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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
In order to get the most from this novel you need only do one thing. If you can happily accept the premise a monkey can fly a fighter plane during World War II and that it is the most natural thing in the world you'll be on to a winner. Yes, yes I know it sounds entirely absurd (it is) but you know what? It totally works. Powell revels in the madness of it all and has crafted a cracking science-fiction adventure around the idea.

The character of Ack-Ack Macaque himself is just so much damn fun. Think a sardonic, simian Biggles with a penchant for bad rum and good banana daiquiris and you'll be about half way there. He enjoys his cigars, swears more than my wife (you'll have to trust me on this one, she swears a lot) and has a marvellously bolshie attitude. His default solution to almost every situation is varying degrees of violence. Larger than life and proud of it he is more than just a character, he is a force of nature.

"You know what we need, Merovech?"


A hairy palm slapped the wood hard enough to raise dust.

"Booze! And lots of it!"

Meanwhile the other main lead, Victoria Valois, manages to hold her own against the one-monkey war machine that is Ack-Ack Macaque. She's intelligent, inquisitive and absolutely determined to uncover the details of the conspiracy that left her ex-husband dead. Victoria's history gives Powell the opportunity to include some really cool technology in the story.

Now how do these two finally end up in the same place? Well, that would be telling and I'm not going to do that. Take it from me the discovery, in this instance, is half the fun.

You're bound to feel a certain amount of deranged joy when you realise that all bets are off. In this novel, anything can potentially happen and most likely probably will. In the space of the first hundred pages alone Powell manages to throw a couple of major curve-balls into the plot that I'll admit I didn't see coming. I thought I had things sussed pretty quickly and was overjoyed when I realised that I was almost entirely wrong. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I had very high expectations before I started reading Ack-Ack Macaque (what can I say, some of us have stayed closer to the old evolutionary tree than others), but nothing could have prepared me for the novel I read. Any book that makes me grin like a buffoon whenever I cracked it open is a definite winner. Full of great characters, fast moving plot and lashings of first-rate action, I can't recommend this highly enough. I didn't just like this I loved it.

"If bullets wouldn't work, he'd have to do it the traditional way, with an old school monkey knife fight."

The novel also includes a couple of nice extras that offer a little insight into the inception of the character of Ack-Ack Macaque. The first short story that the character appeared in is reprinted and I rather like the idea that the monkey has always been hanging around somewhere just waiting to be discovered.

There had better be sequel to this or I will be unleashing my own army of flying monkeys to sort the publishers out. I'll take no pleasure in it, but I'll do it! I promise you!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Ack Ack Macaque is an adventure based in an alternative Steam Punk world were Zeppelins still fly, where Britain and France were unified in the 1950's creating a very different Europe and where familiar modern tech such as the Internet developed alongside Cyberpunk wetware technology.

I decided to buy this on impulse when I saw it in the bookshop, as I'd read a small strip about the titular hero in last Christmas's copy of 200)AD and was interested in the character.

Without giving anything away, the book isn't what I expected at all but it's absolutely brilliant. Much of it takes place 50 years from now but the wartime fighter pilot setting suggested by the dress of Ack Ack on the cover of the book also features strongly. The story is one of steampunk, political intrigue, the possibilities of technology merging the brain and computers and high adventure and it's an absolute page turner.

I'd honestly say this is the most enjoyment I've had from a new book in a long time. Gareth L Powell has wasted no words, the writing is tight and fast flowing (he could teach a lot of modern authors a thing or two, too often now word count seems king even when nothing of note is being written).

A fantastic entry in what I hope can be a series. I'll be keeping an eye out for future works from Powell, one to watch.

If you're on the fence do yourself a favour and give the Macaque a chance. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2013
The blurb really is a thing to see. Alternate history? Nazi Ninjas? Doomsday clocks? A Spitfire piloting monkey? Part of me thought "this will be brilliant or a bloody mess," and it was the former. Good god was it the former... With intrigue, complex plots woven together that crash together into one glorious whole towards the end and a brilliant cast of characters, Ack-Ack Macaque is one of those books you just want to finish and one that leaves you pining for a sequel. The main monkey himself is one of the most memorable and enjoyable characters I have encountered to date and one that I will keenly revisit in the years to come, looking forward to passing him on to my sons when they're old enough not to repeat ALL of his phrases at school.

