The Darwin Elevator is the first book in Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle series. It takes place in a future where most of the world’s population has succumbed to a disease that either kills or leaves a person in a “sub-human,” or zombie-like, state. the only place on Earth that is safe from the disease is Darwin, Australia, where a mysterious alien race has built an aura that keeps the disease at bay. Also in Darwin, is a space elevator. at the top of the space elevator are a bunch of space stations where humanity’s best and brightest live–the scientists, the politicians, and the more “beautiful” people. These people are known as orbitals.
Skylar Luiken is special. He’s completely immune to the disease, meaning he can leave the safely of Darwin’s aura to go scavenge the world for supplies. In fact, his entire savaging crew is made up of these rare people. Because of this distinction, Skylar and his crew are singled out for a special mission to recover data from a research lab in Japan. This trip opens a whole bucket of worms for Skylar and his crew.
Dr. Tania Sharma is a scientist who lives in orbit. She is doing secret research on the Builders (the mysterious alien race that built the aura and space elevator).
The power struggles and infighting are more threatening than the sub-humans in this book. Even though the human population is small and dwindling, secrets and spies still abound. Unfortunately, the motivation behind all the secrets, fighting, and what-have-you isn’t always clear. And the “bad guys” in this novel are more fleshed out than the heroes in terms of character development. Russell Blackfield, one of the main antagonist, is a clear-cut character. He’s militarist, power-hungry, and a straight-up asshole. His motivations are clear. Everyone else’s is convoluted and confusing. Why are they keeping secrets? Why do they chose one side over the other?
Other than the characters, though, the story is good. It’s a unique take on a post-apocalyptic, zombie-esque, sci-fi story. This story does end on a high-note as far as interest-inducingness goes. I will be picking up the rest of the books in the series to see where Hough takes it from there.