This edition: Kindle
Publisher: Rebellion (Solaris)
Published: December 2012
My rating: 4/5
In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque.’ The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.
A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul.
In Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon…
Well. I just kicked off my Sci-Fi Bingo reading list in marvellously fun style.
I mean, come on. It features a talking, cigar-chewing, Spitfire-pilot monkey who swears, drinks and enjoys a fight. If that doesn’t make for entertaining reading, I’m not sure what does. (Please note: below the cut there will probably be general spoilers for this book, so unless you’ve read it, be warned!)
I might have cheated slightly with the bingo spot I gave to this (see list for explanation) but even if it’s not, strictly speaking, set in an alternate past, the result of that alternate past is an interesting one to consider, and is certainly relevant. I’m fascinated by this kind of thing as much as I love a good story, and this story is, for all of its cool worldbuilding ideas, a straight-up, no-holds-barred romp. If anything, it ended a little too quickly! (Therein lies my reason for that final fifth star being missing, truth be told – I wanted a little more depth, given all of those cool ideas being batted around. Maybe the next one will score better!)
But, back to the fun aspects. Ack-Ack Macaque is a pretty interesting idea in and of himself. Not to mention one of the most entertaining and sympathetic characters I’ve discovered this year – and we’re talking about a monkey here. Though maybe that’s part of the point…
Most characters who discover that the world they thought they lived in was actually a virtual reality where their image is being used to make buckets of money for a heartless corporation might be forgiven some existential angst, at least. Ack-Ack Macaque, however, responds with less hand-wringing and more of a (really refreshing!) “blow up shit” attitude. I mean, why complicate the issue?
For those who have read this book, the irony of the sentiment may be rampant, but I’d buy that T-shirt. And a tea mug. And oh so many badges…
Now, that worldbuilding. Celeste is an Evil Corporation. How evil? They’re the ones who turned one downtrodden macaque (more detail there would be a genuine spoiler) into the famous face that he is, and how they did it really did give me the creeps. Likewise, the brain-replacing ‘gelware’ technology that, while saving Victoria Valois’ life, gave her some pretty major issues. As it would. How Victoria and Ack-Ack Macaque deal with their issues makes them admirably strong characters – even while they both do it very differently, neither is willing to become a victim, and to this I say ‘hell yes!’. Kick that Evil Corporation’s arse!
Anyway! What’s most interesting to me about Ack-Ack Macaque is that, for all of the excellent political twists on our world (Britain and France are united, and nuclear war with China is too close for comfort), the book still manages to simply be utter, good-old-fashioned fun. Like the star of its show, for all of its complications… It’s pretty un-complicated. Evil corporation is evil? Got it. Fate of the world is at stake? Okay. They’ve got Evil Corporation world domination plans and are on the brink of starting a nuclear war? Scary – but we’ve got a monkey with guns. And he’s pissed off.
Possibly also a little pissed.
Bring it on, Evil Corporation! This is one breakneck-speed plot that isn’t slowing down for anybody.
I might have been unprepared for that pace and even for just how much fun this book would be, but I certainly can’t complain about it now. Except to say, as I noted above, that I wish there had been more! It did rattle along maybe a bit too quickly… But that’s a geekfan’s nitpick, really. There’s nothing in the content that I don’t love and want more of – and with that said, stay tuned, because I’ve already got my hands on an ARC of Hive Monkey, the second book in this series, and you can bet I’ll be jacking back into Powell’s wonderful world sooner rather than later…
…What else do you want me to say? Everybody does love the monkey*.