In Up Against It a 25th-century asteroid-based community is beset by a confluence of disasters: a critical resource hemorrhaging accident, a takeover threat by the Martian mob, a rogue artificial intelligence in the asteroid’s systems — the list goes on. It explores both the fragility of human life in a hostile environment, and life’s pluck and resilience in the face of adversity.
The novel is roughly split between following the community’s resource manager Jane Navio as she attempts to respond to the crisis, and the exploits of mildly rebellious/disaffected/underachieving teen Geoff Agre and his friends.
Navio’s side of the story is pretty nuts-and-bolts credible: she’s faced with tough decisions and political attacks; I was reminded a bit of The Wire.
Despite some distinctly modern elements — pervasive nanotech and a far-future take on reality TV among them — Geoff’s story, with its old-school, whiz-bang, derring-do, reminded me powerfully of Heinlein’s deservedly classic “juvenile” novels, partly because of the age and attitude of the protagonists, but also because of sentences like “She gave him the spacer OK sign: left arm crooked with the glove touching helmet crown; right arm straight out and up at a forty-five-degree angle,” not to mention paragraphs like:
The original prospector had extensively surveyed it. The stroid was primarily metal ore. It was a big one: about three by three by ten kilometers in size, roughly barbell-shaped. Its albedo was high — typical for nickel-iron rocks. Its mean density had been 5.8 grams per cubic centimeter — nearly three times Phocaea’s. One end of the barbell consisted of a big lump of crumbly silicates; the result of a collision with a silica rock sometime in the distant past. But the bulk of the stroid was high-grade ore.
Thankfully, this is an extreme example, but the prose does tend to bog down a little when Locke wants to make sure the reader knows how well researched the novel is. The pacing of some of the “action” sequences also suffers from a little more laborious blocking than is strictly necessary. The resolution of some of the plot elements leans on coincidence almost to the point of deus ex machina and one dangling plot thread clearly leads to a potential sequel. The cast of of characters is large and some of the names invite confusion (Ian/Ivan; Harbough/Harman/Harper); I had a little trouble keeping all the relationships and roles straight.
Despite these minor quibbles, I definitely enjoyed Up Against It.
Up Against It is marketed as the debut novel of the gender-neutral M. J. Locke, but strictly speaking, it’s really not. Laura Mixon discusses her reasons for adopting a pseuodynm on her website. Although it’s not her primary reason, it saddens me to think that even in the 21st-century, using a not-female-identifiable name is a boon in the hard sf marketplace, but I suppose it’s realistic.
needs more demons? not really.