Macaque Attack!

Like Gareth L Powell’s previous novel, The Recollection, Ack Ack Macaque is a brisk, entertaining read that fizzes with wild ideas.  Unlike The Recollection, it’s completely bonkers...

The titular primate flies a Spitfire and fights Nazi ninjas in a demented virtual reality game version of World War 2, just as he did in the short story of the same name, which originally appeared in Interzone in 2007 (and was voted 'story of the year' by that magazine's readers). You can also find it in the collection of stories called The Last Reef.

In the story, the players and designers of the Ack Ack Macaque game seemed to live in the future of our world, but the novel is set in the year 2053 in a parallel one, where Britain and France joined forces in 1953 to form a ‘European Commonwealth’ under the British monarchy. It’s just as implausible as setting as the never-ending dogfights and zeppelin raids inside the game (and I fear it may scupper any hope of selling French translation rights) but it is entertainingly fleshed out and makes an interestingly off-kilter backdrop for this ripping yarn about murder, mayhem and monkeys.  

Most writers would consider that a fighter ace macaque and a parallel reality would be enough big ideas for one book, but Gareth L Powell obviously has big ideas to spare, and garnishes his endlessly twisting thriller plot with brain-stealing serial killers, virtual worlds, attempted coups, cyborgs, the launch of a Mars probe, personality swaps, looming nuclear war, and giant airships which function as independent city-states.  Everyone talks in boiler-plated action movie clich├ęs, and it builds towards a climactic showdown with an evil megalomaniac in the best James Bond tradition.   (And all this, mind, in a book that doesn't run much over 300 pages...) It could all be quite exhausting, but it's done with such obvious enthusiasm that it's impossible not to be carried along by it.
As usual in Gareth L Powell’s work, romantic love is an important theme - there are two love stories in this book, one between student activist Julie and prince-on-the-run Merovech, the other between Victoria Valois and her estranged and now sort-of-dead husband Paul - but all the human actors are pushed slightly out of the limelight by the irrepressible figure of Ack Ack Macaque himself, the gun-toting, cigar-chomping monkey who escapes from his virtual world early on and goes on to steal all the book’s major scenes.  

He also seems to have escaped into our world now. He has his own Twitter account, and an Ack Ack Macaque prequel drawn by Nick Dyer will appear in the next issue of  2000AD comic (available from 12th December at UK newsagents, or in digital form here). It will be interesting to see where he goes next...

Ack Ack Macaque will be published by Solaris Books in January 2013 (but December 2012 in the U.S and Canada). You can find out more on Gareth's website.


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