The Darwin Elevator

The Darwin Elevator

by Jason M. Hough

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Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi.

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.
Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

Praise for The Darwin Elevator
“A hell of a fun book.”—James S. A. Corey, New York Times bestselling author of Abaddon’s Gate

“[Jason M.] Hough’s first novel combines the rapid-fire action and memorable characters associated with Joss Whedon’s short-lived Firefly TV series with the accessibility and scientific acumen of [James S. A.] Corey’s ‘Expanse’ series.”Library Journal (starred review)
“The best part about alien stories is their mystery, and Jason Hough understands that like no other. Full of compelling characters and thick with tension, The Darwin Elevator delivers both despair and hope along with a gigantic dose of wonder. It’s a brilliant debut, and Hough can take my money whenever he writes anything from now on.”—Kevin Hearne, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Druid Chronicles
“Newcomer Hough displays a talent for imaginative plotting and realistic dialogue, and the brisk pacing and cliffhanger ending will keep readers enthralled and eagerly awaiting the next installment.”Publishers Weekly
“Jason M. Hough does a great job with this huge story. The world of Darwin and the Elevator is deliciously complex and satisfying. Skyler, Tania, and all the other characters are delightfully drawn and fun to spend time with. . . . The story unfolds with just the right balance of high adventure, espionage, humor, and emotional truth. . . . As soon as you finish, you’ll want more.”Analog
A debut novel unlike any other . . . This is something special. Something iconic. The Darwin Elevator is full of majesty and wonder, mystery and mayhem, colorful characters and insidious schemes.”SF Signal
“Fun, action-packed and entertaining . . . a sure contender for science fiction debut of the year!”Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
“Claustrophobic, intense, and satisfying . . . I couldn’t put this book down. The Darwin Elevator depicts a terrifying world, suspends it from a delicate thread, and forces you to read with held breath as you anticipate the inevitable fall.”—Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of Wool

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345537126
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/30/2013
Series: The Dire Earth Cycle Series , #1
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 529,173
Product dimensions: 4.44(w) x 7.34(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Jason M. Hough was born in Illinois, but grew up on the mean streets of suburban San Diego, California. In 1978, at age six, his parents took him to see Star Wars, and so began a lifelong love of sci-fi and all things geek. He later worked for a decade in the videogame industry as both a 3D artist and game designer. Today he lives in Seattle with his wife and two sons. In his spare time he likes to build Lego spaceships with his boys and other similarly grown-up pursuits.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1  
Above the Indian Ocean   12.JAN.2283  

Blood streamed down the inside of the tiny vial and pooled at the bottom. A finger, the source of the fluid, knocked against the glass with a dull thud.  

Skyler turned the vessel over again. Fresh from its temperature-controlled sleeve, the vial felt cool against his skin. A small refreshment in the otherwise balmy cockpit.  

The scene replayed again in his mind. The dead subhuman, half its scrawny body still smoldering, the scent of burned hair so strong that Skyler had retched. Then Samantha, always acting, never thinking, stood triumphant over the corpse. In one swift motionher dark combat knife flashed from a sheath on her calf, flashed again as she brought it down on the poor creature’s hand. Two fingers and half of a thumb skittered away. “Before it all burns,” she’d said. 

 “We only need one,” Skyler had replied when his nerves allowed.  

Hair would have been simpler, cleaner, but the hair had all singed away. A messy piece of work, though the end result was all that mattered, or so he kept reminding himself.  

“Visual on the Elevator,” Angus said from the pilot’s chair.  

Skyler grunted acknowledgment and flipped the vial over again. The muscular digit was caked with dirt and ended in a yellow, cracked fingernail chewed to uneven length. It almost defied belief that it had been shorn from a once-human hand. Almost.  

Even by subhuman standards, this creature had been extraordinarily aggressive. And part of a large pack, twice the typical “family.” Strange, yes, but thankfully in the past now.  

He glanced up. Ahead, a series of lights marked the line of the Elevator cord. Eight climbers, Skyler counted, from the peaks of the clouds all the way to the stars above. He watched them long enough to discern which way they were going. Up, at the moment.Air and water then, for the Orbitals. Some spare parts, maybe. A little contraband thrown in for good measure.  

