I’m glad Matt Ruff didn’t fall into the superhero trap when writing Bad Monkeys. Superheroes and their respective movies are annoyingly everywhere these days, and it’s getting really boring. Instead, Ruff delves into the more interesting realm of secret organizations and the psychologically jarring surveillance they use to either maintain or take control. Real people using gritty manipulation to get what they want, without the super dooper special effects.
Without giving away the details, we are introduced to Jane Charlotte and her situation. She’s just been detained by the authorities, and we subsequently learn about her seemingly aimless life, culminating in an active career inside an organization, THE organization, purposed to find and eliminate those in civilized society deemed “bad monkeys”. From the hazy fog of San Francisco to the deserts and aching lights of Las Vegas, we are told a twisting, bending story in which we are constantly asking ourselves whether we have the whole story. Mayhem, scary clowns, mind alterations and machinations…it’s all here.
Everything in Bad Monkeys is written with color: the characters, the action, the intrigue and the manipulation. It’s not exclusively a work of sci-fi, though there are definite moments where reality and belief are playing ping-pong in dreamlike suspension. But the novel is as Orwellian as it is weird and that’s slightly disconcerting in a good way. Surveillance is a major theme, and its parameters are absurdly carried out to its obvious conclusions; the MO is called “Eyes Only”, and while one may consider the details a bit too fantastical, know that bionic eyes apparently are being tested as I write. In any case, Bad Monkeys is an entertaining, creepy, puzzling, and fast read that’ll keep you thinking.