Concept: An alien craft deployed a space elevator in Darwin, Australia. A plague wiped out most of the population of the planet, a radius around the elevator the only safe spot to live. A have/have not dichotomy has formed with the oligarchy living in space and the chaff living in Earth-bound slums. Your main character and his crew of scavengers are all immunes, people unaffected by the plague, who gather resources outside the radius of the elevator. Politics, power grabs, gun fights, and the next alien spacecraft fuel this march to the second of a trilogy that will publish over the next three months.
What's great about this book: While one dystopian future is looking much the same as the other, Hough does a great job exploring the world outside of Darwin and up in space at the top of the Elevator. I wanted to continue reading immediately because the setting felt like a fresh take on old tropes. I like the post-catastrophic Earth he's built and I want to explore more.
What's good about this book: Hough handles aliens like Spielberg handled Jaws2. They're coming, but they're not running around Mel Gibson's backyard.
What's refreshing about this book: You'll hear a lot about the pacing. Everyone's all, fast-paced blah blah blah. The second half picks up the clip, so it's definitely a march from beginning to end, but the first half is paced exactly as it should be (and thus the second half is paced exactly as it should be). I kept thinking about how people kept commenting on the pacing, but really what they mean is "There's isn't any extraneous crap in this book". We don't get the history of everything. We don't get a description of every button on a character's jacket. Here's what you see. Here's what you hear. Here's what happens. Bam, let's move on. This is the opposite of a George Martin book, and that's not a bad thing3.
What's familiar about this book: The first chapter has a strong correlation to Firefly. Hough is aware of it and is pleased with the comparison. There is a strong "Why do my plans never work" vibe, but the Firefly comparisons chill as the book progresses and it does NOT read like fan fiction.
What's unfortunately familiar about this book: It had what I thought was a simple but awesome villain. He thinks he should do more, but he isn't as talented as he thinks he is. But he has the power to force himself on other political entities to increase his role. Anyone that's worked in an office has met (and suffered) under such a person. It was pinpoint accurate and I loved seeing him as the villain. Eventually he becomes the more traditional sexual sadist that we see so often, and that actually lessens the character in my eyes. He want from being selfish to being "Evil!" Thankfully, he's not the focus of the story, so there are long gaps between his Evilness.
What's unnecessary about this book: The primary female character suffers sexual violence. As it relates to the villain I mention above, I am of the opinion this was unnecessary for her personal arc or the establishment of the villain as villainous. I've wrestled with this kind of thing in my own writing, and you can here it discussed ad nauseum on the interwebs, but in this case, I take the position that this did not further the character or the story in a meaningful way4
What's really cool about this franchise: Book 1: July '13; Book 2: August '13; Book 3: September '13. If you like one, you only have to wait a month for the next one. That may limit the growth of the author or it may not, but as a consumer, it's cool not to have to wait six years between installments.
Something nitpicky that I liked: I read an ARC, which means it's not the final final version that you'll see printed. It's the mostly final printed version. Even so, the number of errors that slipped through copyediting was lower than what has been happening in years. It's a sorry state of publishing how lazy editing has gotten (either through less talented copyeditors, tighter deadlines, cheaper publishers, or all of the above) so it was nice to see a book that didn't have typos on every page.
All in all, if you're in the mood for some science fiction, pick this one up. When you get to the third book, you'll even get to see Selby Systems make its appearance! If you think to yourself, "Hey, I know a guy named Selby," BAM! That was no accident, fella.
1: Don't worry, I had already pre-ordered it, so the man'll still get his royalties.
2: Interesting tidbit, Spielberg had actually planned on showing Jaws much earlier in the film, but it was his editor who cut the shark until the end. For all those people who think they don't need an editor, even Steven Spielberg needs an editor.
3: I love Game of Thrones, so don't get your undies in a twist. It's book five. I don't give a shit what five courses they had for dinner each day of the week. Chop chop, motherfuckers.
4: There's also a shower scene that some reviewers5 have called male fantasy fulfillment. I don't think that's the case, but it did pull me out of the story as I rolled my eyes.
5: And for those of you that read Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, what was up with that review? "Read this book. Here's everything that's bad with it." Not the ringingest of endorsements. It's Hough's first book, and if this is the point at which he starts his career and grows, we will see some quality science fiction from him in the future. As for me, I'll be reading the second installment come August.