Category Archives: Soft Science Fiction

Darwin’s Elevator by Jason M Hough

Darwin's elevator

Stars: 4 out of 5.

I don’t remember where I heard about Darwin’s Elevator. I think it was in my “alsoboughts” on Amazon after I read Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F Hamilton, or maybe someone on Twitter mentioned it. Anyway, I’m very glad I and decided to give it a try. I discovered a very good author that I will definitely follow.

Over 20 years ago, a strange alien ship stopped above the little town of Darwin, Australia and shot a line down to Earth, just like a normal ship would cast an anchor. It became the Darwin Elevator that permanently ties the spaceship to the Earth. Nobody knows what this device was supposed to do, because nobody has ever seen the Builders, the aliens who brought the ship here, and the ship cannibalized itself to build the line, leaving only a hollowed husk.

The brightest minds flocked to Darwin to study both the Elevator and the ship. They built huge orbitals along the elevator line. The city  itself thrived, because all those people on orbit needed food, water and other goods to live. Life was good, economy was thriving… until five years ago an alien virus decimated 99% of the population on Earth. The SUBS virus turns people into mindless animals, ruled by one primal emotion, which is usually rage. The infection period is as small as a couple hours and there is no cure. But the Elevator produces an Aura that keeps the air in a 9 kilometer radius around it SUBS-free. So Darwin transforms from the outpost of scientific discovery and innovation, to the port of last resorts to all that’s left of humanity. That’s where the story of Darwin’s Elevator begins.

I loved the characters in this book. They are different, and live in different circumstances, which makes their points of view very different as well. So through their eyes, we get to see different facets of this complex situation.

Skyler and the ragtag crew of the Melville who explore the slowly crumbling world beyond the Aura and try salvage anything the inhabitants of Darwin and the orbitals might need. They are amongst the few who can still venture outside of the Aura, because they are immune to the SUBS virus. But that doesn’t make their expedition any less perilous, because the areas they explore are infested by subhumans who cannot be reasoned or pleaded with.

Tania Sharma, on the other hand, hadn’t set up foot on Earth in over 15 years. She is a scientist on one of the Orbitals who is determined to discover the reason behind the Elevator and the SUBS virus. She also becomes more and more convinced that the Builders are coming back and that everything is part of a bigger plan.

And there are plenty of interesting secondary characters as well. In fact, I found some of the secondary characters even MORE interesting than the main protagonists. “The Ghost” of Gateway station, anyone? I really hope to see more of them in the next books, and hopefully, they will have a bigger role to play.

The world Mr. Hough created is also very interesting, even though we don’t really get to explore it too much, apart from two expeditions outside of Darwin itself, but it has promise. The first book also doesn’t tell us much about the mysterious Builders and the Elevator, but then again, our protagonists are just as ignorant of this as we are. Hopefully, we will discover more about this in the future books. That was probably my main complaint about Darwin’s Elevator – a lot is hinted on, but not resolved or explained. But once again, it’s normal to have that when setting up an arc that encompasses several books. The plot and conflict of this particular book was successfully resolved by the end of the story with no real cliffhangers, so I’m happy.

My only other complaint and the reason I gave this book only 4 stars is that the antagonist was a bit too much of a caricature. I get the ruthless power-hungry warlord, even though that has been done and overdone before, but why make him a sadistic sexual pervert as well? That’s a trope upon a trope here. It makes him a bit too bad to be believable. I just really hope that if Russell Nightcliff continues to be the antagonist in the next books, the author adds a bit more depth to his character. Or better still, kill him off and introduce and original, not cookie-cut villain.

But those few gripes aside, I really loved Darwin’s Elevator, and I already picked up the next book in the series.

The London Project by Mark J Maxwell

The London Project

Stars: 3 out of 5

I liked the story in The London Project. The world is a quite interesting (albeit chilling) vision of a possible future. The total monopoly of Portal over the lives of Londoners reminded me a lot of George Orwell’s 1984. “Big Brother watches you,” indeed…

This story also had all the things I usually like: a futuristic setting, a murder mystery that the protagonist has to solve, influential people determined to thwart her at every turn, and a bigger conspiracy emerging during the investigation. The story had the potential to keep me interested and turning the pages into the late hours of the night, but… it didn’t.