Buy it. Really, do. Or buy it for someone else.

Or both.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2013
Ok I am not one for writing reviews, mainly because I find that I am much better at reading things than actually writing them. However this book requires me to break my silence.

How can I put this without revealing spoilers....Gareth L Powell has created an alternative history/future which is both historically feasible but also tongue in cheek. Where else can you find a cigar chomping monkey who spends his days being an ace WW2 pilot whom also fights Nazi Ninja's. Sounds surreal? How about the future aspect where Britain & France are unified under the Monarchy and zepellins are still in use?

I have been introduced to a number of new authors over the last few years and I can honestly say that Gareth is by far one of the very few who stands out as someone I will keep an eye out for going forwards. If only for the fact his writing style and sense of humour appeal to me.

If you read just one new book this year make it this one, you won't be disappointed
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 2013
Ok that's technically a lie, but whenever I had the free time I kept picking this up. I'm a slow reader at the best of times so this did take me a while to complete but I am so glad I did. A comic strip prequel to this appeared in 2000AD's Prog 2013, and having relatively recently gotten into 2000AD I thought "2000AD featured it, might as well give it a go". I am very happy I did, this is a fantastic novel with interesting ideas and notions, the novel is somehow able to paint vivid pictures without OVER explaining things. Whether it does or doesn't happen in the future, I would love to see a movie, or TV movie either animated or live action of this, I think it has legs, and with a sequel novel recently confirmed it seems Everybody Loves The Monkey!
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on 12 October 2015
I should preface this review by saying that I have read the original novel of Planet of the Apes (‘Monkey Planet’), and watched every film, live-action TV & cartoon episode from the franchise in the last 12 months so I may have overdosed on talking monkeys at this point...

Minor spoilers ahead...

However, despite that I was pleasantly surprised by the opening chapters of this novel: The alternate world of the Anglo-French Union is well-realised and Powell avoids the trap of getting bogged down in the historical details of this new history but gives enough crumbs for readers to join the dots. The world of the title character with his fights against German Tripods and Ninja assassins in a WWII setting begs for more exploration and Ack-Ack is a great deal of fun; I almost considered buying the sequels at this point.

However, as the novel progressed I found that the characters did not evolve; they remained as barely developed archetypes throughout the whole novel and by the end I did not care what happened to them or even if they saved the day. The tone of the writing is quite light but there is also a great deal of violence in the novel; one character takes so much punishment you wonder how she is still standing. Despite this violence you do not feel that the characters are in any serious danger.

The original short story on which this book is based is included as a bonus-feature at the back and is a very different beast to the novel. It captures the madness of the concept well so it’s hardly surprising the author decided to expand it into a series. Having read this short story now I would prefer to have read a series of short stories set in Ack-Ack’s fictional WWII world rather than this novel which suffers from a cool concept being stretched too far into a novel.
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on 13 May 2014
Ack-Ack Macaque (Ack-Ack Macaque #1) by Gareth L Powell was recently named the joint recipient of the British Science Fiction Association’s best novel award for works published in 2013. High honours indeed, and given the competition it was up against one can only ask: was it deserved? All I can say for sure is that I certainly enjoyed it very much.

Ack-Ack Macaque came to my attention before its original release in 2013. I’d read Powell’s earlier work, both his Silversands novella and his full-length novel, The Recollection, and enjoyed both. The Recollection came across as a very easy-to-read space opera, spanning multiple star systems and big ideas. It reminded me very much of Eric Brown’s work, an author whom I admire greatly – and that’s no small praise. Powell didn’t pull it off completely successfully, but there was enough promise within its pages to hint at something greater.

And this leads us to Ack-Ack Macaque. I’ll be honest and say that when this was announced as Powell’s next novel I wasn’t overly thrilled. The synopsis suggested an alternate history/future novel that mashes itself with various other genres to deliver the story, and I really didn’t think it would be my cup of tea. Following the BSFA announcement I picked up the novel to browse, interested to find out a little more about it, but ended up a quarter of the way through before I realised – and the story had so much more to offer than I initially expected.

