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Pierre Boulle's classic science fiction novella is a thoroughly absorbing read from start to finish, and explores some symbolically interesting ideas about the nature of evolution and what exactly it is that makes man different from other species (in particular apes).
We follow the adventures of Ulysse Merou, a young French journalist, who embarks on a trip towards Betelgeuse, and he and his two compaions end up exploring one of the planets in the star's orbit. Life on the planet closely resembles that of Earth, however there are a number of key differences which sparks the plot of the story. Throughout the novella, Boulle provides the reader with plenty of suggestions as to the reality Merou experiences (ranging from the exceptionally subtle to the alarmingly immediate), yet it has to be said that the resolution to the story is not as surprising as one would perhaps hope.
An interesting story with a far more compelling philosophic subtext, and a definite read for those who enjoy sci-fi literature or utopian/dystopian representations.
Planet Of The Apes, or my much preferred title of Monkey Planet as the book was originally called, is a classic sci-fi novel from the sixties made famous by the fact that it inspired a series of movies, a T.V show and more recently a Tim Burton film. Did you know that this writer was also the man responsible for the book, The Bridge Over The River Kwai which was also famously filmed? No, neither did I but then you learnm something new every day.
Another thing you might be interested to learn is that this is another timeless sci-fi classic, much like the recently reviewed Roadside Picnic, that is brilliant in it's own right but that also establishes its own character through the fact that it differs greatly from any of the film versions to date and takes much more of a satirical look at the nature of humanity than was ever attempted on film.
Some things remain the same, for example the basic premise. We still have a group of astronauts heading off into space, here to explore stars and planetary bodies in the far-flung reaches of the Betelgeuse system. But this time our main character is a journalist, along for the ride mainly to record the endeavours of an eccentric scientist and his assistant. Upon reaching an earth-like planet, the crew leave their ship in orbit and take a shuttle down to the surface and are pleasently surprised to see signs of civilisation. Leaving their shuttle on the edges of a forest, they disembark but are troubled when the local humans seem very primitive, timid and exhibting an almost irrational phobia of any tools, clothing or remote technology.
Soon the reason for this becomes apparent; the planet is governed by intelligently superior apes and gorillas and the humans are hunted by these Simians for sport, captured for study in zoos or scientifically experimented on.
Of our Earthly landing party, only journalist, Ulsse Merou, manages to avoid a sticky end when he is taken to one of the scientist's lab. There, he manages to eventually communicate with the Simian scientists and begins to piece together the history of the planet and the differences between this world and our own....
With some intresting twists and turns and some unexpected revelations, the book is a relatively short, sharp and exceedingly clever novel that comes across as a modern day Gulliver's Travels for a new generation. Set in and around the year 2050, the book is just as relevant now as it was at the time and totally reinvents the sci-fi novel as you might know it. In fact, this is a book much akin to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and if you liked that, you will love this too!
Remember that famous scene in the Charlton Heston film? Yeah, thats not here- but there is a neat and original twist that works along similar lines though the way it is executed, in the books only weak point, could be described as being a little bit clumsy. The story is also wrapped around the idea of its narrative being discovered as a message in an interstellar bottle; picked up, as it were, by a pair of interplanetary weekend sailors, travelling through space in their equivalent of a yacht. This in itself has much relevance to the story that enfolds though it is fair to say that many readers will guess where that avenue is headed long before they reach its destination!
Overall, this is a very clever, neat and highly imaginative tale that is well worth a read if you have only ever seen the films. It can be taken in a number of ways but basically this ground-breaking sci-fi with a message to tell that it does and does tremendously. And it just goes to show that really GOOD sci-fi never really ages and certainly never goes out of style!