Life is good for Ack-Ack Macaque. Every day the cynical, cigar-chomping, hard-drinking monkey climbs into his Spitfire to do battle with the waves of German ninjas parachuting over the gentle fields of Kent. But life is not all the joyous rattle of machine guns and the roar of the engine, as Ack-Ack is about to find out . . .
After last week’s philosophical whipple-banger of an opening, we’re going to start with something less brain-intensive. We’re going to start with a story about a monkey named Ack-Ack Macaque. In fact, this book is more than just one story about said monkey, it’s three. That’s right. Solaris has repackaged the complete collection of Ack-Ack Macaque novels (as well as a new epilogue and short story), including the British Science Fiction Association Award winning first novel. “As much utterly irresponsible fun as you could hope to have with a monkey without having to explain yourself to the police,” says SF Reviews of Ack-Ack Macaque. “A rollicking, madcap sci-fi adventure story, it’s a thoughtful novel, and it’s got a monkey with a gun. What’s not to love?” posits Cult Den.
In fact, the only thing we can unabashedly love more would be a new Donald Westlake novel, but, since he is dead, that's pretty nigh—oh, what? Help I Am Being Held a Prisoner has just been reissued by Hard Case Crime? Well, it looks like we're just going to gush over some books we like this week, then. Whatever.
Help I Am Being Held a Prisoner is the story of practical joker Harry Künt (the umlaut is important) who would really like to serve out his prison term without any trouble, but this being a comic caper by the Grandmaster of Comic Capers, Harry gets adopted by a gang of prisoners who plan to rob two banks. They have the ultimate alibi, of course, being incarcerated, but naturally, things go sideways quickly and then get worse. It’s not hard to see whiffs of Steven Soderbergh’s recent Lucky Logan film in the madcap hijinks of Westlake’s prison caper.
[By the way, Lucky Logan contains one of the best riffs on George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels. A riff that we all totally understand.]
And, while we’re talking about moving pictures, we saw this week that Amazon Studios announced they had acquired Iain M. Banks’s first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas. Banks, who died in 2013, wrote nearly a dozen novels about the Culture, a civilization set far in the future where advanced AIs known as Minds take care of all of humanity’s basic needs, resulting in a post-scarcity driven economy where the toughest thing many have to face is how to find existential meaning in their long lives. Naturally, the standard solution is to go work as special operatives for the Culture, doing all sorts of "dirty tricks" to help other civilizations who are not as “cultured.”
Anyway, Banks’s novels were responsible for the resurgence in space opera in the last few decades, and we’re delighted to see efforts to bring his work to the tubes where all the moving pictures come from. And, of course, we have a number of his books on the shelf in our eclectic and carefully curated science fiction section.
And speaking of eclectic and careful curation, we’ve also added Marc Levinson’s The Box to the shelves this week. The Box is a book about the omni-present shipping container, which wasn’t always as ubiquitous as you think. One of Bill Gates’s favorite books, The Box is more than just a history of a metal rectangle that holds approximately one thousand, one hundred, and sixty-nine cubic feet of cargo; it’s a history of industrialized shipping, global commerce, and standardization across national borders. They’re also pretty handy as frames for tiny homes, but you need to do something about the dishes in the cupboard when it come times to drive your tiny home south for the winter.
Puts a whole new spin on the idea of mobile communities, doesn’t it?
And speaking of communities, Tara Westover has written a memoir about growing up in a survivalist family and her quest to get a more traditional education outside that familial unit. Educated is “a punch to the gut, a slow burn, a savage indictment, [and] a love letter” says one blurb, and another calls it “breathtaking, heart-wrenching, and inspirational.” We plucked it out of the stack earlier today, and immediately wanted to curl up in a chair and read the whole thing. Westover’s journey from her family’s cabin in the Idaho mountains to the halls of Harvard and Cambridge is indeed all the lovely things said about it. The book doesn’t shy away from the sometimes violent and ill-informed bonds of family, but it also doesn’t wave the flag of Reading, Writing, and Mathing as the summa bona of all existence. It’s a measured, nuanced, and powerfully moving examination of how we become who we are.
And speaking of transformation through personal strife, Myke Cole’s first foray into fantasy is out this week. Some of you might know Myke from his role as the bearded tech hottie on CBS’s TV show, Hunted, or you may know him from his more military-minded SF books. Regardless, he’s struck out in a new direction with The Armored Saint, delivering a story about a young woman who finds her path in a world beset by monsters, madmen, and evil empires.
And speaking of empires gone awry, this week’s debut is Gwendolyn Clare’s Ink, Iron, and Glass, the story of a world where scriptology is the art of making worlds up with the right pen, book, and author. Elsa, our dear protagonist, is sucked into a world that has been scripted by another where she meets a secret society of alchemists, mechanists, and scriptologists—along with a hot tinkerer with a sassy attitude and a woefully tragic past. Naturally, things go awry, and Elsa and her pals must fight well-scripted assassins in order to script the world right.
And speaking of saving the world, in a more celestial entry, we’ve got Rhoda Belleza’s Blood of a Thousand Stars, which returns us to a realm of high-stakes action, vicious politics, and villainous media darlings. We’ve got Rhee—back to reclaim her throne—and Alyosha, the revenge-driven assassin who suddenly finds himself caught up in a nostalgia tour, along with Kara, who is the true heir to the throne—as long as she can manage to fix her identity long enough—and Nero, who is so busy watching everything, he might miss the one thing that matters most.
And speaking of things that matter, Rachel Hartman returns to the world of Goredd, the kingdom she made popular with Seraphina a few years ago. In Tess of the Road, our titular protagonist is a bit of a handful. She’s prone to doing things her way, which isn’t exactly easy in this quasi-medieval kingdom. And on the day that Tess is supposed to go off and join the nuns, she cuts her hair, finds a pair of boots, and heads off in the other direction. Tess is more interested in the open road and what lies at the end of it than the cloistered life of a devoted spiritual servant. What she finds on the road will ultimately test and reveal who she truly is.
And speaking of getting out and seeing things, Florence Williams’s book The Nature Fix: Why Nature Make Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative is out in paperback this week. We’re not spoiling anything when we say that Williams has a perspective on the outside world that is holistic, restorative, and somewhere we’re inclined to go this very afternoon. We’re not insisting that you go out and hug a tree too, but consider it, because, you know, trees like hugs.