Rather than complicate matters by giving my rambling synopsis, let’s start with this one from the publisher:

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…

Sounds a little crazy! In all honesty, it really doesn’t do the novel justice, and glosses over one of the larger focuses of the novel: artificial intelligence. Ack-Ack Macaque is, in fact, a popular online game set during the Second World War where players only get one life – after that they’re out. But the titular character is more than just an icon, it’s promoted as an AI that learns as it goes, offering much more than the usual challenge. When the heir to the British throne, Prince Merovech, gets involved with a break-in to Céleste Tech’s labs – his mother’s company, no less – he discovers that not only is Ack-Ack Macaque an AI, but an uplifted, gel-ware implanted, living and breathing monkey that is plugged into the game 24/7. Until, that is, they break him out.

While this is one thread of the novel, another is that of a killer who has been searching and killing various researchers, removing part of their gel-ware known as the soul-catcher, a device intended to imprint the wearers’ personality and therefore allowing final goodbyes to be said by their family after their death. It’s this plot that leads to lots of questions being raised about recorded personalities and the concept of immortality through such means. And, of course, as the story progresses it all starts to tie in with the other plot threads, making for some very interesting scenarios.

While it seems that there is a lot going on in Ack-Ack Macaque, it’s surprising how it all fits together so smoothly, and works so well. Powell has created a world that is believable, with the world-building taking place as part of the narrative so not give any needless info-dumps. There are the odd sections presented as news reports to give some backstory or other pieces of information, but it isn’t out of place. In fact, the whole structure of the novel works in its favour, not dragging anything out, yet also not dwelling needlessly on small and irrelevant details for extended periods.

As for the characters, well, Powell certainly has created an interesting bunch. Merovech, while the heir to the throne, is more down-to-earth than expected, and his forced lifestyle is used well, as is his relationship with Julie. Victoria is an interesting character and the situation she’s in – the sister of a murder victim whose backed-up soul now resides in her gel-ware – really does bring out many different aspects of her character. And, of course, we have Ack-Ack Macaque, the foul-mouthed, straight-talking, cigar smoking, gun-toting titular character. All I can do is quote Powell: ‘Everybody loves the monkey!’ He’s a great character and has a surprising amount of depth and back-story that is slowly revealed as the plot progresses.

All-in-all I have to say that I very much enjoyed Ack-Ack Macaque, much more than I thought I would. It’s ridiculously readable, thoroughly entertaining, and packed full of ideas that make great sci-fi. It’s also a refreshing change, and has all the promise of leading to a great series of novels.
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on 21 April 2014
A cigar chewing, gun toting talking money laying waste to nazi ninjas. More cheese than cheddar gorge right? Surprisingly not. The exciting and energetic opening to this book goes well with the retro pulp cover. More importantly it sets the scene nicely. All is not what it seems and the author somehow manages to twist the fanciful aspects through the plot in such an accomplished manner that somehow a monkey with a grenade launcher doesn’t seem at all strange.

Putting the monkey aside for a minute (not an easy thing to do) there is a lot more to this book. The alternate history aspects of this book really caught my imagination. What if Britain and France joined together in the post-war ear to become a European super power. The EU because the European Commonwealth under the rule of the crown. There are also cyberpunk some unusual elements to this book. Usually there is a mature technology base but in this story the cybernetic implants are a new and secret experiment used for nefarious means.

I tried not to but I need to mention the monkey some more. If you want to sum up his character try shouting his name out loud. Somehow for me it evokes a simian treetop battle. There is more to Ack-Ack than a violent monkey. How would enhanced language and reasoning abilities impact a monkey? Would it become more human or would the natural inclinations of a monkey just be more effectively carried out? These are the questions I couldn’t help thinking about as I read this book. I loved the way the author portrayed this character.

This book sounds silly but isn’t. It is character driven and this is backed up in the extras at the end of the book. I’ll be buying more books by Mr Powell and you should too.
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on 30 April 2013
You know, it's far too easy to try and shove bands, books and movies into some kind of genre pigeonhole so readers of reviews will know what they're getting. Personally I don't really care what style a creative work is, as long as it HAS style and is good as a piece. Which is just as well, because I have no idea which genre(s) Ack-Ack Macaque would be in anyway! It does have style and is GREAT as a piece though, I can tell you that much.

