Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Blog by Jason M. Hough, author of The Darwin Elevator (The Dire Earth Cycle 1) - July 23, 2013

Please welcome Jason M. Hough to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs. The Darwin Elevator (The Dire Earth Cycle 1) will be published on July 30, 2013 by Del Rey.  The second and third novels in The Dire Earth Cycle, The Exodus Towers and The Plague Forge, will follow in August and September. You may read an interview with Jason here.

Place as Character

There was only one requirement when choosing where to set my novel: somewhere near the equator. At the heart of the story is a space elevator, which is really just a long (long!) cord that stretches from Earth up into space. Such a device only works near the equator, where the spin of the planet constantly tries to throw the counterweight at the far end out into space, thus keeping the cable nice and taut.

I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a location, other than I wanted it to have character. What that means, exactly, is somewhat indefinable, and differs for everyone. Ask ten writers to pick an equatorial location to set this novel and you’d probably get ten different answers, all with perfectly valid reasons.

Spinning around the globe at a friend’s house one night, I decided to first see if anything just jumped out at me right away. Someplace that might have intersti—


And that’s how easy it was. Didn’t even need to spin the globe around one entire revolution. Darwin, Australia, if for no other reason than the shallowest one: I liked the name. The title, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, came to mind instantly. It sounded like the type of thing someone might pick up off a shelf, intrigued. The extra connotation the name brings just felt perfect. So… Darwin! Done deal. Easy, right?

As it turns out, Darwin is a piss-poor location for a space elevator. It’s close enough to the equator to technically work (as I later learned), but barely so. Definitely too far away to ever be a consideration in any real-world plans for such a device. The weather sucks, though that’s something of a theme when it comes to the equator. Even the simple fact that it’s on land makes it less than ideal. If we were to build an actual space elevator, we’d put it on a floating platform well out to sea. Something we can move to avoid storms. Somewhere that radar could pick up evildoers well before they ever got close enough to do any damage.

So Darwin was a terrible choice. And thus perfect. Because in this story we didn’t build the elevator. An automated extraterrestrial ship did, for reasons unexplained. Reasons I won’t explain here because spoilers are worse than broccoli. Suffice to say they either had bad aim or, perhaps, they didn’t want things to be easy for us. One thing’s for sure, on the day this post goes live I’ll pick a random person from whoever posts the word vestibule to my facebook page for a free signed book. But beyond all this elevator-related reasoning for choosing Darwin, the city had plenty to offer.

In the world of the novel, what today is a sleepy beach town becomes the scientific epicenter of the world almost overnight thanks to the Elevator’s sudden arrival. Governments and private organizations alike flock to the wondrous alien device in a way that no human-built monument ever accomplished. Then comes the plague, and when people start to realize the space elevator is somehow protecting Darwin from the disease, a second flood of newcomers arrive: refugees from all around. Darwin is in an interesting place in the world, geographically and culturally. An English-speaking nation tucked just below Southeast Asia. As melting pots go, it works very well.

So began the worldbuilding. That’s a topic for another day. The point of all this is how place can worm its way into a story the same way characters do. A quirk of behavior or an ironic name might be the spark that leads you down the road to a memorable persona, and as a writer you just go with it and see where it leads. Place is no different.

A novel’s setting can take on just as much personality as any character, and even serve as a driver for the story. Some of my favorite examples:

TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay, perhaps my favorite book, features a story driven by the fact that the entire concept of a place, the nation of Tigana, has been wiped from the memory of anyone who did not come from there. Those who did still remember the place fondly, and it is through their memory and shared grief for the virtual loss of their homeland we get to know the place of Tigana as intimately as any character in that magnificent work.

In 11/22/63 Stephen King takes us back in time to locations both real and imagined. King’s fictional and terrifying Maine town of Derry is as strong and well-defined as any character in that excellent novel. The place absolutely oozes with creepy personality, with each resident manifesting themselves like personality quirks. And Derry, like some of King’s characters, is a recurring presence in his books.

Midworld… Hogwarts… Arrakis… I could go on, but I’d love to hear what examples you readers have in mind. What places in literature have captured your attention as much or more than characters that populated them?

The Dire Earth Cycle

The Darwin Elevator
The Dire Earth Cycle 1
Del Rey, July 30, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 496 pages

Jason M. Hough’s pulse-pounding debut combines the drama, swagger, and vivid characters of Joss Whedon’s Firefly with the talent of sci-fi author John Scalzi.

In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.

Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

The Exodus Towers
The Dire Earth Cycle 2
Del Rey, August 27, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 544 pages

The Exodus Towers features all the high-octane action and richly imagined characters of The Darwin Elevator—only the stakes have never been higher.

The Plague Forge
The Dire Earth Cycle 3
Del Rey, September 24, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

The Plague Forge delivers an unbeatable combination of knockout action and kick-ass characters as the secrets to the ultimate alien mystery from The Darwin Elevator and The Exodus Towers are about to be unraveled.

Check out the 'Books' section of Jason's website to see the UK Covers.

About Jason
(from the author's website)

Photo by Nathan
Jason M. Hough (pronounced 'Huff') is a former 3D Artist and Game Designer (Metal FatigueAliens vs. Predator: Extinction, and many others).  Writing fiction became a hobby for him in 2007 and quickly turned into an obsession.  He started writing THE DARWIN ELEVATOR in 2008 as a Nanowrimo project, and kept refining the manuscript until 2011 when it sold to Del Rey along with a contract for two sequels.  The trilogy, collectively called THE DIRE EARTH CYCLE, will be released in the summer of 2013.

He lives in San Diego, California with his wife and two young sons. Currently he works at Qualcomm,Inc. designing software that uses machine learning to make smartphones more efficient and user-friendly.

Website  ~  Twitter @JasonMHough  ~  Facebook  ~  G+  ~  Blog


  1. i enjoyed the post and I've read many great stories where the setting was just as important and memorable as the characters, especially Meljean Brook's Iron Seas steampunk world. I'm looking forward to reading The Dire Earth Cycle, starting with The Darwin Elevator.

  2. Great article. I pre-ordered this this a while back after I saw a blurb comparing it to Firefly (plus I dig space elevators). Really looking forward to this series. (Definitely places can be as important as characters. One of my favorite books is Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. The story unfolds in the New York Museum of Natural History which is a fantastic and unique location. It was this setting which initially attracted me to the book.)