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Darwin Elevator by Jason M Hough

The Darwin ElevatorA review by Rebecca Muir

The Darwin Elevator is the first book in Jason M Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle. It is a dystopian novel set in Darwin, Australia in 2283.

Seventeen years ago an unmanned alien ship arrived in orbit above Earth and built a cable down to Earth, anchoring it in Darwin. The bottom of the Elevator, as it became known, was on the land of Neil Platz and his family. They grew rich developing it with space stations serviced by climbers (pods that crawl up and down the cable carrying people and cargo).

Twelve years after the arrival of the Builders, a strange disease broke out, ravaging the population of Earth. Within hours of contracting the virus you are either dead or devolved into a “Sub”, a sub-human creature controlled by one dominant emotion, driving out all reason. Humanity fled to Darwin, as it was discovered that an Aura around the Elevator paused the progress of the disease, putting it in stasis as it were. Only within the Aura could you be safe.

Now, in 2283, humanity is divided. There are those who live in Darwin, crammed together in squalor and relying on food shipped down from the agricultural stations on the Elevator. Then there are those who live on the Elevator. They are the lucky ones, with plenty to eat, plenty of space and a secure and ordered existence. However, they are still reliant on Darwin – all their air is shipped up in canisters.

This has been the status quo for the last few years but things look set to change. Neil Platz has a young researcher, Tania Sharma, doing top secret research into the Builders. Why did they come and are they coming back? They enlist the help of Skyler and his crew, a team of rare Immunes who can leave the Aura in safety. They are scavengers, who make a living going out to the rest of the world to bring back items that will fetch a good price in Darwin.

Meanwhile, the behaviour of the Subs is changing and the Aura appears to be failing. There are power blackouts plaguing the elevator. Is everything starting to break down? In the midst of the chaos, two men seek to shift the balance of power. Alex Warthen is the head of security on the Elevator. Until now he has always been subservient to Neil but that is about to change. Russell Blackfield is the man in charge of Nightcliff, the fort built to protect and control the bottom of the Elevator. He decides to take advantage of the chaos caused by the power issues and seek a better deal for himself – why should only the select few on the Elevator be able to live the good life? He and Alex form an alliance to take power but two power hungry men will never last long together.

In the end, it will come down to Skyler and Tania to work out what is coming next and to save the lives of those around them.

The Darwin Elevator is an interesting read, fast-paced with lots of action and strong characters. It is an interesting take on the aliens-visiting-Earth trope: the aliens have come but have not made direct contact. Running through the book is a shadow – who are the Builders? What do they want? Are they manipulating human history? Some of these questions are teased out a bit but a lot is left unanswered, presumably to be worked out in the rest of the series.

There are heroes and villains and some characters who are a bit of both. There are hard choices for the heroes to make, and acts of bravery they need to perform.

I think it is ultimately a book about survival, the survival of humanity and of individuals. It is about the struggle for survival and the choices some people make in order to survive. The book highlights the extraordinary drive people have for survival in the face of danger. There are also those who are willing to put themselves at risk in order that others may survive.

The Darwin Elevator is not a cheerful book but it does have some threads of hope and light running through it. It was an engaging read with an ending that makes me want to pick up the next book.

  • ISBN: 9781781167632
  • Format: paperback, 475 pages
  • Publisher: Titan Books
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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