First, there was the title.
It was the title of a short story in Gareth L Powell’s excellent 2008 collection The Last Reef And Other Stories. I thought it was the best title I had ever seen, for anything. It would have been a fantastic title for a late 1970s prog-rock album.
Fortunately, the story easily matched the title, ranging from the deeply personal to the apocalyptic as the eponymous monkey moved from cuddly virtual reality character to effective world domination.
Powell’s new novel, of the same glorious title, is not the short story, but it’s just as good, a headlong romp through a richly-imagined alternative Europe in the company of The Monkey.
Initially, novel and story share similarities. Ack-Ack Macaque is the central character in a mad version of World War II, where fighter-ace monkeys chomp cigars and drink daiquiries and Nazi flying wings drop ninja parachutists onto English airfields. But then we’re pitched into another world, into ‘reality,’ where former journalist Victoria Valois, saved from certain death by a medical procedure which has left her with more artificial enhancement than natural brain tissue, and Prince Merovech, heir to the Throne of Brittany (Britain and France are, in this world, one nation) fight to bring down a conspiracy which at first threatens the Realm, then Europe, then the entire world.
This is fantastic stuff, full of character and detail. It’s breathless and driven by a confident momentum, and Ack-Ack Macaque himself is a terrific creation, eyepatched and gruff and prepared to blow stuff up at a moment’s notice and with great glee.
I thought that Powell’s previous novel, The Recollection, was one of the best things I’d read in ages, and Ack-Ack Macaque, though different in tone, is easily as good. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a novel in quite a long time and you need to read it too, trust me.
Incidentally, Ack-Ack Macaque is on Twitter. He’s been a bit quiet of late, but with the sequel, Hive Monkey, due out next year, he’ll probably be up and about again fairly soon, puffing on a cigar, hurling excrement, chugging a bottle of rum, and blowing something up. Do yourself a favour, follow the monkey.