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Brute Force  (Rachel Peng, volume 4)

By K B Spangler 

19 Nov, 2016

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2016’s Brute Force is the fourth instalment in K. B. Spangler’s Rachel Peng series. 

Hope Blackwell can handle herself, but the child with her cannot. Ambushed, Blackwell has no choice but to go peacefully with her kidnappers for the sake of young Avery. 

Taking Blackwell is a bold move for the kidnappers. Not only will Blackwell be a very … uh, challenging prisoner to contain, but by kidnapping her, they’ve made themselves targets for her husband, Patrick Mulcahy, head of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies. Behind OACET’s harmless name is a tight-knit community of cyborgs. 

Given Peng and her fellow cyborgs’ enhancements, which grant them implausible abilities ranging from computer hacking to astral projection, finding Blackwell, Avery, and their kidnappers isn’t hard. The problem will be extracting them, particularly since the kidnappers thoughtfully snagged other hostages as well. For now they play for time. 

Blackwell, Avery, and the others were snatched by Jeremy Nicholson’s Sovereign Citizen militia. Sovereign Citizens have a focused hate-on for law enforcement, which bodes poorly for their intentions with respect to OACET. It is with considerable surprise, then, that OACET discovers Nicholson’s goal. 

He does not want to dismantle or destroy OACET. He wants to recruit them for the Sovereign Citizen cause. 

Alas for Nicholson, not only has he grievously misread OACET, he has grievously misread his own allies and the true purpose of the kidnappings. 


Peng gets to deal with some old business in this instalment of the series: a killer she helped free because that was the least bad choice available reappears, eager to pay back the favour. That’s not a euphemism. He really is on Peng’s side. But not only does his reappearance raise questions Peng would prefer not to have to answer, his assistance generally takes the form of corpses. 

Nicholson’s ideology is ludicrous, but nobody who matters is taking it seriously (although they do take his militia’s potential for violence quite seriously). The real struggle is between groups whose goals are at odds, but whose methods are essentially rational. One of the reasons that Peng and her friends have any hope of working out what is really going on is that both sides agree on the utility of rational thought. It’s a very pre-11/9 view of how the US works. 

I wonder if every near-future SF series in which the US is not a brutal theocratic police state ruled by doctrinaire bigoted oligarchs and their boot-licking enablers became obsolete on November 9? Won’t it be fun to find out together? 

This is less a whodunit than a why-dunit, coupled with a thriller plot in which the grand, violent denouement (mandatory in most thrillers) is the last thing the characters want to see. Inexplicably, Peng and company actually care more about the hostages, even the ones they do not know, than performing artfully choreographed fight scenes and beautiful, beautiful explosions. 

The first three books in the Rachel Peng series are available here.