About the Author:
Pierre Boulle was born in Avignon, France in 1912. He trained as an engineer but went to Malaya to become a rubber planter in 1936. He served with the Frence military in Indo-China from 1939 but returned to Malaya following the defeat of France by the Nazis. Boulle joined the Free French forces and took part in guerrilla warfare in Indo-China until captured by the Vichy French in 1942. He escaped in 1944 and, following the war, lived in Malaya and Cameroon before settling in Paris. Pierre Boulle is perhaps most famous for his novel 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3 out of 5
Originally released (in French) as 'La Planete des Singes' and later rereleased under its more familiar title of 'Planet of the Apes', this is the book that inspired the film franchise. A message is discovered floating through the depths of space containing the journal of Ulysse Merou, recording his arrival on the planet Soror and his discovery that it is ruled by a civilisation of apes who keep humans as animals.
Anyone who has seen the Charleston Heston classic movie will have a general gist of how this book unfolds, but there are specific differences that mean that you will find something new here even if you have seen the film; the most notable being famous Statue of Liberty twist which is not how this book's twist ending plays out.
I have to say that the majority of this book was a bit heavy and tedious to get through, with Merou being a frustrating protagonist. He goes to great lengths to convince his ape captors that he is not mindless like their other captive humans, but then totally undoes his own efforts by going batshit and all-but flinging poo at the apes. Not to mention the fact that he his appalled by the way the apes pair up humans in order to observe them copulating but rapidly casts his outrage aside when he gets paired up with a woman who is hot. On top of this is the way that he spends the entire book coming to terms with and learning about the apes as intelligent beings but is ecstatic when it turns out that their culture is based off an older human one, immediately setting to plans to overthrow ape society. Basically, the main character of this book is an unforgivable hypocrite.
All of this is not to say that there's not a lot to enjoy here. There is a reason, after all, that this concept has survived in successful movies for forty years. The way the humans in the book are treated by the apes holds up a mirror to humanity itself and asks us to think about how we, in turn, treat creatures that we consider of lesser or nonexistant intelligence. The scene where humans are subjected to various horrifying brain surgeries and experiments is made all the more poignant by the knowledge that this is how we, as a species, behave to 'lesser' beings. On top of this is the twist ending which is different enough from that of the movie to be surprising and, weirdly, actually goes some way towards explaining and redeeming the awful ending of Tim Burton's 'Planet of the Apes' remake.
One other thing that I did notice whilst reading was that although originally published in 1963, this book actually reads a lot more like the science fiction and scientific romances of the 19th Century. The way Merou's story unfolds really did put me in mind of the likes of H. G. Wells or France's greatest science fiction author Jules Verne.
I would also note that I rapidly became annoyed by the fact that the gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees are referred to throughout as 'monkeys'. I don't know if this is because Boulle couldn't tell the difference between monkeys and apes (it's easy; monkeys have tails) or if it is the result of an imperfect translation into English. I wonder if the editors corrected it when they rereleased the book under the title of 'Planet of the Apes'?
3 out of 5