I like weird, fun science fiction books, and I love doing sci fi book reviews of weird, fun books.
This week we’ll be talking about Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell.
I discovered this book while writing a post about dieselpunk, and decided the check it out. The premise was too good to ignore: A sentient, gunslinging, Nazi-killing, fighter-pilot monkey wakes up out of a simulation to wreak havoc on fascists in 2059. I was hooked.
And this book is a nice intersection of genres—the war-fueled frenzy of dieselpunk 1944, and the futuristic, political, cyberpunk world of 2059. In this science fiction book review of Ack-Ack Macaque, I’ll discuss some background for the book, as well as what I loved, and vice versa.
Ack-Ack Macaque first appeared as a short story in Interzone in 2007, and was later transformed into a trilogy of novels, the first one published in 2012.
Gareth L. Powell is a British science fiction author who has tens of short stories in professional venues as well as a few stand-alone novels and other trilogies.
His debut novel, Silversands, garnered a favorable review in The Guardian by Eric Brown. After that, he published a few other books, including The Recollection, and a space opera trilogy that starts with Embers of War.
Ack-Ack Macaque is by far his most recognized work, having won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel in 2013. The two other books in the Ack-Ack Macaque series are Hive Money and Macaque Attack.
Primate With the Big Iron on His Hip
One of the things that drew me to Ack-Ack Macaque was the cover art, featuring a cigar-munching monkey wielding his massive chrome Colt .45. It’s such a bizarre image that I knew there was a great story behind it.
And I was right.
While Ack-Ack Macaque is the titular character, the book is split into three different perspectives. The monkey, the heir to the throne of Brittany, Prince Merovech, and a cybernetic journalist, Victoria Valois.
Both Merovech and Valois are wrapped up in a nationwide conspiracy, watching the doomsday clock tick closer and closer to nuclear Armageddon. When Merovech and his friend Julie manage to pull Ack-Ack from the simulation he’s been living in, the primate is more than eager to, as he would say, “blow shit up.”
While at first glance, the novel seems to be about a battle-hardened monkey shooting down Nazi ninjas in his fighter plane, the story is a lot deeper than the crash-and-burn of WWII carnage.
Bridging Two Genres
Powell begins to tackle topics of live after death via android bodies and downloaded consciousnesses, as well as the exploring the fine line between what’s human and what’s machine.
I’m a big fan of conversations about artificial intelligence and “more human than human” ideas, and I wasn’t expecting to find those things in Ack-Ack Macaque.
My expectation was to read a fun, wild ride full of gun-toting monkeys, and in some ways, Powell stayed true to that promise. However, I feel that the combination between dieselpunk 1944 and futuristic 2059 was a tad forced.
Ack-Ack Macaque seems too well-adjusted when he pops out of the simulation, and we slowly glean information about his life before taking up the mantle of Nazi-killer in the video-game simulation bearing his name.
You’d think he’d need a lot more time to figure out what’s what, having just spent who-knows-how-long in a fictional world without computers.
But I think it had to be done for the sake of timeliness. Ack-Ack Macaque is about 400 pages, but it really flew by, and I think Powell achieved this by simplifying the character arks. The main characters have singular purposes, for the most part, and each scene is meant to push those purposes forward. There’s not a lot of backstory or humming-and-hawing, and every chapter ends on a mini-cliffhanger.
For a book of this type, that kind of pacing is important to keep up the excitement, and it works.
As I continue to read the other two books in the series, I’d like to see some more fleshed out details about Ack-Ack’s past, as well as the past of some of the other characters too.
Science Fiction Book Review Rating
I really enjoyed Ack-Ack Macaque. It combines two seemingly different genres and pulls them together under one cover, and it’s full of twists, even though you can see most of them coming.
Where I think the book excels is with its contemplation of human-ness. Ack-Ack is a primate, albeit a highly-advanced, daiquiri-drinking primate, but he exudes more humanity than some of the other characters. And throw in android clones and downloaded consciousnesses into the mix, and you’ve got a while dilemma on your hands.
I’m excited to see where the story goes after the first book, and I hope there’s more Spitfire dogfights, even though that ship may have sailed.
Overall, I rate Ack-Ack Macaque an 8.5/10.
In many ways, Powell’s style of writing embodies what I want to do with my own writing, which is create a weird, fun story with moments of deep introspection. And for that reason, I think the meta of Ack-Ack Macaque is almost more important than the story itself.
So, get out there, find your monkey, and let him blow stuff up.