Every so often a good author stumbles upon their breakout character, that one individual who feels fully developed as a person and is as fun to read as it was for the author to write. The title character of Ack-Ack Macaque appears to be Gareth L. Powell's one of those, and let me tell you, he is so much fun that he becomes memorable within pages of his first appearance. Without wanting to spoil the plot, it suffices to say that this is one highly intelligent monkey who knows how to get things done, an anthropomorphic simian badass who can fly anything and stops at nothing to destroy his enemies, whether those are Nazi ninjas or corrupt corporate executives. Powell gives him depth by allowing certain imperfections and quirks to bleed into the narrative: he's effective but very abrasive, he's powerful but not terribly well-liked in some cases, he's trustworthy but only to a point - it's both a deconstruction of and homage to any classic anti-hero archetype from the last thirty years. The character is never overused so every scene with him in is exhilarating, and the reader will likely find they can't wait to see what he'll do next because unlike some heroes he is never predictable.

A strong character doesn't always carry a book, but in this case the star of the show is given supporting characters and plot which very nearly match the raw brilliance of the lead. You have the former reporter who was injured in a serious accident who wields a mean quarterstaff, a young yet mature prince reluctant to be heir to the throne, a lovable old curmudgeon in the form of the Commodore who commands a giant Russian airship, an overbearing mother figure who helms a giant corporation with global reach and various minor characters who all make their mark. They are thrust into the sort of bombastic and outrageous alternate future which a lesser author would struggle to keep in focus but does not slow down Powell one bit - at all times I knew what was going on and very rarely knew what was around the corner, yet found when I got there it all built logically from the narrative and was cohesive, even when I hadn't had the chance to read a chapter in a few days. This gives the "evils of technology" style plot a completely original feel which takes cues from several influences including genre greats like William Gibson and Isaac Asimov but in a way that is very much the author's own: he makes the old seem new again because the style and execution is close to flawless. I can tell a lot of redrafting went into this and it shows: the flow and pacing is ideal for this type of story, and the odd clumsy sentence aside this is very high caliber work.

I suppose the main problem with this book is that it ends. But when it ends, well it basically reads like an epic Hollywood ending from one of the better recent action films: everybody gets their moment, there are some shocks and the resolution is both satisfying and brilliant, leaving the door wide open for a sequel of equally immense proportions.

What I felt at several points while reading Ack-Ack Macaque - other than hugely entertained and grinning at some of the dark tongue in cheek humour of course - was that the author took a huge risk with this book, in a way that he hadn't quite been able to do in his previous works. I remember once hearing someone describe Roy Thomas Baker producing Queen records, and they said that Roy took it too far in terms of production, but just enough too far that it was incredible and memorable rather than overblown histrionics, and I think that applies equally well to Ack-Ack Macaque.

Other minor points worthy of praise include the striking artwork which adorns the cover, the occasional use of psuedo-internet news sites between chapters complete with virtual "Like" and "Comment" buttons and the inclusion of the original Ack-Ack Macaque short story from Interzone.

To wrap this review up, it has to be said that this book has a tangible sense of both author and reader being on the edge of their seat: at points Powell takes huge risks, and almost every one of those risks pays off later. The balance of the extremity in some scenes contrasts nicely with the subtle characterization in others, a deft touch that brings to mind Wilbur Smith in execution if not in setting. This is the work of an author finding his voice in style, and finding himself in possession of a lead character who could go on to be a fictional legend. In my eyes, he already is.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2013
There are some big asks in this book. Not solely a shootin', rootin', tootin', monkey, but also a United Europe led by a merged UK and France, massive airships, a vast conspiracy and a heroic prince. But it all seems to come together nicely. There is a good mix of political intrigue and knock about thrills. But the big star is Ack Ack himself, where on earth did the author come up with him as a central character? The book cover art says it all really. Just one quibble, one of the characters is a Japanese called Nguyen, that's a Vietnamese name!
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