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Literature / Rachel Peng Novels

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Cover to the third novel.
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The Rachel Peng novels take place in the A Girl and Her Fed universe, focusing on Agent Rachel Peng. Rachel is assigned as the liason between the Washington, DC police department and OACET—a government agency consisting of three hundred and fifty cyborgs, Rachel included, the leftovers from a secret (and abusive) research project. The implant allows Agents to perceive the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as control of virtually any computer system in the world. Her specialty is perception, using the implant to detect a wide variety of electromagnetic radiation. Sometimes she uses this to solve crimes... but usually she and her long-suffering partner Santino just get handed the annoying jobs no one else wants to do.

While she initially faces a lot of prejudice from her fellow police officers, over time they gradually come to appreciate the usefulness of her abilities, and maybe even could be considered her friends.

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The books take place during the timeskip between the Fed revealing the existence of the Agents and the end of the Senate hearings five years later. Many characters from the webcomic appear, most prominently Josh Glassman, Mako Hill, and both the Girl and the Fed, but the novels focus almost entirely on the sci-fi aspects of the universe, with no mention of the ghosts, the psychics, or the talking koala.

The series currently includes:

Additionally, between State Machine and Brute Force is another novel set in the same universe, and continuing State Machine's story about the Antikythera Mechanism, this time with Hope Blackwell: Greek Key


Contains these tropes:
  • Astral Projection: Another handy thing Agents can do is "go out of body". Technically, they can project themselves anywhere in the world, but practically they usually do it to hold face to face conversations with one another or to examine something from a distance. They're not visible to people without the implant, although Santino and Jason hack a Google Glass-like device to display them. Technically, an Agent can control their projection and their physical body at the same time, but most find it highly uncomfortable. Rachel in particular does it as infrequently as possible.
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  • Brain–Computer Interface: The implant.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Even when it drives everyone around her nuts, Rachel insists on doing everything by the book... or at least publicly so. As an OACET liason, she knows that any mistakes she makes or crimes she commits could be used as an excuse to "prove" the Agents are dangerous, so she holds herself and her partners to extremely rigid standards.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Rachel repeatedly has to choose between protecting OACET and upholding the law, for example when she helps Glazer escape from police custody and when she has Jason wipe the files about OACET from Jenna Noura's phone. Although she tries to hide it from her coworkers, OACET wins every time.
  • Cyborg: The Agents.
  • Da Chief: Sturtevant, generally, though Rachel eventually realizes he's secretly on her side.
  • Digital Avatar: All of the agents have the ability to go "out of body" with a digital projection of themselves, but sometimes also use nonhuman avatars. Rachel's is an owl, based on the wooden owl she appropriated from the coffeeshop in Digital Divide.
  • Disability Superpower: After she went blind, Rachel discovered the implant could compensate by allowing her to "see" by perceiving various frequencies of electromagnetic waves. Also emotions, which she still doesn't entirely understand.
  • Electronic Telepathy: Agents can communicate mentally via the implant.
  • The Empath: Rachel "sees" people's emotions as colors. As time goes on, she gets better at identifying these and uses this to great advantage when interrogating, manipulating, or spying on people.
  • Everything Is Online: Averted. While there's lots of nifty things Agents can do, such as track vehicles by their GPS and talk to trains, they're no better than anyone else with non-digital technology. And they're restricted by what data is actually available—for example, when navigating through the hospital in Maker Space, Rachel and Phil eventually realize the RFID tags they'd been following hadn't been updated and took them to the wrong place.
  • Fantastic Racism: While there's plenty of the mundane variety too, there's a whole lot of prejudice against Agents. People assume they're dangerous, blame them for any and all technological problems, and find them convenient targets to take their anger out on because they usually won't fight back. (It'd be bad for their image.) Zockinski and Hill are particularly bad offenders toward Rachel at first.
  • Foreshadowing: While they presumably won't be discussed in the books proper—Rachel doesn't find out until after the timeskip—there's a brief hint at the existence of the ghosts in Maker Space. When she visits the hospital alone, Rachel turns off all visual frequencies, yet notices she can still "see" little flashes of bright blue. She passes them off as "stray bursts of energy", but especially because it's mentioned in the webcomic that she'd been seeing ghosts for years without realizing what they were, it's very likely she's seeing ghosts.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Zockinski and Hill play this. Rachel initially assumes that Hill's the bad cop, playing off the Scary Black Man stereotype, but they say it's more often Zockinski, because there's a lot of criminals who really hate white cops.
  • Hive Mind: The Agents could be like this, linked telepathically as they are by the implant, but choose not to because you completely lose your sense of self.
  • Insufferable Genius: Jason Atran. He really is a genius with digital forensics... and he'll make sure you know it.
  • Living Lie Detector: Rachel's ability to perceive emotions comes with a nifty lie detecting ability. Unfortunately, she can't tell when someone is telling a partial or technical truth.
  • Off Bridge, onto Vehicle: Rachel just barely manages to keep Jordan from trying one of these, knowing that real life doesn't work like the movies and it wouldn't end well.
  • Salt and Pepper: Zockinski and Hill.
  • Scary Black Man: Averted with (Officer) Hill, as he usually plays Slightly Better Cop to Zockinski's Bad Cop, extra-averted with (Agent) Hill, who though roughly the size of a small truck, is quite happily a nerd who's useless in a fight.
  • The Precarious Ledge: Jordan ends up on one of these in State Machine when running from the cops.
  • They Fight Crime!: Santino's a botany-obsessed Hispanic computer nerd! Peng's a blind Scottish-Chinese cyborg! They fight crime!

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