Sunday, June 5, 2016
Planet Of The Apes - Monkey Planet!
Pierre Boulle's novel Monkey Planet (aka Planet of the Apes) is a witty science fiction allegory which casts a satirical eye on modern society, especially academia. The story is at once familiar to fans of the Planet of the Apes film franchise and yet very different too.
I've always assumed I'd read this novel before, decades ago. And I've intended to read it again a few times in recent years but always got distracted (small attention span and shiny objects and such don't you know). But I took several hours a while back and read it through and realized that I've never ever read all of it. Glad to finally have that monkey off my back...so to speak.
The novel is framed by an outer space interlude with a young romantic couple who find a manuscript in a bottle in the far reaches of space while sailing through space in an elegant ship which uses light to whip across the vastness. Their true identities are not all that shocking, though perhaps Boulle intended them to be.
They read of a man named Ulysse Merou, a reporter who travels with a scientist and his assistant on an interstellar spaceship to a distant star. They land on an impossible planet very similar in many ways to Earth and find that man is well and truly an animal and that the civilized society is occupied by apes (specifically chimps, orangutans, and gorillas). Not unlike Gulliver in Swift's great satire, Merou tries to cope with the maddening society he finds and slowly succumbs to an altered understanding of how things work and are supposed to work.
For those familiar only with the movies or the comics, there are clear connections with this novel beyond the core concept, and important differences as well. I could readily see how different of the films had picked up details and sequences from the novel and presented them, often in altered form. But the core critique of society remains fairly unchanged across the whole of the Planet of the Apes saga, man is a fool to imagine himself automatically ascendant and his whole society can crash down around his ears very quickly should he refuse to pay attention to his true nature.
If like me you haven't read this one, it's time you did.