Pluralistic: 25 Apr 2022

Today's links

The cover for the Tor Essentials edition of Laura J Mixon's 'Up Against It.'

Up Against It, an "essential," action-adventure sf tale of bureaucrats and colonizers (permalink)

I first discovered Laura Mixon's fiction in 1992. I was working at Toronto's Bakka Books and I was the "cyberpunk guy," so when I unpacked a new box from Tor Books and found her eco-thriller/cyberpunk debut Glass Houses at the top, I grabbed a copy and read it on my lunch-break:

I ended up hand-selling cases of copies of Glass Houses, talking up this ground-breaking eco-thriller by a feminist hard sf writer who was also a working environmental engineer to everyone who came through the door.

Glass Houses was the kickoff to the "Avatars Dance" trilogy (with Proxies and Burning the Ice), which went from strength to strength. But Mixon was a casualty of the "midlist collapse" – a disaster in which consolidation in distribution and mass-market bookselling (at grocery stores, etc) killed thousands of writers' careers. These consolidated firms used databases to track sell-through, and let it be known that they wouldn't carry any writer who didn't meet expectations. It was a wipeout for many beloved, working writers.

In 2011, Tor Books rebooted Mixon's career by publishing a new book of hers, "Up Against It," under a pen-name – a common tack to get around the mass-market retailers' practice of boycotting writers who hadn't sold at expected levels. That pen-name was MJ Locke, and I reviewed Up Against It when it dropped:

Up Against It was and is a hell of a book, and now Tor Books has brought it back, as part of its Tor Essentials line (with a new intro by The Expanse's James SA Corey), which is genuinely essential reading:

These handsomely packaged books, with new introductions and authors' preferred text, span the history of the field and constitute a perfect library of science fiction classics, including modern and overlooked classics:

In honor of the reissue, I'm republishing my original 2011 review. I've been a Laura Mixon superfan since 1992, and 30 years later, I find that I've become a giga-fan.

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 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. (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 hijinks: 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.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Jack Valenti's disinformation

#15yrsago Will Eisner’s New York – like Jane Jacobs in graphic form

#10yrsago Tor Books goes completely DRM-free

#10yrsago Stross makes the case for ebooks going DRM-free

#10yrsago Daniel Pinkwater’s Mrs Noodlekugel, a kids’ story that’s as silly and pleasurable as ice-cream

#10yrsago Reading all the privacy policies you “agree” to would take a month per year

#5yrsago John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire: an epic new space opera with snark, politics and action to burn

#5yrsago The Haunted Mansion Ghost Post wins a Themed Entertainment Award!

#5yrsago Juvenile criminal defense attorneys forced to agree to Taser’s terms of service to see the state’s evidence

#5yrsago The work of the world’s leading nutrition researchers appears to be riddled with statistical errors

#5yrsago EFF study: ed-tech is spying on America’s kids and not telling them about it

#5yrsago Mafia used the text-message ticker at the bottom of a sports broadcast to get messages to mob bosses

#5yrsago A Crooked Timber seminar on Walkaway

#1yrago John Deere's dismal infosec

#1yrago Foxconn's Wisconsin death-rattle

#1yrago Laundering torturers' reputations with copyfraud

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

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