I was immediately intrigued when the ARC of Jason M. Hough's The Darwin Elevator showed up in my mailbox. At the time, I was looking for stuff to bring with me on my month-long trip and this looked just like the sort of thing that would work well as a vacation read.
And I was right! Hough's science fiction debut is a fun, action-packed and entertaining read!
Here's the blurb:
Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi. In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura. Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.
As is often the case in novels such as The Darwin Elevator, depth and worldbuilding are often left aside to keep the pace fluid. I was more than a little disappointed by the fact that we learned so little about the Builders, their space elevator and their agenda. I think that shining some light on various facets of this book would have added a few more layers and would have made this one an even more enjoyable read.
The characterization was my favorite aspect of this work. Though the "villains" are cookie-cutter cutouts who embrace all the clichés, with Russell Blackfield being the prime example of that, the rest of the cast is comprised of an interesting mix of men and women. Once again, many are clichéd to one degree or another. Skyler is the flawed, often not the sharpest tool in the shed, and occasionally the dumbass captain of the Melville, with a crew of disparate people such as the kick-ass female protagonist Samantha. Dr. Tania Sharma is the drop-dead gorgeous, sexy, and super intelligent woman who never thought much about the way she looks. Yet for all that, they are an endearing bunch of people and it's a fun ride to follow their adventures.
Having said that, The Darwin Elevator remains a work aimed at the Firefly geek fandom. The book is filled with witty one-liners and geeky dialogue. There is even a silly pseudo-lesbian shower scene. Still, regardless of the geek wish-fullfilment found throughout, The Darwin Elevator is a fun romp that is a joy to read.
The rhythm is fast-paced for the better part of the book. As I mentioned, I felt that most concepts would have benefited from more elaboration, but the focus remains on the pace and keeping the plot moving forward. In that regard, a lot of scenes appear contrived just to create yet more action sequences. And although in my opinion such a state of affairs actually worked against the overall reading experience, nevertheless Hough's debut is quite entertaining and keeps you turning those pages. I found myself reaching the ending in only a few sittings, which is a rare occurrence when I'm traveling.
Not so sure about the John Scalzi comparison, but The Darwin Elevator will definitely appeal to Joss Whedon's Firefly fans. We'll likely never hear Jason M. Hough's name mentioned in the same sentence as Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, and Iain M. Banks, and I don't figure you'll see him get nominated for the Hugo or the Nebula awards. And yet, there is definitely a huge market for Hough's brand of science fiction and I for one am looking forward to finding out what happens next! Both sequels, The Exodus Towers and The Plague Forge, will be released later this summer.
Regardless of its flaws, I have a feeling that Hough's The Darwin Elevator will be a sure contender for science fiction debut of the year!