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Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell
Book Name: Ack-Ack Macaque
Author: Gareth L. Powell
Publisher(s): Solaris (US & UK)
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Alternate History
Release Date: December 25, 2012 (US) December 26, 2012 (UK)

Let’s start with the blurb. In 1944, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.

There’s also a story set a century later, in which the heir to the British throne goes on the run, while an ex-journalist finds herself drawn into a deadly game as she investigates the brutal murder of her husband. There are nuclear-powered zeppelins circling the globe, and all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon…

It takes a deft writer to merge all these plot strands into one coherent tapestry, for this is a book packed with ideas. It could have been an incoherent mess, but we’re in the safe and talented hands of Gareth L. Powell, who has created an entertaining, humorous and thought-provoking read, a book that is fast-paced, always moving forward. Yes, the monkey’s larger than life (he has to be) but the other characters are just as well-realised. They’re not reduced to sidekick status, which could so easily have happened if the author had pursued Ack-Ack’s novelty value too far.

As plots are revealed, the sci-fi ante is well and truly upped, but never to the detriment of what has gone before. However outlandish the villain’s grand scheme may seem at first, it does fit in with the context of the novel, and Powell’s sure writing delivers a fitting finale with great aplomb. There were moments when I thought I’d easily guessed what was going to happen next, only to have those expectations turned on their head or – even better – proved right, but only as something that led to a higher level of revelation within the story. For example, it may be simple to guess the reason behind Ack-Ack’s presence in World War II, but the truth of it expands much on that assumption.

Sadly, there’s a price to pace for such a fast pace. There are some moments that are over a little too quickly (would a cold-blooded killer really confess so easily?), while others that could have lasted longer, could have had more depth, feel like they’ve been cut short. Fortunately, there’s no reduction of emotional impact because of this; if anything, Powell’s style encourages the reader to think, his economy of prose using just enough words to setup the picture, allowing the reader’s mind to fill in the blanks.

One scene in particular comes to mind, when a character comes face to face with a clone. It could have dragged on in a heftier tome, but here it’s over with relatively quickly, no more than a few pages, but it remains unsettling even days after reading, and raises the ‘what would I do?’ question that is the trademark of all good sci-fi.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It can be read as pure entertainment, a combination of pulp fiction and cyberpunk, but beneath all that it addresses the issues of freedom and choice, life and death. What could have been a novelty story about a gun-toting monkey, is instead a deep and moving tale of a woman coping with the loss of her husband, a man she still has access to via the medium of his soul-catcher, a device that has stored his personality and essence. Not only does this provoke the reader into sadness, but it also has its amusing moments too, all balanced with great skill by the author, so it’s never trite or clichéd.

It was a pleasant surprise to find the author’s original short story slipped into the back of this book, the 2007 origin story of Ack-Ack himself. It too is a great read, if at times a grim one, and is a welcome bonus.

I hear there’s already a sequel in the works, which I’m sure will be one to watch out for. Gareth L. Powell has, with this book, gone onto my list of favourite sci-fi authors. His style may not be to everyone’s taste (by this, I mean there may not be enough meat on the bones for some readers) but if you like William Gibson or Philip K. Dick, then Ack-Ack Macaque is a sometimes surreal, yet very worthy read.



  1. Elfy says:

    I have to agree Alister. On the face of it this book looks quite silly, but once you’ve started reading it’s very hard to stop and it is very skilfully accomplished.

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