Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell

book cover of Ack-Ack Macaque

Ack-Ack Macaque is a fast-paced romp which reminds me a bit of the kind of plotlines you see in Doctor Who. It’s set in the future of an alternate universe where Britain and France united in the 1960s, and features nuclear-powered zeppelins, brain implants enabling computer-augmented existences as well as back-ups of people’s consciousness, and a world-famous elite VR video game (the eponymous Ack-Ack Macaque).

The book is more grown-up than your average episode of Doctor Who, but most of its happenings would not be out of place in a two-parter of that show (and honestly, the harebrained scheme of the main antagonists – which involves creating an army of robots with the uploaded consciousnesses of real people, hijacking the British monarchy, and starting a nuclear conflict of China to wipe out the human race – sounds like it totally could’ve come from an abandoned Doctor Who episode). Its cast would not be out of place, either – a brain-augmented journalist, the back-up of her murdered ex-husband, the Prince of Wales, the “digital rights activist” (heavily modelled on real-world vegan activists) who’s the Prince of Wales’ secret girlfriend, an expert gamer and hacker named K8… and of course Ack-Ack Macaque himself, a monkey augmented to make him a grizzled, cigar-smoking, superhuman fighting machine.

Anyway… the book as a whole is enjoyable enough, hence the three stars. The main problem I had with it, I think, is that I really struggled to suspend my disbelief enough to get invested in what was happening. The villains’ motivations were not very believable and I couldn’t take them seriously, which meant I didn’t feel the stakes. Sort of like how in Doctor Who, the Doctor and his companions get into all kinds of potentially universe-destroying danger every week, but unless there’s been a season-long running theme of ominous warnings, you can count on nothing going seriously wrong.

If not for the fact that I’d bought the whole trilogy as an omnibus for cheap, I’d be pretty content to leave the series here (unlike Powell’s other series, Embers of War, which is excellent!). Because I have bought the omnibus though, I probably will return in the future to read the further adventures of Ack-Ack Macaque. Probably as palate cleansers after books that are more emotionally taxing.

Books in the Ack-Ack Macaque series

  1. Ack-Ack Macaque (you are here)
  2. Hive Monkey
  3. Macaque Attack


a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.