He pictured the contents of his cargo bay, flush with spoils from a decaying Malay air force base outside Kuala Lumpur. Tomorrow, maybe the day after, one of those climbers would lift the items stowed back there. Paid for first, of course.  

Skyler grinned. Success felt good. He’d almost forgotten the sensation. The finger alone would cover the mission’s cost, if the DNA matched. 

“Do you want the stick back?” Angus asked.  

The grim, hypnotic spell of watching blood slide down the glass tube vanished with the question. He slipped the vial back into its sleeve and sealed it. Out of pure habit he reached for the flight stick, then stopped himself. Old habits die hard. He balledhis fist and pulled his hand away. “You handle it this time.”  


“You’re ready. Just take it slow.”  

Angus turned in the pilot’s seat, trying to see Skyler over his shoulder and failing. A few seconds passed before the kid flashed a halfhearted A-Okay.  

The Melville tilted forward and began to descend. Skyler leaned to his left and looked down, watching mountainous clouds rise toward them. Lightning danced beneath the purple morass, which grew and grew until finally the aircraft slipped into the thick haze. 

A ghostly fog roiled around the cockpit window for less than ten seconds and then they were through. Once below the storm, monsoon rain pelted the cockpit window and hammered against the fuselage.  

Another minute went by before they passed under the storm. Over Darwin itself the sky was clear, such a rare thing in wet season. A nice welcome to their return.  

“Aura’s Edge,” Angus said. “In ten, nine . . .”  

Skyler closed his eyes. Some small part of him wanted to feel it, wanted to know the Elevator’s strange aura on a physical level. The invisible field emanated roughly nine kilometers out from the space elevator before abruptly ending. It protected thosewithin from the alien disease that had laid waste to the rest of the planet. How, or why, the aura did this was as much a mystery as the Elevator itself.  

“. . . five, four . . .”  

The shifting, rippling effect ended in a zone coined Aura’s Edge. A no-man’s-land where the protection faded.  

Skyler leaned his head back against the copilot’s seat. He would feel nothing. He never did; nor did the rest of his crew. The disease had no effect on them.  

They were immune, an inescapable fact. A blessing and curse, a trait few others shared. Very few.  

“. . . three . . .”  

Though immunity allowed him to leave the city at will, there remained that small part of him that wanted to be normal, to be trapped like all of the rest of them. He didn’t want to be special. Or sought after. Truth be told he’d rather be back in the Netherlands, flying mundane patrols for the air force, living a good life. But that was a long time ago, in a different world. 

 “. . . two, one . . . mark.”  

The aircraft bucked.  

Not much, but Skyler felt it. Damn fine timing for a spell of turbulence, he thought. An embarrassed laugh escaped his lips.  

Below, out the window, trash fires dotted the city’s edge. Small crowds huddled around the flames for protection more than warmth. The worst-off lived here, so far out from the Elevator, so close to the Clear. Skyler thought it must be like living on theedge of a cliff.  

“Weird. Did you feel that bounce?” Angus asked. Then, “Oh, shit. Look at this.”  

Skyler glanced up. The kid’s voice had shifted from wonder to fear.  

Something had changed, ahead of them. Skyler couldn’t decide what—  

“Where’d the climbers go?” Angus asked. 

 The lights on the cord were gone. “What in the world?”  

The wireless crackled. “Melville, this is Nightcliff control,” a panicked voice said over a hiss of static. “What the hell did you do?”  

Skyler’s throat went dry. He could only stare at the thin strip of sky where the climbers had been.  

“Melville! Answer or be shot down!”  

“Angus,” Skyler said, ignoring the radio. “Hover here.”  

The kid nodded and tilted the aircraft back, switching to vertical thrust.  

“Think, think,” Skyler whispered to himself. He leaned forward in his seat, as if a few extra centimeters would give him a better view. Squinting, Skyler traced a line from the tip of Nightcliff’s tower.  

There, against the dim clouds, he saw the black shape of a climber, motionless on the cord. Not vanished, then, just dead.  

