Steampunk Magazine | February 22, 2013
BY GARETH L POWELL
Review by Belle Cooper
To hear author Gareth L Powell tell it, it all started started quite simply: with a name. It was his job only to find the character and the story that name belonged to. He’s since managed to do so twice, first with a short story appearing in the UK fiction magazine “Interzone”, and later with a full-length novel. That name, Ack-Ack Macaque, was so evocative that he used it to title both works. It certainly makes for a hell of a draw: a monkey in an eye-patch and a bomber jacket, with a nasty demeanor and a heart of gold, who spends much of his time either dogfighting over Europe or taking out Nazi ninjas–no, really–with his twin Colts, chomping on a cigar the whole way.
Everybody loves the monkey.
Ack-Ack Macaque isn’t so much steampunk as cyberpunk with steam and diesel detailing. While airships and their delightful governmental autonomy do play a central role in the novel, they’re powered by nuclear reactors rather than steam engines. The year is 2054, and the UK is about to celebrate its centennial with the launch of a Mars probe. That’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain, France, Ireland, and Norway, by the way, a union forged in 1954 when France voluntarily gave itself over to British rule in the wake of World War II. Since then, it seems, the sun never set on the British Empire; one of the central threats of the climax is the possibility of nuclear war with China over Britain’s refusal to give up control of Hong Kong.
Our main characters are Victoria Valois, a reporter-turned-cyborg out to solve the mystery of her husband’s murder; Merovech, the reluctant teenage crown prince of the UK; and the titular Ack-Ack Macaque, star of the world’s most popular video game, gone AWOL and rogue into the real world. In classic cyberpunk fashion, the novel takes on questions about identity and the nature of reality in a world of advanced technology that includes artificial intelligence and computerized neural enhancements. All three characters find themselves facing these questions throughout the novel as their ideas about the world and their place in it are turned on their heads. Victoria, at least, has some small advantage, having two years of experience hacking her own brain under her belt.