The biggest problem with this book, at least for me, is the pacing. For a thriller to work, the author needs build the tension progressively throughout the book, and never ever let it falter. The story has to grip me from the get go and drag me along, making me want to turn the next page to discover what happens.

Unfortunately, the abundance of technical and world-building explanations break the tension and slow down the pacing, sometimes bringing it to a screeching halt. I found myself frustrated when I wanted to know more about the investigation into the dead girl, but had to read through info dump after info dump about Portal and their little monopoly over London and how the technology worked. I know it’s probably relevant to the story and serves to introduce the reader into this world, but for me, it killed the suspense and the drive to continue reading. When I find myself skipping the explanations to get to the plot, I know I won’t stick with the book. And I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t an ARC I had agreed to review.

I didn’t need all those detailed explanations into the workings of Portal in the first 10 chapters. I would have been perfectly happy with a few brief mentions of it and a lot more focus on the case itself. But then again, I am the kind of reader who likes being lost in a world, to discover it progressively throughout the book, looking for breadcrumbs of information the author left on the pages and drawing my own conclusions. Info-dumps give me mental indigestions, because by the time I read through the explanation and assimilate it, the suspense is gone. I have to try and immerse myself in the story again… until the next info-dump.

This is sad, I think, because the book would have been a lot more interesting (and faster paced) if the author trusted the reader to understand his world without having everything spelled out. This is the case of when too much backstory does more harm than good.

I know that this is strictly a personal preference, so take my review with a grain of salt. What I find off-putting might not be so for another reader. So my advice is, if you like a well thought-out world and are not afraid of the slow pacing, give The London Project a try.

P.S. This review is for the ARC of the book I got from LibraryThing.

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Caliban's war

Stars: 5 out of 5

Caliban’s War is the second book in the excellent Expanse series. The action takes place a couple years after the events of the first book, Leviathan Wakes (which I already reviewed).

The Eros station and the protomolecule it was carrying crashed into Venus, and now strange things are happening beneath the planet’s dense atmosphere. But even though humanity is aware (and afraid) of the monster sitting right at their doorstep, they still can’t put aside their petty squabbles. Earth and Mars are still at the verge of armed conflict and the OPA is now a force to reckon with because it holds the only known protomolecule sample that is not on Venus. The beginning of the book takes place on Ganymede station, which is the granary of the Belt and outer planets and a station that neither Earth nor Mars are willing to let go. So both superpowers have a military presence there, but are just content to sit in the trenches and watch each other warily… Until something tears through an Earth outpost, killing the whole garrison and all hell breaks loose, threatening to set the whole solar system on fire, while the protomolecule on Venus stirs at last.

James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are back! And they are in the thick of the action once again, quite inadvertently so this time. I love those characters and the author handles their development well. They are still the likable bunch I got to know and love from the first book, but the events have also changed them. Holden in particular is faced with a sort of identity crisis in this book, and I absolutely loved how he managed to get through it and stay true to himself.

I also loved the new characters introduced in this book, especially Chrisjen Avasarala, the foulmouthed Earth politician. They are all fully fleshed-out and interesting to follow. I think that’s actually part of why I love James S.A. Corey’s books so much – the believability of his characters. They are never cardboard, they are always alive. Whether you like them or not, you still want to follow their adventures.

The story itself is just as tightly woven and engaging as the one in Leviathan Wakes, and the author knows how to keep you up late turning the pages because you absolutely NEED to know what happens next. And oh dear God, please don’t kill my favorite characters!!!

Ahem, anyway, I think by now it’s clear that I absolutely loved this book. So my advice to you is buy it, rent it, steal it from your friends, do anything necessary to get it and read it. Well, start with Leviathan Wakes first though, and then continue straight to Abaddon’s Gate (I know a will).