Up Against It by M. J. Locke [Book Review]

Promising Hard SF debut

Up Against It is my most anticipated debut this year. M. J. Locke paints a picture of space colonization in a not to far future in this thrilling story of a criminal takeover attempt of Phocaea, a strategic and independent asteroid colony.

There are two main characters Geoff and Jane. Geoff is coming of age as he and his young rocketbike-riding friends become central to the events. He witnesses how his beloved brother Carl is killed in the mysterious accident that destroys the colony’s supply of methane and water. Jane is the city administrator in charge of supplies and she soon discovers that there is more to the accident and starts to suspect the Martian Mafia is behind it all, since they conveniently have the only load in range to save the colony. She also has been through it all before on Vesta when the Mafia took over there. Jane has to struggle both with the Mafia and her fellow administrators.

The tale follows the two main characters as they in their own ways try to save the colony. There is some teen love, a mysterious trans-human cult, lots of action on the asteroid and in space, kidnappings, and a fleet of thugs on their way. The accident also spawns a feral AI that complicates things.

The world building is good and quite interesting. We get glimpses here and there that hints at the greater universe. Earth is a refugee camp after an ecological breakdown and people in space have a better life but life outside the atmosphere is dangerous as the events here show. Life in the colonies are televised to earth by small mobile cameras that are everywhere, the colony managements have an allotment of privacy minutes every week.

I really like the characters and the world building and I hope M. J. Locke is going to write more in this world. It is a straightforward hard sf read where the mysteries and characters keep you interested. It reads a bit like classic science fiction but with modern ideas and people. It is a standalone novel but it has many interesting people and events that leave the range open for sequels I really want to read.

I give Up Against it a strong recommendation.

Book information

Up Against It by M. J. Locke (Tor March 2011) – Amazon  US | UK – Bought it myself

Geoff and his friends live in Phocaea, a distant asteroid colony on the Solar System’s frontier. They’re your basic high-spirited young adults, enjoying such pastimes as hacking matter compilers to produce dancing skeletons that prance through the low-gee communal areas, using their rocket-bikes to salvage methane ice shrapnel that flies away when the colony brings in a big (and vital) rock of the stuff, and figuring out how to avoid the ubiquitous surveillance motes that are the million eyes of ‘Stroiders, a reality-TV show whose Earthside producers have paid handsomely for the privilege of spying on every detail of the Phocaeans’ lives.

Life isn’t as good as it seems, though. A mysterious act of sabotage kills Geoff’s brother Carl and puts the entire colony at risk. And in short order, we discover that the whole thing may have been cooked up by the Martian mafia, as a means of executing a coup and turning Phocaea into a client-state. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a rogue AI that was spawned during the industrial emergency and slipped through the distracted safeguards, and a giant x-factor in the form of the Viridians, a transhumanist cult that lives in Phocaea’s bowels.

In addition to Geoff, our story revolves around Jane, the colony’s resource manager — a bureaucrat engineer in charge of keeping the plumbing running on an artificial island of humanity poised on the knife-edge of hard vacuum and unforgiving space. She’s more than a century old, and good at her job, but she is torn between the technical demands of the colony and the political realities of her situation, in which the fishbowl effect of ‘Stroiders is compounded by a reputation economy that turns every person into a beauty contest competitor.  Her manoeuverings to keep politics and engineering in harmony are the heart of the book.