For the first two books in Gareth L. Powell’s MACAQUE series, I felt like I was standing in the center of a seesaw or teeter-totter, trying to hold the plank level and balanced. With the third book, Macaque Attack, the totter tipped and threw me off. I can no longer maintain the suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy these adventures.
This review may contain spoilers of all three books, so be warned.
In Macaque Attack, Merovech, King of Great Britain and France, is back. Merovech was refreshingly absent from Hive Monkey. Now he’s back but his girlfriend Julie has been written out, which is too bad, because she was the more interesting character. Merovech’s villainous mother, Celeste, blew herself up in the first book, but sent an AI “backup” of her personality on a ship to Mars. Now ensconced in a cyborg body, Duchess Celeste wants Earth to surrender to her. When Earth declines, Celeste throws a big old asteroid at it. Presumably, the planet would be toast, since this is a dimension that doesn’t have Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler to save them, but they do have the dimension-trotting Vicky Valois, hacker-girl K8, and Ack-Ack Macaque, a bad-ass and bad-attitude sentient monkey. Even though Vicky’s pretty airship was destroyed, they commandeered a floating warship from the hive-mind Gestalt, along with the technology to step between dimensions. Oh, and they have an army, kind of, of sentient nonhuman primates, collected by Ack-Ack on his planet-hopping adventures. Powell, for the first time, refers to the various apes and monkeys as “uplifted” in this book.
If you read my review of Hive Monkey, you might be wondering where the useless science fiction writer character is in Macaque Attack. Well, he’s on a hike with his daughter. Seriously.
Powell recycles every villain we’ve seen previously in the series. He continues tossing in various ideas and taking no time to develop them. A character who was sacrificed to the hive-mind in Hive Monkey has survived and recovered from that assimilation — now the character has what functions as a telepathic link to the hive, convenient and unexplained. Although the principles do-si-do through various alternate Earths, no character, hero or villain, has changed in any major way. Alt-earth Vicky Valois is a journalist, just like our-earth Vicky used to be. The evil Dr. Nyugen is evil everywhere, and so is Celeste. The only character who doesn’t seem to repeat (or at least, not as much) is the enigmatic two hundred year old Founder, who is not in this story nearly enough.
After a few adventures on an Earth that has been devastated by nuclear war, and an unconvincing battle for dominance between Ack-Ack and another monkey, the heroes discover that they cannot destroy the asteroid before it hits their Earth. It’s curtains! But wait, all is not lost, because in a galaxy far, far away…
Up until then I had been clinging to my suspension of disbelief by my fingertips, but with the introduction of the woman who captains a starship (not at all like an airship), named Kat (not at all like K8), I lost my grip and fell off the teeter-totter.
It’s a multiverse! It’s Planet of the Apes! It’s a hologram! It’s a Joss-Whedon-style family of affinity! It’s every Doctor Who Christmas special except the last one! It’s giving me a headache.
At the end of Macaque Attack and the “trilogy”, everyone’s going to Mars, and nothing is resolved. An important — maybe vital — link between the Founder and Ack-Ack gets put on hold. The primate army is implausible, and little details like calling the young gorilla Chuckles a “silverback” (which means a mature male, not a variety of gorilla) make it worse. Vicky’s fake dilemma over the apparent dis-coherence of her dead husband’s AI personality is actually irritating. To get seventy-five percent of the way through this book only to find that our handful of heroes and villains are really nothing more than another tired iteration of “the Chosen” just did me in. Particularly, the suggested explanation for Ack-Ack completely undercuts all the things that made that character interesting.
Trilogy, did I say trilogy? Well, yes, I did. So did Powell in his Afterword: Here, at the end of the Macaque trilogy, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the following people… And here’s the last sentence of that same Afterword: Your response has been terrific and this trilogy/quartet would not exist without you.
The fourth book will probably exist quite happily without me. I am always willing to hang in with a series that leaves plots points unresolved for future books, but with the MACAQUE series, the balancing act is no longer balancing. Don’t get me wrong; as always, the visuals and the action sequences are fun, but by this time, it’s just too hard to accept every single idea that gets sprinkled onto the page. I’m leaving the playground.