‘The Best Monkey’ (2009) by Daniel Abraham

Niall Harrison of Torque Control has announced that, starting this weekend, he’ll be hosting weekly discussions of short fiction. In an attempt to increase the amount of commentary out there (and because I’m unsure of how much internet access I’ll have over the next couple of weeks), I’m going to blog about two of the stories in advance.

We begin, then with ‘The Best Monkey’ by Daniel Abraham, originally published in the third Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, and now reprinted online at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (click on the story title above for the link). Our narrator is Jimmy, who works for a news aggregator, but is tasked by his latest boss with doing a little investigation. Elaine Salvaret, a bigwig at a leading technology conglomerate named Fifth Layer, has been overheard saying something that might be a clue to the secret of the company’s strange technology – a secret that might not be ethically sound. This could be a scoop, and it’s Jimmy’s job to bring back the goods. Why him? Because he and Elaine were lovers thirty years ago.

I’m ambivalent about this story. At heart, it’s a story of ideas (perhaps the central theme is the nature of beauty and attraction, and how they relate to biological imperatives), which I found intellectually interesting; but I think the idea that acts as the engine of the plot is a little too abstract to be intellectually gripping – so the story doesn’t quite have that extra zing to turn it from good into great.

Viewing the piece from another angle: Abraham’s depiction of his future is pretty good, with some nice details like the constantly changing fashionable argot of Jimmy’s bosses (and, indeed, Jimmy’s constantly changing bosses). One gripe, though: we’re told that in the thirty years between the present of the story and Jimmy’s younger days (which may not be far off our present), there has been major environmental catastrophe; yet I don’t gain any sense of the effect of this in the story itself.

Quite a mixed reaction to ‘The Best Monkey’ from me, then (though I do feel more positive than negative about the tale); I’ll be interested to see what others think.


  1. David

    20th August 2009 at 11:19 am

    Great to see such eloquent, insightful comments appearing on this blog…

    Seriously, though, I’m only posting like this because I’m going on holiday and might not be able to join in the discussion.

  2. Well, at the moment, I haven’t read the story either, so that’s about as eloquent and insightful as I can be.

    And actually, it’s not a bad thing to have posts in advance of the discussion — there won’t be nearly as much already written about these stories as about the Hugo nominees, so this at least gives the rest of us a jumping-off point! Even if only to call you a wronghead…

  3. David

    20th August 2009 at 11:42 am

    I’ll brace myself for the brickbats, then…

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