Audiobook Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

2 08 2013

The Darwin Elevator (Dire Earth Cycle, Bk. 1) by Jason M. Hough

Read by Simon Vance

Random House Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Darwin Elevator is Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip roaring science fiction adventure with some mysterious alien machinations. Hough creates a complex but intriguing Post Apocalyptic world, and fills it with some truly engaging morally complex characters. The Darwin Elevator is easily my favorite science fiction debut of the year.

Grade: A-

In his infamous 1987 speech to the United Nations, Ronald Reagan discussed how we as a planet would put aside out nationalistic and other petty differences and come together if faced with an alien threat from outside. I’m not sure he was so right. One of the popular themes of post apocalyptic fiction is humanity’s ability to adapt. This is typically portrayed in a positive way, with a plucky group of survivors overcoming world changing events to find a new way to live. Yet, when it comes to adaptation, it’s not just the positive traits that we will take into a whole new world. Humanity has an almost natural ability to ostracize and stigmatize those who are different, whether those differences are physical, emotional, or simply geographical. When natural differences don’t exist, we will find new ways to categorize and label people. We will seek out the ways OTHERS are different from us, even if it’s just the fact that they are others. Classism will still rise. Some people will have more rocks in their garden than their neighbor, and try to use those rocks to gain greater status in the community. Even with a looming alien threat, we would find ways to separate and label each other. In Jason M. Hough’s debut The Darwin Elevator, he creates an interesting arbitrary class structure between “orbitals” those who live in the orbital platforms above the alien build space elevator, and those down below, in the slums and habitats of Darwin. While the Orbitals are pristine and clean, in both mind and body, the citizens of Darwin are a dirty, disgruntled lot full of refugees, religious cultists, and power hungry guards. This separation contributes greatly to the novel, and creates a fascinating background for this action filled novel.

The Darwin Elevator is Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip roaring science fiction adventure with some mysterious alien machinations. Taking place in the 24th century Australian City Darwin, the only city immune to an alien plague due to the aura surrounding the space elevator built up by the unseen alien visitors, Hough capably incorporates a post apocalyptic social experiment with some fast paced action creating one of the best science fiction debuts of the year. I knew very little about The Darwin Elevator going in beyond it being a post apocalyptic science fiction novel about an alien plague, so I was a bit surprised to discover that there were… let’s not say zombies, but plague afflicted regressed humans who give into the basest needs and attack non afflicted humans in swarms. Not Zombies… but close enough. As a huge zombie fan, I was delighted by this, and in a way, happy I didn’t know, because in reality, The Darwin Elevator, like the afore mentioned Leviathan Wake, isn’t a Zombie novel, it’s a science fiction adventure novel that just happens to have some kick ass scenes involving zombie-like humanoids. I’ll take that. Yet, the heart of the novel is how humans adapt to change, and how these changes separate them and what it takes to bring them together again. The main character, Skyler heads a team of scavengers, the only team made up fully of those immune from the plague. Due to this ability, Skyler and his team are able to go to places other teams can’t and them on the radar of the Orbital Industrialist and his key scientist, who taps them to help them figure out what is the next step in the alien builder plans. I love the world that Hough has created, the juxtaposition between the two emerging cultures, yet I felt this novel just barely skimmed the surface of its potential. Hough makes a lot of illusions to religious cults, and other groups among the citizenry of Darwin, yet, much of that takes a back seat to the political maneuverings of the factions in the Orbitals. While this probably served the story better I’d love to get down in the grime of the city and learn more about its operation. There is definitely an old school science fiction vibe to The Darwin Elevator, with a well conceived blend of strange technology and engaging, morally complex characters. The ending opens so many possible doors, although there may have been a few too many open ended plot points left in the mix. This open ended conclusion of the novel would have been much more frustrating to me if I had to wait a year for the next edition, but luckily for us, there will be two more books in the series released over the next two months.  The Darwin Elevator is easily my favorite debut science fiction novel of the year, and I shudder in anticipation to see where the series will be heading next.

Simon Vance is one of the best voices in the business, and applies his skills to The Darwin Elevator. You pretty much know what you are going to get with a Vance narration, vivid characters and well paced action all delivered with a storyteller’s flair. I really enjoyed the authenticity Vance gave to the international cast. He never shirks away from a trying accent, or odd mannerism, instead embraces them. The Darwin Elevator takes place in Australia, yet is full of characters from across the globe. The main character, Skyler Luiken, is a Dutch pilot who really comes to life under Vance’s touch. There are many narrators who can do accents, but very few make them feel as natural as Vance does. This may have been the most action packed novel I have heard Vance narrate, and he constantly pushed the pace, adding tension, knowing just when to slow things down to give the listener time to reflect on a big reveal, or new development, The Darwin Elevator is a book the translates wonderfully to audio, and I’m very happy that Vance will once again be in the narrator chair for book 2, The Exodus Tower.

Thanks to Random House Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.

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2 responses

5 08 2013
Release Week: The Darwin Elevator, Kill City Blues, Nexus, Frostarc, Antidote Man, and Jay Lake’s City Imperishable | The AudioBookaneers

[…] this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.” The Guilded Earlobe has already reviewed this first installment, calling it “Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip […]

22 08 2013
russell1200

This reminds me in some ways of David J. Rodgers Dog Eat Dog which I read. He threw in a Cthulhu slant as well.

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