and attention grabbing. Sadly The Darwin Elevator meets neither criteria. At all. The characters are two dimensional, the prose clunky, the dialogue cringe-worthy. And the science: oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The main howlers:

A. A space elevator away from the equator. Why would aliens, however advanced, do that? It's just dumb for so many reasons.
B. All the habitats on the tower are at zero G; lots of floating and bouncing off walls. Presumably because of, you know: SPACE!! The only weightless point on the whole structure would be at geosynchronous orbit. The lower habitats would almost be at earth normal. And remember that these are human-built structures and so are not fitted with an alien antigravity mcguffin.
C. A counter-weight at geosynchronous orbit. Tsk, tsk, tsk. That has to be waaay above that orbit so the centrifugal force holds up all the stuff below geosynch. (see point b for why).

Science mistakes happen, but these are eye-wateringly bad for a novel entirely written around a space elevator! Five minutes on wikipedia before starting would have fixed them all, as would asking a high-school student to read the novel prior to sending to a [scientifically illiterate] publisher.

Needless to say, the next books in the series are not on my wish list.
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on 17 May 2014
Leaving aside the poor science, which doesn’t overly bother me (it’s a story!), this is a competently told tale of the near future, with a fascinating premise – what happens when aliens turn up and build a space elevator? Who are they? Why did they do it? Unfortunately (for my taste, anyway), it turns out to be more of a post-apocalyptic running, jumping and shooting adventure, rather than a First Contact “what if...?”. But that’s fine – just not my preference. Three stars for the story and writing.

But here’s my gripe (slight plot-spoiler) – only inside the book do the publishers say this is just the first of a series. The author sets out so many enticing possibilities, so many interesting questions... But four hundred pages in and so many big questions remain unanswered that you just know they’re not all going to be wrapped up in the last seventy-five pages. OK, it’ll teach me not to buy something on the basis of the cover but it’s intensely irritating to invest time and effort in reading nearly five hundred pages and get no answers. “Pay us more money to find out what happens next!” I don’t think so. Zero stars for Titan Books. (Incidentally, I see Amazon now labels it “Dire Earth Cycle 1” – brownie points to them, at least.)
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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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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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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 5 April 2016
If you like Firefly, Post-Apocalyptic fiction, Zombies, mysteries and alien invasion, you'll like this this
This Novel combines some of the best elements of all of the above into a compelling, well paced novel.
this is the first in a series of three, and I loved this first installment.
Im excited to read more by Jason M. Hough
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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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