Loss of power? he thought. It shouldn’t be possible. Something about friction with the atmosphere, he remembered. The Elevator couldn’t help but generate power. In the five years since he first came to the city, he’d never seen Darwin’s skyline withoutthe awe-inspiring sight of climber vehicles gliding their way along the cord, taking fresh air and water up to the Orbitals, or bringing food back down.  

“Melville,” came the garbled voice again. “Last warning.”  

Skyler absently tapped the transmit button. “Nightcliff, this is the Melville. Don’t fire. We’re holding position. What happened?” 

Even as he waited for a response, Skyler saw the beacon lights on the climber cars flicker, then come back on at full brightness.  

A few seconds later they turned off again. One by one this time, in perfect sequence from space down to the fortress.  

Minutes passed. Skyler felt a trickle of sweat run down the side of his face and he mopped it away with the back of his hand.  

A blast of static from the tiny speaker preceded the controller’s voice. “You will reroute to Nightcliff and submit to inspection. Failure to comply will result in the destruction of your vessel. Any delay will result in the destruction of your vessel. You have thirty seconds to acknowledge.”  

The order rattled Skyler like a sick joke. The mission had been flawless, a masterpiece, until this. Inspection. He shook his head. All their hard work, dashed with that loaded word. 

 “What do I say?” Angus asked. He strained against his harness to glance over his shoulder at Skyler.  

The young man’s brown eyes pleaded for reassurance. Skyler could only shrug. “Stall,” he said. “I’m thinking.”  

He tried to conjure a memory of the last inspection. It must have been two years ago. More than that. They’d claimed fear of a flu epidemic on that occasion. A case of vodka had settled the matter, if he remembered right. He’d been the pilot then, stuckin the cockpit, uninvolved. This time it would be his neck on the chopping block.  

The first successful mission in months, since Skyler took over the captain’s chair.  

And now this. Inspection. Goddammit.  

They probably just wanted a handout. The pick of the litter from a returning scavenger ship. Maybe they’d blinked the climbers’ lights on purpose, now that he thought about it. A clever ploy, really.  

He ran through a mental tally of the Melville’s cargo bay. For two days they’d rummaged through the abandoned complex, and they’d packed the old girl full. There’d be no shortage of goods to bribe Nightcliff with. The trick would be steering them awayfrom the high-value items. The specific requests.  

The neoprene sleeve hanging from the back of the pilot’s seat caught Skyler’s eye. He thought of the morbid contents within, and the commune that had pooled their money to have the evidence recovered. A lot of money, in fact, along with the promise ofsix crates of fresh food. Even after Prumble’s cut, it was too tempting a reward to pass up. “All we want is to know the fate of our father. Bring us something, anything, that we can give a proper burial.”  

Like a finger. Skyler yanked the container from its cord and slipped it into his inner jacket pocket.  

He activated the intercom. “Sam, Jake, I need you to bury that welder.”  

A few seconds passed before Samantha replied. “We could toss it overboard. Pick it up later.”  

“Negative. We’re over the Maze.”  

“You’re not going to land, are you? Call their bluff,” she said. “They won’t waste a missile on us.”  

Skyler bit back an urge to argue. The welder, a special model suitable for work aboard a space station, had a large reward associated with it. The highest out of everything they carried. Trying to wrestle it back from the occupants of the slum below them would be difficult, and very dangerous.  

Angus interrupted the thought. “Five seconds. We’d better answer them.”  

Unhappy with the alternative, Skyler sighed. “Acknowledge it. Change course for Nightcliff, and drop to two hundred meters.”  

Within seconds the aircraft began to turn and descend. The fortress of Nightcliff, which surrounded the Elevator’s base, came into view.  

Samantha’s voice crackled over the speaker. “I guess we’re playing along then?” 

 “We can’t risk our lift privs, Sam. Can you and Jake go through the crates and put anything valuable at the bottom?”  

With a frustrated groan, she said, “Aye, aye,” and clicked off.  

