Friday, September 7, 2012

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Summary:  When Jinn and Phyllis recover a bottle floating in space, they discover the written account of Ulysse Mérou, journalist from Earth.  Mérou’s tale describes travelling to a distant sun only to find an orbiting planet very similar to Earth with just one main difference.  On Soror, apes rule the planet and humans are the animals.  Mérou’s and the apes’ worlds are turned upside-down as he struggles to demonstrate his intelligence and sentience in a place where humans are hunted for sport and used for science.  With the help of chimpanzees Zira and Cornelius he just might make it off Soror and back to Earth alive.

Dystopian Issues:  Superior Nature of Man
Part of a Series:  No sequel book, but there are plenty when it comes to the movies
Next in Series:  Return to the Planet of the Apes or Rise of the Planet of the Apes movies
Age of Main Character:  He is an adult
Year of Publication:  1963
Publisher:  The edition I read was published by the Penguin Group Limited in 2001.

Review:  This is my first review (to my knowledge) of a book that has a movie franchise connected to it.  Technically, the book itself is science fiction, while the movie franchise is both dystopian and science fiction.
     In my opinion, all dystopias count as science fiction but not all science fiction can be considered dystopias.  Dystopias are versions of our world, our society, gone wrong.  In Planet of the Apes, the novel, Ulysse and his two friends travel to Soror, another world.  In that world it was perfectly normal for Apes to be the dominant species over man and so it does not technically count as a dystopia.  You have to read the whole book to understand why it made my list.
     There is great beauty in an intriguing, well-expressed idea and Boulle's book was so spell-binding that it inspired seven movies and a tv series.  Watching the original five movies released in the late sixties and the early seventies made me wish I was alive when they came out, even though they grew progressively worse in plot structure and logical storylines.  I hated Tim Burton's remake interpretation that came out in 2001, but loved The Rise of the Planet of the Apes which came out in 2011 and explained how apes grew to be verbal in the first place.
     In terms of writing style, I find Boulle to be dry and philosophical.  The plot moves slowly and the ending is suprising and unsatisfying.  But at the same time, I couldn't stop reading because I was so enamoured by his idea.  What if homosapiens are not "the kings of creation" we consider ourselves to be?  If we expect to be treated with respect and dignity, then shouldn't other species expect to be treated the same way by us as well?
     Sometimes the best way to understand our society is tell a story about a vastly different society and let readers draw their own parallels.  Boulle, whether he intended to or not, does an excellent job of this.  First by writing Planet of the Apes the book which shows us how apes would form a society like ours and how they would treat humans, and second by exploring how humans would treat apes as an increasingly sentient and verbal species through the movie series.  Boulle's work can also be viewed as a commentary on the struggle for all human kind to be considered equal.
     The next Planet of the Apes movie (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is set to come out in 2014.  Can't wait.

Real-Life Dystopias:  I love, love, love in the first and third movies when Zira explains that the medical testing the apes are doing on the humans are as wrong as humans doing medical testing on apes.  Our real-life dystopia is that advancing medical science requires animal testing.  Sometimes on animals that are more sentient than we always realise.  When the situation is twisted around so that the apes are the scientists and the humans are the test subjects, it becomes easier to see how wrong it is.  Unfortunately, at times it is a necessary evil for the sake of perfecting medical procedures and medication to save human lives.

Memorable Quotes:  "Yes, I, one of the kings of creation, started circling round my beauty; I, the ultimate achievement of millenary evolution, in front of this collection of monkeys eagerly watching me, in front of an old orang-outang dictating notes to his secretary, in front of a female chimpanzee smiling with self-satisfaction, in front of a couple of chuckling gorillas; I, a man, excusing myself on the grounds of exceptional cosmic circumstances, and persuading myself for the moment that there exist more things on the planets and in the heavens than human philosophy has ever imagined; I, Ulysse Merou, embarked like a peacock round the gorgeous Nova, on the love display."
     -  Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, pg 75

     "We were speaking french, for, as I have said, she was quicker to learn my language than I hers.  At the outset there were some difficulties of interpretation, the words 'man' and 'monkey' not evoking the same creatures for us; but this snag was quickly smoothed out.  Each time she said 'monkey,' I mentally translated 'superior being, the height of evolution.'  When she spoke about me, I knew she meant bestial creatures endowed with a certain sense of imitation and presenting a few anatomical similarities to monkeys but of an embryonic psychism and devoid of the power of thought."
     -  Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, pg 83-84

     "'Above all do be careful not to turn on passers-by or bare your teeth or scratch a trustful child who might come up and pet you.  I don't want to muzzle you but. . . .'
     She stopped short and burst out laughing.
     'Forgive me, forgive me!'  she cried.  'I keep forgetting you have a mind like a monkey."
     - Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, pg 89

Author Web Site:  Pierre Boulle died in 1994 and does not have an official web page.  So I'm including the link to his Wikipedia page instead.

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