If joining the Gestalt meant an end to loneliness, he could see how they might find doing so attractive; but it wouldn’t work for him. He’d still be the only monkey in a sea of apes; still just as alone, however many humans he had crawling through his head, chattering away about their human feelings, and human problems.
Reynolds could go fuck himself.
Source: Netgalley (review copy)
Publisher: Solaris Books
Publication Date: December 31, 2013
It’s been a year since the events of Ack-Ack Macaque and our simian anti-hero is finding life outside the game to be a bit of a reality check. Back in the VR universe he was alpha primate, a virtually indestructible ball of wise cracking fur with itchy trigger fingers. Never defeated, nigh indestructible, he took on all comers with ease and fought the good fight for King and Country with nary a thought of the future. Released from his virtual prison, Ack-Ack managed to save the real world from the nefarious plans of Queen Alyssa Célestine and her cult of the Undying. But that was a year ago, and now Ack-Ack finds himself lacking a purpose. Without the constant excitement of eternal combat that his time in the game provided, he’s been reduced to piloting Victoria Valois’ airship Tereshkova from place to place and spending his spare time reminiscing the glory days while flying around in an antique Spitfire. For a macaque of action, the doldrums of this new reality are taking a toll, as is the realization that he’s an anomaly. As the only sentient monkey on earth, he feels very much alone. Alone—and horny.
When approached by a spokesman of the Gestalt, a cyber-cult whose members have wirelessly connected their gelware to create a collective “hive mind”, he’s torn between two thoughts. The first—to accept their offer in the hope union with the Gestalt might alleviate his loneliness. The second—to tell them to go fuck themselves while flinging some poo. Finding the balance, Ack-Ack rejects their overture with a sucker punch and assumes that’s all she wrote. Cultists being cultists however, they refuse his refusal, pursuing his membership with a most cult-like determination.
Meanwhile, a down and out Science Fiction writer by the name of William Cole is struggling to cope with the loss of his wife Marie and failing horribly. He’s in a downward spiral, fueling his grief with drugs and alcohol. But when someone takes a shot at him outside his apartment, his instinctive impulse is still self-preservation, all flight—no fight. Hours later he’s in Victoria Valois’ cabin aboard the Tereshkova, begging asylum so he can flee to the relative safety of the sky. That relative safety proves very short lived. After a confrontation with a dying stowaway to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, Cole finds himself embroiled in a cold war that literally crosses universes, unlikely ally of both Ack-Ack and Victoria as they attempt to stop the Gestalt from hatching a plot, which if successful, will have consequences for the collective individuality of humanity—including the daughter he never had.
With Hive Monkey, Gareth L. Powell has once again written a novel that is not what it seems at first glance. There’s hidden depth to his story of a hard drinking, hard fighting monkey, and it manifests itself in several themes that are there for the reader to see if they take the time to look. If I were to sum it up in one sentence, Hive Monkey is an exploration of the individual’s perception of reality. It’s also an exploration of the idea of reality itself, whether it is Ack-Ack, whose consciousness began in the virtual and was then transported to the real, or Paul, Victoria’s ex-husband, whose essence, his “soul” as it were, was transported to the virtual when his body died. In the first novel, the cult of the Undying wanted to evolve beyond their physical bodies, attaining immortality by creating a virtual society that would interact with reality by means of artificial bodies. This time around, the Gestalt wants to do away with individual consciousness and live in a shared reality. This underlying them of alternate/parallel realities is woven throughout the architecture of these first two books of Powell’s triptych.
Now the idea of a Hive mind is not new to science fiction, the obvious comparison being the Borg Collective of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, or the alien parasites of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. However, Powell has managed to put his personal stamp on the idea, right down to the creepy Mr. Roarke outfits the Gestalt wear. Their technological superiority is explained by their ability to act as a bunch of parallel processing computers, their adaptability to most situations by their common awareness, and their interest in Ack-Ack the result of—well, you’ll find out. Then there’s the name, “Gestalt” whose definition, “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts,” explains their desire to collectivize the universe.
While reviewing Ack-Ack Macaque, I mentioned the care Powell took regarding world building. He created an alternate future that bore much similarity to the one we inhabit, while introducing features that suggest the road less travelled. From dirigibles becoming the dominant form of air travel to the unification of France and Britain into a greater commonwealth, Powell gives his future a unique brand of authenticity. With Hive Monkey, he’s graduated from world building to universe building, exploring the idea of multiverse theory, a set of infinite possibilities resulting from our everyday decisions Ack-Ack’s universe parallels our own with significant differences, just as that of Bill Cole’s (William’s doppelganger) is both parallel to yet significantly different from both.
As for the mild (and only) complaint that the previous novel’s villain didn’t have enough stage time to be fully fleshed out, I’m glad to see that it’s been addressed more than adequately this time around. After all, we’ve met this villain before without realizing it and his motivation is all the more understandable for it. It also helps that just as you think you’ve got a hold on what’s going on, Powell throws in a delightful twist that shakes up both Ack-Ack and the reader.
Now I’m not sure if I’m perhaps reading too much subtext into this novel, but I will say this: If you’re simply looking for a fun adventure with some bizarre yet compelling characters, then this book is for you. If however, you’re looking for something with a little more depth to it, a sci-fi novel that’s more than what it seems, then this is also the book for you. Whether it be an exploration of our perceptions or simply a fun shoot-em-up, Powell has managed to find the balance between thoughtful existentialism and pulp adventure.
Hive Monkey is the second of a trilogy beginning with Ack-Ack Macaque and ending in the forthcoming Macaque Attack. It will be released in the United Kingdom December 14th and in Canada on December 31st. Gareth L. Powell maintains a blog at garethlpowell.com and both he and Ack-Ack Macaque can be found pontificating on Twitter.