The Darwin Elevator by Jason M Hough (Dire Earth Cycle #1)

The Builders came to Earth and constructed an elevator from Darwin, Australia into space. No one know why, or if they will return.

It’s 2283 and planet Earth has been decimated by a virus which turns humans into mindless subhumans. Those who survived are either immune - a tiny minority - or managed to get within the several kilometres of protection offered by the Darwin elevator - a mysterious alien construction leading far out into space that appeared one day and somehow keeps the virus at bay in an Aura around it.

Platz Industries runs the stations built along the elevator, which forms an area for the elite, whereas Darwin at the foot is a slum ruled by a military leader who is eager for more power. Food is grown on the stations but water and air have to be supplied up from Earth; a delicate balance which tips over into anarchy when the elevator starts failing and new cases of the virus appear within the boundary.

There is a greater conspiracy at work and an immune scavenger, Skyler Luiken, and his crew get caught up in the power struggle between Darwin and the elevator when he is charged with finding data from a long-abandoned research station in Japan. The virus also seems to be evolving, with subhumans beginning to form packs far larger than seen before. If the elevator fails completely, humanity may well be completely wiped out, so the question is why did the Builders place an elevator in the first place, are they responsible for the virus, and are they coming back to finish what they started?

I thought this was a really interesting story, fast paced and often brutal, which contrasted well the luxury of the elevator with the squalor and desperation of the population crammed into the Aura beneath it. There is a good level of tension built throughout, both from the battle on the elevator as the devious and self-righteous Russell leads military forces against Neil Platz and his researchers, as well from the growing threat of invasion by subhumans. A ruined, desperate world is created as Skyler dodges both the outside threat on his missions as well as being used a pawn in far more important people’s games and he and his crew serve as a likable and loyal foil to the duplicitous Russell and Neil. Dr Tania Sharma, the main female character, is pretty lightweight but hopefully she’ll come into her own more in subsequent books. There’s a great sense of events moving quickly out of control and the last of human society scrambling over one another to remain alive in a ruined land.

The first in a trilogy, The Darwin Elevator is a storming start and anybody who likes post-apocalyptic fiction, futuristic technology, action and humans showing all of their best and worst qualities should have a blast.

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9/10 A storming start to a trilogy, ideal for anybody who likes post-apocalyptic fiction

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