Gareth L. Powell is the author of five published novels, including the Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy from Solaris Books, the first volume of which co-won the 2013 BSFA Award for Best Novel.
His shorter fiction has appeared in Interzone, Solaris Rising 3, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction: 32nd Annual Collection. He has given guest lectures on creative writing at Bath Spa University, and has written for The Irish Times, SFX and 2000 AD.
I spoke to him about winning the BSFA Award and his work in general.
RM: You’re best known for your Macaque trilogy. Having a monkey as your main protagonist is certainly an unusual choice. Was there anything in particular that drew you to our furry friends?
GLP: If you need a nonhuman character and decide to go with an uplifted animal, a monkey is an obvious choice. They are similar to humans, so easier for an audience to relate to than, say, an artificially intelligent bison; but, at the same time, they’re also like distorted reflections of ourselves. We can’t help but be fascinated by them.
With Ack-Ack, I was very keen to make him more than just a guy in a monkey suit. I wanted to make the character believable as a monkey. So I have him walk on all fours sometimes, and react badly to direct eye contact (he sees it as a challenge). At the same time, I tried to imagine what it would be like emotionally to be an intelligent monkey, and the only one of your kind. Monkeys tend to live in groups, so what would it be like to be alone? And how would you fill that void?
I hope people reading the books get a sense of him as a wild animal first and foremost, with a thin veneer of civilisation grafted on – much like all of us, really.
RM: Has winning a BSFA award changed things for you at all? Did it open any doors that might otherwise have been closed?
GLP: Winning the 2013 BSFA for best novel was a huge honour, especially as I got to share the award with Ann Leckie’s outstanding Ancillary Justice. I think having Ack-Ack Macaque alongside Ann’s book made a few people who had dismissed it as a “silly monkey book” take a second look, and discover there was a whole lot more to it than just primate capers. In a lot of ways, Ancillary Justice and Ack-Ack Macaque deal with very similar themes in their examination of abandoned characters who look and act somewhat human, but aren’t really sure what they are any more, or where they fit in the world.
If nothing else, I hope the award has shown people that, although my books contain some elements of humour, I am deadly serious about writing strong, character-driven science fiction.
RM: A prequel comic strip for Ack-Ack Macaque has featured in 2000AD which, in itself, is quite an honour. Are you a fan of comics and is it a medium you’d like to work in more?
GLP: Being given the chance to write for 2000 AD was a dream come true. I still have the 1979 annual on my bookshelves, and know almost every panel from it by heart. When the Ack-Ack strip came out, I wanted to send a copy back in time to my nine year-old self. He would have absolutely loved it.
I grew up reading 2000 AD and Marvel comics. Then, as a student, I collected Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series as it came out. I’ve always loved comics, and would love the chance to write more in that medium.
RM: You’ve cited Iain M Banks as one of your favourite authors. He was a writer that wasn’t afraid to break from the norm and tell unusual stories with non-standard central characters. Do you feel his inspiration in your work at all?
GLP: As a British writer embarking on a new series of space operas, it’s almost impossible to avoid his influence. His books redefined the entire sub genre, and provided a yardstick against which we can measure our own efforts.
RM: What was the first book you read that really grabbed you, and when did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
GLP: I can’t remember when I first wanted to be a writer. It was always part of the plan, from a very early age. As I grew older, there were books that changed my mind about what *kind* of writer I wanted to be. I went through various phases searching for my own voice and subject matter. Leonard Cohen’s Favourite Game was an influence during my early twenties, and all the Beat writers such as Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. The book that really set me writing seriously was William Gibson’s Burning Chrome. That book hit me like an electric shock.
We have a free copy of Gareth’s novel The Recollection to give away. For a chance to win, click on the link below and write the title of this book in the answer box.