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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Planet of the Apes (Science Fiction)

by Pierre Boulle 

Publisher: Grammercy Books (June 6, 2000)

Hardcover, 191 pages

“Suppose then, the existence in the distant past of a civilization on the planet Soror similar to our own. Is it possible that creatures devoid of intelligence could have perpetuated it by a simple process of imitation? The answer to this question seems risky, but after thinking it over, a host of argument occur to me that gradually lessen its aspect of unreasonableness. That perfected machines may one day succeed us, I remember, is an extremely commonplace notion on Earth. It prevails not only among poets and romantics but in all classes of society. Perhaps because it is so widespread, born spontaneously in popular imagination, that it irritates scientific minds. Perhaps it is for this very reason that it contains a germ of truth. Only a germ. Machines will always be machines; the most perfected robot, always a robot. But what of living creatures possessing a certain degree of intelligence, like apes? And apes, precisely, are endowed with a keen sense of imitation….”
This is of course the original French novel which spawned the rather formidable franchise of films, books, toys, tv shows, cartoons, and comics which is still producing material to this day. Granted, I believe it was the Rod Serling treatment of this material which really made it click, but this book started the ball rolling.
In this surprisingly short text, we see shades of the original, the makings of Battle, Conquest, Escape, Rise, Dawn, and War of the Planet of the Apes films, plus the origins of the ending for that terrible Tim Burton version- which I advocate everyone avoid like the plague. God, that film was terrible. Yet despite this, the book is unique in various ways.
Pierre Boulle,  author of Planet of the Apes
The protagonist is Ulysse Mérou, a journalist. In the year 2500, he was asked by a professor to travel to the planet Soror, one of the planets in the Betelgeuse system. The journey would take close to 800 years earth-time to complete, but as it is further than any human had gone before the protagonist cannot turn it down. The name Soror is Latin for sister, so I’m sure you can see the foreshadowing.
I won’t go into too much detail, but instead  stick to the differences. They are definitely on an alien world, whose evolutionary tract for simians has led along the same lines as Earth’s- producing human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan equivalents. Ulysee cannot speak their language at first, leading them to think he was doing a babbling imitation and only eventually he begins to communicate.
Original cover and title of the novel
Most of the characters are the same as the original, with only slight variations. The protagonist at first is just as pompous as Charleton Heston portrayed him, only in a more French manner. Dr. Zaius is described almost as a scientific idiot with no original thoughts of his own and incapable of forming new ideas. Nova becomes pregnant with Ulysee’s child and learns to speak. Cornelius is much more competent and forceful in the story, in fact he un-thrones Dr. Zaius and becomes the society’s leading scientist. Zira is the only consistent character.
Certain elements were used in reverse in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Ulysee reveals his intelligence to Ape society in a televised conference and becomes the toast of Ape society. It isn’t until Nova becomes pregnant with an intelligent child that things turn deadly. The authorities fear the rise of a new race which will overthrow them and thus the new family is forced to flee.
There is some bad science in the book as well. The main scientist which Ulysee accompanies spends too much time (around six months) with the primitive unspeaking humans and reverts to type with them. The claim is that intelligence can drain away. I might accept this over ten or twenty years, but not six months. Also Corneilus conveniently creates a serum which can revert people to past lives, or race memories- it’s difficult to tell which. They use it on Nova and she goes back ten thousand years (though still speaking the language of the time) and give the history of the humans.
Still love this film.
SPOILERS HERE: The race established all of society and trained the apes to be their servants. The apes learned to mimic the actions of society perfectly, too perfectly.  In doing so, the humans became very lazy and became incapable of taking care of themselves, sort of like a slave-making ant society. The apes eventually take over the cities, chasing away the humans, and subsume the roles of their former masters. The family escapes back aboard the spaceship, take another 800 year long trip back to Earth, making it the year 3300, only to discover that a similar Ape uprising has occurred on Earth and the human race is no more. Very similar to season four of Battlestar Galactica.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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