Review: The Plague Forge

The Plague Forge by Jason M. Hough

Best last line, ever. I had to get that out first; it’s an important observation because the last line of this book perfectly illustrates the cyclical nature of the trilogy. The line serves as an explanation (even without the benefit of the epilogue), a conclusion and a beginning. The story is far from over, though the Dire Earth Cycle is definitely complete.

That is a rare thing in speculative fiction; to come upon a satisfactory conclusion. More usually, an end is simply a pause, a chance for the author and reader to take a breath before they launch into the next trilogy. No doubt, this is a pause, too. But the next chapter in this saga will be very different. James M. Hough will not return to tell the same story from a different point of view.

On to the book, itself. The Plague Forge is the last volume in the Dire Earth Cycle and everything is wheeling toward conclusion. The timetable is compressed, again, the window between visits from the Builders the smallest yet, and there seems more to do. Three keys are still to be found, mysteries unraveled and villains dealt with. No one pauses for breath, least of all the reader as the pages seemingly turn themselves.

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Review: The Exodus Towers

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator by James M. Hough ended with the discovery of a second space elevator and a new, movable aura to protect Earth’s survivors from a deadly plague. The Exodus Towers, book two of the Dire Earth Cycle, begins shortly afterward. There is no rest for the weary! It’s another race against time, the deadline shortened to a pair of years, but the questions are bigger and the puzzles more complex. Is the new space elevator a second chance for humanity, or is it a new kind of cage?

A second colony is established in Brazil, at the base of the new space elevator and, for a while, its business as usual. Every decision is processed by the slow moving machine of the provisional leadership, headed by Dr. Tania Sharma. On the ground, Skyler Luiken resumes his trade: scavenging. In Darwin, Russell Blackfield gnashes his teeth with evil intent and Samantha proves size does matter. Subhumans are still subhuman and the Builders are still inscrutable.

Hough doesn’t tell the same story twice, however. Using established elements, he immediately deepens the mystery, adding a band of Immunes and more deviously altered subhumans. He also plays with fanaticism. It’s not a proper post apocalypse without a couple of religious nutcases, after all. The leader of the new immunes dreams of a new world populated by a superior race (sound familiar?) and, back in Darwin, the leader of the Jacobites is spreading fear and fervor. The second elevator is a problem for Jacobite Grillo; there should be only one Jacob’s Ladder. The colony at the base of the second elevator is a problem for Gabriel and his gang of immunes; the humans clustered within its aura are untested.

One of these men will be dealt with, the other needs to be dealt with. Separately, they keep Skyler and Samantha busy until the Builders arrive, as scheduled.

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Review: The Darwin Elevator

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough has style and substance. The characters are vivid and compelling and the plot features more than just another zombie apocalypse. I was hooked by the end of the first page.

It’s the twenty-third century and Darwin is the last viable city on Earth. Thirty years before, aliens known only as The Builders visited the planet and installed a space elevator on the remote peninsula of northern Australia. As scientists and opportunists flocked to the southern continent, the city grew. Then came the plague: SUBS. Those who did not die a quick and painful death devolved, became sub-human with one key emotion heightened, most usually aggression.

The elevator offers protection from the plague, an aura nine miles in circumference, which is not a lot of room for the remnant population. Darwin is overcrowded, food is a commodity. The population is split into two distinct classes; the refugees penned in by the aura and the Orbitals, residents of a series of stations anchored to the space elevator. The Orbitals rely on Darwin for water and air and Darwin relies on the food from the agricultural platforms. Both rely on scavengers: the few, the brave, the foolhardy. Scavengers venture outside the aura in search of parts, batteries, ammunition and, occasionally, the fate of a loved one.

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