AUTHOR: JASON M. HOUGH
Details: No. 2 The Dire Earth Cycle
Received from Titan Books
Reviewed by Dermot Kennedy
The mysterious aliens known as the Builders have planted a new elevator in Belem, Brazil. They have also left behind strange Black Towers which seem to nullify the SUBS virus. Skyler Luiken and the rebel Orbitals have started a new colony but they soon fall foul of a new menace. Skyler also discovers a crashed Builder ship and soon uncovers that the ship is altering the subhumans, making them faster, stronger and meaner.
“Exodus Towers” is the second book from Hough and continues on the story begun in “The Darwin Elevator”. Skyler and the rebel Orbitals have created a new colony in Belem but soon run into trouble with a sinister cult of immunes, When the mysterious Black Towers suddenly up sticks and move off in different directions of their own volition, Tania Sharma, leader of the rebel Orbitals, knows instinctively that this is somehow linked with the next imminent Builder event.
Meanwhile in Darwin, Russell Blackfield has secured control of the remaining orbital habitats on the Darwin elevator and enlists the services of crime lord Grillo to restore law and order to the streets of Darwin. A decision he soon comes to regret …
I really liked this follow-up by Hough. The pace is fast and the characters well developed and above all, likeable (even the bad guys!). Even though this is a dystopian novel, the narrative never gets bogged down in the misery inherent in such scenarios. In Skyler Luiken, we have an anti-hero who reminds one of Mal Reynolds from Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or Jaine Fenn’s Jarek Reen. Luiken is part ships captain, part scavenger and part likeable rogue. His no nonsense approach is nicely balanced by the analytical almost dithery approach of the Tania Sharma character.
However, for me Russell Blackfield steals the show as the quintessential bad guy. Blackfield just oozes nastiness, never has a good word for anyone and as a result has no confidants. This last fact also shows up his shortcomings and when he contracts Grillo to clean up Darwin he realises how out of his depth he really is. Grillo on the other hand, is as methodical as he is ruthless and quickly shows Blackfield how to really rule with an iron fist, and it doesn’t take long for Grillo to show his true ambitions.
The suspense is maintained throughout by the unfathomable agenda of the Builders, a race of aliens so technologically advanced that they seem almost magical, even if we haven’t actually met these mysterious beings yet. The fact that so much remains unknown about the Builders only adds to the drama and leads one to ask whether all the machinations of the human survivors will ultimately be in vain.
Jason M. Hough has created a rip roaring story that never lets up on pace or wonder and has delivered one of the best debut science fiction novels this reader has read in a long time. I look forward with relish to the next instalment of this excellent story.