This month, I am going to review a book which falls into the category of classics. This is not something I would normally do, except this particular classic is one that most folks are not familiar with, at least in book form. “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle is the novel that started a pop culture phenomenon. Pierre Boulle also authored “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a story also made famous by its movie version starring none other than Sir Alec Guinness.
The story starts with two observers, Jinn and Phyllis, who find a manuscript written by the protagonist, Ulysse Merou, and proceed to read it. This changes the mode of narration throughout the book from third to first person as Ulysse tells his story in the manuscript. This can be somewhat jarring if you are one who easily gets wrapped up in the action of the story. Based on the time the book was published, 1963, and the location, France, these interruptions appear to show an outsider’s view of the racially charged tensions of that era.
Jinn and Phyllis’ world is one of the far flung future where personal space travel is as common as sailing. The style of writing for these portions of the story describe in detail this space-faring world and make it easy to imagine. However, the dialog is a bit stilted, but serves the purpose of breaking up the main narrative nonetheless.
Ulysse’s story is told quite well and it is an easy thing to root for this particular protagonist. At first, the impressive vocabulary exhibited in the manuscript seems a bit pretentious. But, the hero is a journalist, and as such, would have a firm command of language. It is a well written and contrived plot as the man goes about convincing the apes he not only is intelligent but is not of their world.
Fans of the movie will not be disappointed as many facets from the book maintained in the movie. As most are familiar with the movie and not the book, it seems odd to approach it this way. However, the film gives the reader the visualizations needed to really make this book come alive and be a wonderful romp in this imaginative world.
With the publish date in mind, one can easily see how the book addresses many of the racial issues of the 1960s, and comments on them as well. Surely Boulle could have just as easily written an article or magazine piece at the time expressing his views, but as a piece of science fiction, his commentary has stood the test of time in this awesome book.
I give the book 4 out of 5 flags. It is definitely a book anyone should enjoy reading.