Up Against It: smart, whiz-bang space opera pits astro-bureaucrats against rogue AIs

By Cory Doctorow

MJ Locke's Up Against It is the cracking first volume of WAVE, a space-opera series that manages to be both original -- full of smart new ways of looking at science fiction ideas -- and old fashioned -- full of the kind of whiz-bang action-adventure that made so many of us fall in love with the field in the first place.

The plot: Geoff and pals are a group of plucky young folks living in an asteroid habitat called Phocaea, a distant outpost of humanity on the Solar system's frontier. They're your basic high-spirited youngsters, enjoying such pass-times 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. (See what I mean about whiz-bang space-opera nift?)

Things are not as good as they seem, 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, the story revolves around Jane, the colony's resource manager, and her scenes are every bit as engrossing as Geoff's hijinx: Jane is 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. Locke's account of the gubbins and manoeuvring involved in keeping politics and engineering in harmony are sure to warm every geek's heart.

Though this is Locke's debut novel, I have it on good authority that "Locke" is the pseudonym for an accomplished sf writer who is trying out some new directions, and certainly this doesn't read like a first-timer's book. Rather, it is sophisticated, smartly plotty, and full of science fictional gracenotes and in-jokes that tickled me pink.

Up Against It

Published 6:11 am Fri, Mar 18, 2011

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

17 Responses to “Up Against It: smart, whiz-bang space opera pits astro-bureaucrats against rogue AIs”

  1. doggo says:

    ‘The most fascinating thing, to me, about a book like “Up Against It”, is the unretouched snapshot of society that comes through. Other books, even those published at the same time (1967), are either too limited in their scope, or appear to be pushing a certain agenda. Additionally, retrospectives of the mid to late sixties, rather common in the last twenty years, often rely on the memory of those that were there, and memory can be a tricky thing, even in the most altruistic.

    So instead, we have a collection of Mr. Royko’s columns, a best of grab bag from 1959-1966, that record the day to day events and everyday people of Chicago, without any agenda at all other than Mr. Royko trying to keep his job. I suppose that’s not exactly true, because he did have some specific goals, which are apparent after reading only a few of his columns. First, to entertain his readers, and second, to skewer fools.’ – Review of Up Against It by Mike Royko

    Get this one too.

  2. sean says:

    Sounds like early John Varley teritory, specifically the “eight worlds” universe- boy, some of his concepts blew my mind when I first read those stories, back in the 70’s. I’m checking this one out- sounds neat.

  3. Derek C. F. Pegritz says:

    I. Must. Read. This.

    The name “Phocaea” alone sold me. :)

  4. Stu Mark says:

    All I can think about is the Joe Orton/Beatles film that could have been.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This looks great – but does anyone know why the kindle edition is not available to UK customers? I hope I haven’t forgotten about it by the time it is!

    • Anonymous says:

      I have an iRiver Cover Story and was thinking a similarly. I would like to buy this book as it has been recommended to me. However, since I can not buy it as a digital book, by the time I can I will likely have forgotten about it. sadface

  6. Anonymous says:

    So pissed right now.

    The ebook is limited to us sales only… You know there are book readers in the rest of the world…

    • Al Billings says:

      Don’t be pissed. The ebook is only a few dollars cheaper than the hardcover. It isn’t worth it for Amazon’s DRM-locked books that you don’t really own.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sounds a bit like Bruce Stirling’s Schismatrix. Could he be the author?

  8. Janet Brennan Croft says:

    Hm. Almost sounds Bujoldian. I can see some of the themes she works with in this description.

    • Anonymous says:

      Am Elder, “Bujoldian”…I like!

      I think you are right that there is a Bujold influence on this book — though I didn’t spot it till you commented. She is one of my favorite writers. Bujold is exceptionally good at blending all the elements that make SFF such a kick to read.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ooops–sorry! Brain fart. Make that Janet.

  9. Am Elder says:

    “Locke” is the pseudonym for an accomplished sf writer

    On the author’s website she identifies her alter-ego as Laura J. Mixon.

  10. nicboshart says:

    Seriously, how is an article about Tim Wu and exclusively linking to Amazon even possible on the same blog? This proves Boingboing editors are not robots, as the illogic of that would explode their circuitry.

  11. ultranaut says:

    Something like 80% of my book purchases have been the result of a recommendation here.

  12. jaycatt7 says:

    Finished reading this yesterday. It was delightful throughout. So glad to reread the BoingBoing review and discover there will be sequels! Will have to check out the author’s other works as well–Thanks for linking to her real name.

    Not sure the line about the “beauty pageant” effect of the reputation economy reflects the events of this book, though. Seemed more about politics.

    And this thread is making me want to read more Bujold.

  13. kkennedy says:

    Looks really good, but the $12.99 ebook price? I don’t think so. Sorry MJ! Tell your publisher to catch a clue, sell the ebook at $3.99 worldwide, and make up for the difference in volume.

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