Friday, April 22, 2016

Audiobook Review: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Book Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: This minor classic provides the springboard for the well-known franchise that would follow.

Planet of the Apes is of course the seminal science fiction book that went on to launch the long-lived franchise that spread across the theaters, television, and comics.  Boulle’s novel first came out in 1963 and he intended it to act as a social commentary on his world, not dissimilar to the films that would follow.  Of course any review of the book pretty much demands comparison to the first film based upon it, which has since become an iconic sci fi entry (and you can see my review of that at this link).

The book itself in many ways lays out the basic structure for the first film as we have astronauts from Earth landing on planet (though not crashing like in the movie), and then setting out to explore it.  They then meet humans whom they find to have minimal intelligence and who live like beasts off the land.  This is followed by apes rounding up the humans and the protagonist (Ulysse Mérou) is captured and studied by the sympathetic apes Zira and Cornelius.  The more skeptical Dr. Zaius doubts the intelligence of this wunder-human, but an eventual trip to a “forbidden zone” type area reveals that humans pre-dated apes on this planet.

One of the biggest differences from the original films, though, is that these apes have a level of technology similar to twentieth century Earth and they inherited the planet when the human culture grew stagnant and they stopped progressing.  The book also suggests what we would see later in the Escape from the Planet of the Apes film (though with role reversal between humans and apes) when Ulysse becomes a bit of a celebrity when introduced into ape society, but then sees a backlash when they find out Nova is pregnant .  It also suggests some of the events from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes when the regressive memory of the native humans is explored.

In general, Boulle’s Planet of the Apes is a good sci fi book and I would call it a minor genre classic, though not necessarily a must-read.  It is well written and he tries to bring in as many science-based principles as possible, though at times it seems to veer into pseudo-science.  But I believe he develops the characters well enough and presents an interesting setting that offers some social commentary, though I believe the first three movies actually did better with that.  One important thing that Boulle handles better here, though, is the language barrier.  Ulysse slowly learns the ape language and it eventually becomes part of the proof of his intelligence.  In the movies, the apes spoke English and the astronauts never wondered why despite the fact that they were allegedly on a planet thousands of light-years from Earth.  Something that the book does not handle as well is the twist that comes at the end.  Boulle’s ending seems kind of forced and is much less satisfying than the final scene from the first movie.

The audiobook version is narrated by Greg Wise and he does a very good job with the material.  Interestingly, he gives the apes what sounds like a mid-west accent that seems a bit out of place at first, but I eventually got used to it and never found it distracting.  Overall, his voice-work carries the book along quite well, and makes this an enjoyable listen.  This book is definitely worth seeking out in audio format or in print for all Planet of the Apes fans that have never encountered the original source material and also for sci fi fans looking for a decent representation of the genre.

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