Maker Space (Rachel Peng, volume 2)
By K B Spangler
Sequel to Digital Divide, this opens with the destruction of Gayle Street in a series of explosions. The careful timing of the explosions, calculated to maximize casualties, shows that this is no Lac-Mégantic-style infrastructural misadventure but rather an act of deliberate willful malice aimed at Americans, one carried out on a spectacular scale.
The Agents of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies are called in to consult, their unique abilities and training making them especially useful during the early search and rescue phase of the investigation. As the liaison between the Metropolitan Police Department and OACET Rachel Peng finds herself playing a fairly central role, balancing her work with personal complications arising from her medical history and OACET’s feud with series villain Senator Hanlon.
The destruction of Gayle Street demonstrates a level of sophistication most disgruntled tax-rebels, race-haters and other home-grown ne’er-do-wells cannot match. Neither can most of the groups specializing in IEDs and such overseas. Like a killer setting up a locked-room mystery, this does the investigation a huge favour because it immediately rules out every possible suspect who lacks the technical skills required.
Rather ominously for America, the extremely short list of organizations with access to the right skills includes various organs of the government of United States itself. This embarrassing truth is not lost on investigators convinced the US is just a few provocations away from the collapse of order and subsequent outbreak of civil war and as much as they don’t want to be drawn to the conclusion that Gayle Street was a false flag operation, that’s the direction the evidence seems to point. More specifically, not only is Homeland Defense implicated but their reaction only makes them look more guilty.
And thanks to the doleful lack of D‑Notices in America, the all too easily inflamed American public is well aware of the results of the investigation…
Unfortunately, I think this is an example of a book where I was the wrong reviewer. Normally as a Canadian born to American parents, I can be expected to be entirely conversant in Usonian but I think this is one of those books that works a lot better if the reader is actually American than if they are only familiar with them.
Specifically, one of the basic articles of faith for Americans appears to be that the US is forever one small provocation away from collapse, whether it’s foreign invasion, a poorly chosen news article triggering civil war or the plutocracy orchestrating the final death of true democracy. There’s always a reason why the US at any given time is even more fragile, more divided, more vulnerable than ever before. From the outside, the US, which has weathered world wars, civil wars, riots and a long, rich tradition of domestic terrorism, doesn’t look that vulnerable and the American belief that it is appears quaint, or if the person speaking is one who will benefit from cranking up the security state, self-serving. The plot doesn’t actually require the US to be as fragile as the characters think – their belief is all that is needed – but since I don’t accept that that article of faith is correct, I kept getting kicked out of the narrative by misplaced skepticism0.
This is a perfectly functional police procedural set in a modern surveillance state. I liked the way Spangler balanced the case with Peng’s personal issues, from her reluctance to admit to a particular disability even when doing so might help others, to the impediment her status as a what amounts to a low-grade superhero presents for her dating life1. I think most American readers will greatly enjoy this, although I think the ending would have been stronger without the final revelation. I would recommend it generally, although as I say I think Americans will enjoy it more.
Maker Space can be purchased here.
0: Notice that I didn’t have any problem with magical brain implants, once I knew they were magical. I don’t think I can claim consistency if, say, I accept magic on one hand and balk at a Prince Rupert’s Drop America on the other.
1: Although, really, dating Catwoman would be bad enough but Peng seems to have an eye for a distaff Lex Luthor. I’d love to know what her new sweetie’s body count is; it isn’t zero, I know that.