Skyler grunted. He thought of placing a few choice items near the door—an unspoken bribe—but that might backfire.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Advance praise for The Darwin Elevator
“A brilliant debut, full of compelling characters and thick with tension.”—Kevin Hearne, New York Times bestselling author of The Iron Druid Chronicles
“This book plugs straight into the fight-or-flight part of your brain.”—Ted Kosmatka, author of The Games

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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The Darwin Elevator 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't count the number of times over the past few days this book almost made me miss my stop on the train. Grabbed me and didn't let go. Captures the wonder, dread and excitement of the human remnant in the face of an intervention they can't even begin to process. What do the Builders really want?
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
Clear your calendar for this one! Put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and get ready for one action-packed, fast paced and intriguing read! The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough is a trip into the future in a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a “virus” delivered by unseen space aliens, who were ‘benevolent’ enough to create a “safe zone” in Darwin, Australia. Few are immune to the virus, those exposed become crazed zombie-like creatures, those not immune must stay within the “aura” of Darwin, which becomes overrun with citizens and short on the basic necessities of life, food, water, clean air. The conflict between those who seek to find a means of survival, those who want absolute power and those who profit off the disaster is brutal. With the world now in total devastation, the answer to “why” this happened has not been found, but someone may have the key to help unlocking this mystery hidden away in a secret vault. Is it time to share what he knows? What secrets has he kept and WHY??? Heroes are often found in the most unlikely places, who will champion humanity? Jason Hough has created an enthralling world, gritty and dark, terrifyingly realistic and eerily plausible! Why couldn’t there be aliens far superior to humans? He has cleverly left me wondering why this has happened, even as the action and emotional upheaval is going on all around me. I felt as if I was there, as each scene played out on my mental screen, the tension mounting with each page. I became personally invested in what happened to each character as I “listened” to the banter, the arguments, the plotting and scheming and “saw” the horrendous fates some will face. There were times when I needed to ‘split screen’ my brain, because, just like in the real world, things were happening simultaneously in several places! Jason Hough depicted every flaw, every human trait, good or bad, and he allowed heroics to shine through, sparing nothing! I loved this book and MUST see this saga through to the end! This ARC copy of The Darwin Elevator was given to me by Random House Publishing Group - Del Rey Spectra in exchange for my honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not perfect but a damn good read none the less.
StephWard More than 1 year ago
3.5 Stars The Darwin Elevator is the first novel in a science fiction/dystopian series that jumps into the future where the world is reeling after the scourge of an alien plague. Darwin, Australia is the only city left on Earth, and all those not infected are flocking their for refuge. The main character, Skyler Luiken, is one of the few humans who is immune to the plague. He is the leader of a team of immunes who searches the wasteland for resources that can be used in Darwin. When the Elevator unexpectedly breaks down, Sklyer and a scientist named Tania Sharma, are teamed up to figure out what's happening to the elevator and save what's rest of their world. This was a really fast paced and fascinating debut novel that shows the real talent of the author. The plot wasn't completely original, but the author worked in intriguing aspects to liven the story line and set it apart from others in the genre. I liked learning about the future world and what happened to it, especially the alien plague. The science behind the Darwin Elevator was really interesting and detailed, but not confusing like I thought it might be. The characters are well written, especially main character Skyler and the gorgeous and brilliant scientist Tania. They both have unique personalities with their own strengths and weaknesses, which complement each other nicely. They work well as a team and I liked to watch the relationship between them grow. The writing was very well done with vivid detail and descriptions that made it feel like I could easily see what was happening if I closed my eyes. There's a ton of action mixed in with the science fiction and dystopian aspects, so it has a lot of crossover appeal for fans of several genres. I'm interested to see where the next installment will take the characters and what might happen next. Definitely recommended for fans of fantasy, action, science fiction, and dystopian fiction. Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Sailon More than 1 year ago
