The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, is a dystopian novel set in a not-so-distant 23rd century. Although the book title is glaringly based on the setting for most of the novel – Darwin, Australia, it’s not difficult to suss out the underlying meaning – humanity’s fittest fighting to survive against a potential threat from the Builder (an always-present threat from subhumans), and the insidious always-present threat from itself – in that order, most of the time.
In his novel, Hough blends several science fiction doomsday scenarios – and he does so with the virtuoso ease of Stephen King. First, unknown aliens, called the Builders, arrive and build an elevator to space, which is anchored in Darwin, Australia (aliens want something from us, but we don’t know what – check!) A wealthy magnate utilizes the elevator to create space stations which can grow food and which house scientists and beautiful people (humans are in space for long periods of time, and it’s not the cramped Mir – check!) Humans quickly fall prey to a disease which either quickly kills, or destroys all reasoning capacity, rendering such people “subhumans” – almost-animals, with one emotion amplified (zombies – check!) Third, some people survive. During this time of crisis, the elevator reveals its function – the elevator generates an aura which covers only a certain part of Australia. The aura arrests the progression of the virus, and people remain humans. Conveniently, a portion of the population is immune to the virus (including the protagonist). Most of the survivors are left to a meager, hard living on the ground, with entire countries – continents – left unreachable (survivalists – check check check!)
The novel, which is first in a series, perfectly sets the scene to a world on the brink of madness. People below send water and air to the space stations above. The space stations, which house the governing body, send food below. The scavengers venture as far as possible and strip the crumbling infrastructure for resale and use. And, because the situation is not already dire, the aura starts failing and the subhumans become aggressive. The aliens may come back. And the survivors-below are restless for a chance at leadership and power.
This is one of the best modern science-fiction novels that I have read. The scientific advances are believable, and the individual characters are well developed. There is no deus ex machina. The dialogue is witty and mostly avoids the pitfalls of heavily-stilted dialogue found in most male-protagonist sci-fi novels. And, unlike most zombie plots, which require humans to be as stupid as possible in order for the virus to spread, there are no dumb-dumbs who wander out behind a dark movie theater and try to hug a homeless man who turns out to be a zombie, and ahhh everyone is infected, help! This doesn’t happen here. The virus is airborne, and humans seem to quickly eliminate the infected.
Anyone who is interested in the survivalist novels, science-fiction novels, and zombie-novels, should definitely grab this book. It’s exciting! Read it!