Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Darwin Elevator: A Review

Jason M. Hough's The Darwin Elevator is an action adventure post-apocalyptic science fiction novel set within a mid-23rd century ruined earth.  Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the world is abandoned except for devolved (sort of zombie-like) humans.  Only the small Northern Australian coast city of Darwin, protected by a high tech radiant barrier, is safe for normal humankind.  And they are barely hanging on by their teeth. This novel is the first in a three part series.  This part leaves some plot lines hanging, but works reasonably well as a stand alone as some of the major issues are resolved. I "read" the novel as an audio book.

Jason Hough (pronounced Huff), per his Amazon biography lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife and two children.  He is a former 3-D artist and game designer.

The elevator of the story is a big mystery object. It had shown up a few decades prior when an alien ship parked overhead and spun down a large tube like structure: what is commonly called a space elevator.  The aliens never told anyone what they were about, and never made an appearance after the elevator showed up.   A few years after its arrival, a pandemic broke out that killed most of humanity, leaving the few survivors as devolved primal urge driven ape-like creatures.  Only the tiniest fraction of the population was immune.  The one area where the disease seemed to have no effect was in the immediate area of the elevator.

There are a handful of major characters within the novel.  The key figure is an ex-Dutch pilot who is one of the rare immunes who flies a semi-legal scavenging craft to various locations, looking for items that will help the remnant population's life easier, and more importantly, get him paid.

There are a number of antagonistic groups within the remnant society, and much of the story revolves around their scheming.  There is another major plot line which involves the ultimate intentions of the aliens that built the elevator.  Although some suspect them of also introducing the virus that caused the collapse, it is still somewhat up in the air as to their ultimate plan.

The novel is entertaining as an action adventure, with the sub-humans making a more interesting variant of the zombie theme without slavishly following the type.  The morality of the various good guys and bad guys is a bit ambiguous.  If the author didn't make the bad guy out to be an opportunist pervert - with no actual logic as to why the bad guy would be the perverted one - you could reverse many of the good guy/bad guy parts pretty easily.  That, and the artificial nature of the survival setting kept me from getting overly involved with the fate of the characters.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism.....hmmm....   The positive...  The weapons technology is identifiable with our own, a lot of fairly easy technology (drones) don't seem to be much used anymore.  So a lot of the action has a modern day shoot out atmosphere.   The negatives.  It is far future science fiction with a number of unlikely events having a major impact.  Much of the technology (the alien elevator, the virus, the electrically powered aircraft) is given some mumbo jumbo rational, but certainly isn't "real" in any modern sense of the word.  Too much magical happenstance.  It is a 2.
Readability is easier.  With the series split in three that keeps the novel from dragging out too long.  At 496 pages for just this first part, it is not a long novel chopped into novellas.  It is a true trilogy.  As I noted above, it is an action adventure, and a lot of the writing has a page turner feel to it.  There are is a little bit too much time spent with the dull beautiful Indian scientist with the Bollywood looks, and much of her plotline (investigating the aliens) seemed superfluous in the end.  It is a 5.


PioneerPreppy said...

An interesting spin story line though.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: Sigh, yes. I assume the pun was intended.