The Darwin Elevator sucked me in and kept me there to the end! Darwin, Australia is the last human city on the planet. An alien ship appears and builds an elevator to outer space. Eleven years later the humans of the earth start to transform into mindless animals, all the humans of earth except for Darwin, Australia...where the elevator is located. Somehow the elavator emits a plague suppressing energy, even if someone is infected if they stay within the city walls they don't loose themselves to the mindlessness of the animal impulses. As you can imagine, this causes a political nightmare, power plays and mechanization to gain control of the elevator and the city. Neil Platz had initial control of the elevator and the property surrounding it. Allowing a council to have power is a mistake he will regret. Seeing the power play coming against him, Neil enlists Dr. Tania Sharma in a secret mission to uncover the alien's true agenda.  Skyler Luiken is the captain of an airship. He and his crew are completely immune to the virus that caused the outbreak. Venturing into the world beyond the walls to obtain supplies to keep Darwin running is a very profitable but deadly business...although the virus won't effect them the de-evolved humans will rip them to shreds if they allow themselves to be captured. Through a twist of fate and meddling on Platz's part. Skyler's and Tania's paths intersect bringing key components for Platz's plan together. Wow! This book blew me away. The genuine and realistic characters literally jump off the pages in this action packed adventure. I was completely caught in the web of Jason M. Hough's writing, glued to the pages as the story masterfully unfolds. What a brilliant story of a post apocalyptic world were humanity struggles to survive against its environment and themselves. Without a doubt this is definitely re-read worthy story and a book for my favorite shelf. This ARC copy of The Darwin Elevator was given to me by Random House Publishing Group - Del Rey Spectra in exchange for a honest review. This book is set for publication on July 30, 2013. Written by: Jason M. Hough Series: Dire Earth Cycle Sequence in Series: 1 Paperback: 496 pages Publisher: Del Rey  Publication Date: July 30, 2013 ISBN-10: 0345537122 ISBN-13: 978-0345537126 Rating: 5 (FAVORITE READ) Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Post Apocalyptic  Age Recommendation: Adult
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is very good. I'm looking foward to purchase the next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Except for the ending.
AVoraciousReadr More than 1 year ago
*Book source ~ NetGalley It’s the 23rd century and Darwin, Australia is the last city standing. An alien technology has created a type of elevator to space and it generates an aura that protects people from a devastating plague that turns humans into primitive creatures. Humanity has been decimated and those that are left scramble around Darwin just to survive. Then there are those who live above the elevator, in space; the Orbitals. An even smaller number of people are immunes. They can travel outside the aura to scavenge what’s left without worry of contracting the plague. When the elevator inexplicably begins to fail, Skyler Luiken and his crew of immune scavengers are hired by Neil Platz, the richest man on and above Earth, to discover the reason why. And Neil wants his protégé, Dr. Tania Sharma, involved in the mission. Things get ugly quickly when a power-hungry despot throws a spanner in the works and all of Neil’s plans fly out the window. Or do they? True to the sci-fi genre this is an epic sweeping tale of aliens mucking about with Earth and the consequences that follow. The thing with this story though, is we know nothing about these Builders who sent the elevator. They never showed their…faces? But Neil is convinced that they will return. Alien technology, set in the future, race against time, two plots running concurrently, a bleak dystopian world, and great characters who never saw themselves as heroes makes for an all-inclusive read. There’s much to love and hate (I’m looking at you, Russell) here as well as mystery and action. It’s a bit long in areas and could have used a little cutting here and there. Also, at times, it’s nearly too far-fetched, but overall a great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the the book very much. Would recommend It to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a long book but every chapter seems fresh and new. Lots of intersting adventure and stuff to think about. I will be buying the second book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book and the rest of the triology. Great fun to read, not too serious, good sci-fi novel/action novel. Just buy it and enjoy the ride.
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KiplingKat More than 1 year ago
The setting is your standard post-apocalytic zombie-infested world paired with space stations, but the political intrigue around the root causes and mystery it presents are very interesting. Compelling too is the action which had even for this jaded reader on the edge of her seat. The characters are good, a bit stock but with more human underpinnings. It was nice to see a standard action hero with a few insecurities who is not in control of every situation, and feels his failures keenly. The only unsatisifying thing is the end which resolves the story but not the mystery. I guess that is addressed in later books in the series, but I would have liked see more of the aliens' motivation explored.
hikinmike More than 1 year ago
Held my interest. Good read. Hope to obtain the sequel.
Alebelly More than 1 year ago
Literally, stayed up all night and called in work sick to read it straight through. I'm exhausted. Incredible read, absolutely loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Captures your attention and never lets go!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dont waste you time. Nothing but a power struggle in a space station. Forced myself to finish it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well thought. Insteresting sci-fi story, deep character development and great action. I strongly recommend this book.