The Darwin Elevator - Jason M. Hough Skyler Luiken captains the Melville, a typical smuggler ship with a typical smuggler crew doing typical smuggler things. At least, that's how it seems, but from the first few moments spent with Skyler, it's obvious that he's anything but the typical cocky captain that we know from scifi classics like Star Wars and Firefly. In fact, Skyler's not a particularly good captain at all because he's too damn nice.

Well, not so nice that he's annoying. No one likes *those* kind of nice people. But he's just nice enough to make his crew question his suitability for the role of captain after their original captain simply walked away. It's hard not to like Skyler. He's a good man trying to take care of his crew in a bad situation. I wanted to give him a hug and let him know it would be okay, but what I really appreciated about the character was the way Hough made him vulnerable, without tipping him into the realm of needing our pity. He's heroic, without having to go out of his way to prove himself a hero. Doing what has to be done simply comes natural to him, and he does it with awkward and charming competence.

Skyler and his crew happen to be immune to the plague that some mysterious aliens dropped on earth a while back, making them the ideal people to venture outside the Aura protecting Darwin, Australia, and into the plague infested wilds that aren't protected by the other "gift" the aliens left behind: Darwin's Elevator.

The mystery of the aliens and their purpose looms over the book the entire way through, reminding me of Arthur C. Clarke's [b:Rendezvous with Rama|112537|Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1)|Arthur C. Clarke||1882772]. And then there is the result of the alien plague: subhumans. SUBs are devolved humans reduced to to the base needs of starving wild animals. The threat of SUBs is ever present, as is the mystery of the aliens, but I loved the way the book maintained the focus on humanity always being the greatest threat to humanity. Politics, ambition, greed, poverty. All the bad things that inspire people to do bad things.

Not that the SUBs and aliens aren't on the minds of many, particularly the scientists that hang out in orbit above the poverty of Darwin, mainly under the command of Neil Platz, a rich scientist who owns just about everything left in Darwin and above. I wasn't sure how Neil would play out his role. His motives and actions are questionable, but he isn't simply an evil rich man and I loved his relationship with Tania Sharma, even while knowing what he'd done in the past. In fact, I liked that the other antagonists, even the deplorable Russell Blackfield, are more than just caricatures of typical bad guys.

A few other things I really enjoyed:
- The science wasn't utterly dumbed down for my unsciencey mind, yet was still easy to follow.
- The way Hough used the rumours and speculation chaos can cause to motivate the characters in the climactic end.
- The Jacobites - I am wary of cults showing up in a story because religious zeal can take on too much of a life of its own. I loved the obviousness of a cult based on Jacob's Ladder forming out of the alien's device, but appreciated that they did not get a lot of air time.

This is the first in a trilogy, ending with a deepening of the mystery of the alien's purpose that practically forces you to read on!

With thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey Books for the opportunity to read an advanced reader copy! And to NaNoWriMo for providing the motivation for Jason M. Hough to get this incredible story out of his head and onto my bookshelf!

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