Review of UP AGAINST IT by M. J. Locke
TOR, March 2011
Resource Manager Jane Navio has seen it before. A Martian crime cartel has set its sights on Phocaea, the major independent colony in the astroid belt. They have to be behind a massive sabotage that has left the colony short on the methane that keeps it fed and supplies its energy. Now they're doing everything they can to prevent what measures she can put in place to defend the colony. Teen Geoff enjoys scootering through space and plans on picking up some of the methane refuse coming from the delivery of a huge methane ball. He witnesses the sabotage, sees his brother die in the aftermath. He hates the criminals, but what can one young man do to prevent the Martian invasion. Meanwhile, an overload on the computer system that keeps the colony afloat has resulted in the birth of a wild sapient within the computer system. Wild sapients aren't unknown, but they are destructive. Perhaps the colony can't last even until the Martian conquest arrives.
Author M. J. Locke creates an interesting near-future story. Asteroid mining is an familiar and favorite topic in Science Fiction, and Locke brings a modern touch with the introduction of an all-seeing "Truman Show" -style existence for Earth-dwellers to watch the colony, and something called "sammies" which measure and display how viewers and other dwellers in Phocaea feel about each other (influenced by Cory Doctorow's "wuffies"). I thought Locke did an especially good job in the scenes set in the artificial sapient's point of view as that sapient explores its universe and attempts to stay alive in a computer system designed to wipe out any chance of a sapient emerging.
While UP AGAINST IT is an enjoyable read, at times it was clear that this is a first novel. The "sammies" concept was never really integrated, never explained as anything more than an homage to Doctorow's concept. It seemed a stretch that Geoff and his pals could be everywhere, involved in the initial accident, drafted to help the battle against the sapient, owning a methane-filled asteroid, arriving at the scene of the asteroid just in time to participate in a battle against the crime syndicate. I would have liked to see less of Geoff, or have a reason why Geoff just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
It'll be interesting to see if Locke can take the talent and story-telling he demonstrates here and develop it further, leaving behind his first-book wobbles. I'd like to see that.
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