Review written by Shaolin Monkey
Book Review: Ack-Ack Macaque, by Gareth L Powell.
With the cover consisting of a gun-toting cigar chomping monkey in World War II clobber surrounded by massive zeppelins, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ack-Ack Macaque. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is pulpy sci-fi, but I ended up pleasantly surprised and entertained by this engrossing adventure yarn.
The problem I have in describing it to you is it contains many twists and turns to the plot even from the outset, so it is quite hard to summarise the story without giving too much away. I’ll do my best, and if you do decide to read it afterwards, and I have spoiled an aspect of it for you, I apologise in advance.
Ok, here goes – in a parallel universe, the British and French joined forces in the ’50’s. This story is set 50 years in the future, where the current fad is a game called ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The makers have made the aim of the game simple – fight alongside this monkey in a World War II setting, or join the Nazis and try to beat him. You only get one life, and when you lose it you’re out of the game for good.
The company behind this title cites its protagonist as being the first true artificial intelligence. Outside in the real world, the heir to the British throne, a young prince fed up of his duties and responsibilities, teams up with a young French female protester. The aim of her group is to free the newly created life-form from its bonds in the game.
Also, a reporter has arrived home to discover her ex-husband brutally killed, and herself assaulted. These events set them all on a path leading to a computer game monkey, who is finally realising the violent world he inhabits definitely has the air of something unreal, and begins to rebel…
Aargh, I wish I could tell you more! I can’t without spoiling it, and I may even have said too much. What I can say is that while it’s never going to be considered a literary classic or Booker Prize material, it is great fun. The characters are colourful and interesting, the plot zips along at quite a rate, and there are so many unexpected twists and turns.
While there are many familiar sci-fi tropes used, such as virtual reality, brain implants, artificial intelligences, and interplanetary travel, it doesn’t feel old or unoriginal. Powell has taken those ideas and either used them in new ways or in some cases flipped them on their head, creating a world unknowingly on the brink of disaster, it’s citizens blithely accepting the new technology presented to them, without suspecting the danger in the slightest.
Despite the gung-ho action sequences, the fight and flight of his characters, and the diabolical nature of the threat facing them, Powell still manages time for introspection. He slips in under the radar discussions about the nature of identity, what it means to be human, and what happens to entities when their corporeal existence is stripped away. This is very welcome, and elevates the book well above the impression of a pulpy sci-fi yarn. It is better for it, but at the same time doesn’t overcook it.
In summary, I wish I could tell you more about the central character himself, Ack-Ack Macaque. If I did though, it would spoil some of the many surprises this book has in store. Suffice to say, you can imagine any monkey with a gun and cigar, fighting for his existence, is going to be pretty cheesed off. As the various reveals occur, his allies and supporters fall into line behind him, towards an explosive and satisfying finale. As you can probably tell, I very much enjoyed this title, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in monkeys, World War II, computers, femme fatales, zeppelins, cyborgs, and dimension jumping alternate futures.