This book was almost like pulling an old worn paperback off my shelf full of classic sci-fi novels. The idioms of contemporary SF are all there -- transhumanism, singularities, nanotechnology, ubiquitous computing and surveillance -- but the story is pure Golden Age sci-fi.
Phoecea is an asteroid colony on the precarious edge of survival and profitability. To increase their income, they have cut a deal with an Earth-based media corporation to broadcast everything that happens on Phoecea for a reality TV show called 'Stroiders
. Although the constant live feeds from floating "motes" do play a role in the story, the effects are largely unseen, as the vast Earthling audience is so remote from Phoecea and there doesn't seem to be much interaction with the inner system worlds. Thus, the "reality TV show" angle doesn't get used much.
Phoecea also depends on water collected from asteroids, and this is how the villains of the story, a corporate front for the Martian mafia, seek to take over Phoecea. After a disaster destroys most of the colony's H20 reserves, the mobsters are the only ones who can bring enough water to save the colonists in time, unless they find another source. And to make matters worse, the disaster also unleashes an Artificial Intelligence, or "feral sapient," that escapes into the wild, taking up residence in Phoecea's computer network.
The main character is engineer Jane Navio, resource manager of Phoecea. She tries to negotiate a way to save the colony that won't hand it over to the Martian mafia, in the face of opposition from quisling bureaucrats, treacherous coworkers, and a mysterious cult of transhumanists whose allegiances are uncertain.
There is also a group of teenagers whose discovery of a "sugar rock," laden with ice, may just save the colony, if the bad guys don't get it first.
It's a complicated setting with many elements and tons of science fiction, but the story, while involving several major subplots, is pretty straightforward, and Up Against It
moves along with a pleasant mix of action, suspense, mystery, and sci-fi geekery. I found the writing to be perfectly suited to the job of describing the environment and telling the story, without a lot of stylistic flourishes, and the characters were all pretty interesting, though Jane was a much more fully fleshed out protagonist than Geoff and his teen sidekicks.
If you like rockin' good SF, especially of the sort favored by us SF fans who are getting a little long in the tooth, this is a fresh arrival in the SF field we know and love. It's certainly not a groundbreaking or genre-shaking entry, but it won't disappoint anyone who knows what they expect and want when they read it.