Posts Tagged ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’

Sometimes a book can be worth your time but not blow you away. I’ve read a few books like that recently, ones that I enjoyed enough to recommend but that didn’t inspire me to write entire blog posts. These are all worth your time, even if I’m not running round evangelising about them.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

There’s been a lot of fuss about The Name of the Wind in recent years, so I finally gave it a go. It’s a wizard coming of age story, the most notable predecessors for which are Harry Potter and Earthsea. This is definitely much more Earthsea in tone and content – a secondary world fantasy full of darkness and trouble. But it’s more late J K Rowling than Ursula Le Guin in length, clocking in at about 660 pages.

It has a slow start, odd pacing and an ending that provides no closure, which after that many pages is frustrating. On the other hand it’s very well written, the central character is engaging and his struggles with economic hardship add an unexpected and interesting element to a classic style of story. Once I got past the first fifty pages I really enjoyed it, and I want to know what happens next, but damn those first fifty pages tried my patience.

Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell

I’ve been meaning to read Ack-Ack Macaque since Joshua Stanton reviewed it. It’s an adventure story about a cigar-smoking monkey fighter ace. Even without its airships and alternate history elements I’d have been in.

This isn’t the story I expected, less madly anarchic and more science fiction than I thought from the concept. It’s still fun, action packed and scattered with interesting ideas, like bullets sprayed by an onrushing Spitfire.

But the question of whether to read this book comes down to one thing – does a talking, smoking, gun-toting monkey appeal to you? If yes then you’re going to want to read it. If not then you aren’t, and shame on you, because surely everyone loves monkeys.

The Hundred Years War by Desmond Seward

I only re-read Seward’s The Hundred Years War for a piece of freelance work, but I’m glad that I did. It’s a fascinating and highly readable chronological history of the long war fought between England and France from 1337 to 1453. You get a feel for the characters of the period, fascinating figures such as Bertrand du Guesclin and the Black Prince who you might otherwise hear nothing about. And while it occasionally turns into a string of back-and-forth battles and pillaged villages, that’s a sadly accurate reflection of the whole bloody mess.

If you’re interested in picking up some political and military history and you don’t want to get bogged down in turgid academic writing then this is worth a read.

What else?

What are the rest of you reading? What would you recommend that you’ve stumbled across of late? Please feel free to share some recommendations below.

I love monkeys. Not in the bad way, like those ancient folks who bred with horses and gave us the centaur menace. In a clean, wholesome, childish fascination kind of way. Because monkeys are awesome.

I should clarify that I don’t just mean monkeys, I mean all apes. But ‘monkey’ is a far better word to say. Just role it around in your mouth for a moment. Monkey. Then ape. It’s like deciding between trousers and pants. Let me tell you, Americans and other linguistic heathens, you are missing out by abandoning the trouser.

Monkeys know how to live

Monkeys know how to live

It was a trip to the zoo on my way back from holiday seven years ago that cemented apes among my favourite creatures. I watched the gibbons going nuts in their cages, swinging around, screeching, rattling the bars, flashing their teeth and everything else at passers by. And I thought to myself, that looks like fun. Those guys know how to live.

But what’s even better than a monkey? A science fiction or fantasy monkey of course. So here are some of my favourites.

The Librarian

You’re civilised folks, so I’m going to assume that you’ve read some Terry Pratchett. And while those books are full of great characters, by far my favourite is the librarian.

The librarian is basically the part of my brain that wants to be a gibbon. Transformed into an orangutan, he not only accepts his change of state but relishes it. It’s pure wish fulfilment, staying smart enough to read but dumb enough to communicate in ‘ook’s, swinging through the rafters by your toes, eating bananas and screeching at idiots.

And lets face it, what bookish nerd hasn’t wanted the strength and social licence to beat their mockers senseless?

Toy Story 3

I never watched Toy Story 3 before last night. I know, shame on me. It’s a beautiful work of children’s fantasy, full of noble ideals and talking toys. But what’s even better than a beautiful children’s fantasy?

A beautiful children’s fantasy with apes.

Honestly, they had me three minutes in with the line ‘death by monkeys’. But it was the monkey watching the security screens that really did it for me. A cute animal was made sinister by his bared teeth and the washed-out glow of those monitors. The juxtaposition with his happy clapping cymbals just made him all the more menacing.

Because that’s the thing about apes. Like people, they’re not just smart, funny and adorable. They can also be sinister and downright dangerous, like the baboons that invade isolated South African commuter townships, or the Mediterranean apes that raid cafés for booze. These are monkeys as mad villains or outsider antiheroes. I love those monkeys too, though I wouldn’t want to stand between them and a whiskey.

Ack-Ack Macaque

A gun wielding, cigar chomping, pulp action pilot ape. If that sentence doesn’t make you want to read a book then you’re lost to me.

I haven’t got round to reading Ack-Ack Macaque yet, but it’s been on my list since I read this review. I love the wild spectacle of old pulp stories, before people had such fixed ideas about what was possible and what fitted in each genre. You got space rockets to planets full of purple people. You got mole men beneath the earth. You got hidden temples, alien invaders and two-fisted heroes, probably all in the same book. And a cigar-chomping ape pilot seems the perfect embodiment of that.

Gibboning it up

How much do I love apes in fantasy settings? I have spent a whole weekend being one. Inspired by my visit to the zoo, I decided to play one in a live roleplay game.

What I actually played was a demonic imp called Gibbon, who ate monkey nuts, threw the shells at passers by and only spoke in ooks. I walked the monkey walk, screeched at people I didn’t like, generally aped it up. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had, and though I only did it twice in fifteen years at that game, it’s still one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done. Years later, people I didn’t know at the time would say to me ‘wait, you were that guy?’.

I love monkeys, but how about you? What apes have I missed? Or is there another beast you prefer in your fiction?

Picture by Ian (cr03) via Flickr creative commons