Up Against It comes with recommendations from some big names -Cory Doctorow, G.R.R. Martin, Kate Elliott- but of them all, the one you really need to pay attention to is Steve Miller, who calls the book “twenty-first-century YA SF writ large.” The blurb doesn’t make it sound like YA. It makes it sound like a hard sci-fi novel about Jane Navio, resource manager for asteroid colony Phocaea, who finds herself struggling to keep its citizens alive after a terrorist attack on the main settlement vents its stores of water and methane into space. Jane’s over a century old and her children have grown up and left the asteroid belt. She has to deal with the Martian mob, a newly-sentient AI, the popularity-based sammy system, an invasive reality entertainment show that films almost everything that happens on Phocaea, a transhumanist cult, and a mysterious voice inside her head… Where does the YA come in, then?
Well, much of the novel focuses on Geoff, Amaya, Ian and Kamal. They’re average teenagers who are also really smart and really brave and constantly wind up in the middle of the action and holding the solution to one of Phocaea’s many problems. There’s several adult viewpoint characters, but the story keeps coming back to Geoff and his personal issues. If you’re not interested in his hobby of zipping about on his rocketbike with his friends or his struggle to get out of his dead brother’s shadow, Geoff’s going to drag the whole novel down.
Up Against It is jam-packed with ideas that it incorporates into a fast-moving plot and complex setting. For hard sci-fi, it’s appreciably committed to its characters. However, while Phocaea may be detailed, it never feels worth lingering on to take everything in. And having teenage characters might not put the novel squarely within the nebulous genre that is YA, but if you have no enthusiasm for YA then you might find a significantly large part of Up Against It hard to tolerate.