Audiobook Review: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

15 08 2012

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Read by Greg Wise

AudioGo

Length: 5 Hrs 55 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Planet of the Apes is such wonderful escapism, that the pure joy of the story takes what could be overbearing social satire and just makes it feel like simple fun. Those who have only experienced the movie should definitely consider taking the time to experience the novel. In so many ways, it’s like being given a new perspective to a much beloved tale made better when you realize it is its origin.

Grade: A

I always think that one of the cool things about being an author is the possibility that your story will live well beyond your death. Writing has the potential to allow you to live, while maybe not forever, for a long time past your expiration date through your work. Yet, I think there is a sort of bittersweet angle in that for French Author Pierre Boulle. Boulle’s work will be remembered for years to come, but mostly due to the movie adaptations. Boulle wrote novels that eventually became the movies The Bridge Over River Kwai and Planet of the Apes. While both these works of fiction have become part of the mass culture of this planet, I think that many people would be surprised that these movies started out as books, and I also believe that many people just wouldn’t really care. While Boulle can be proud to contribute to our cultural lexicon, I think it must be a bit bittersweet that his original story was in some ways co-opted by the movie, and now this is all that most people remember.   I have personally seen all the movie adaptations that spawned from Planet of the Apes. I also know I have seen The Planet of the Apes TV show, but it was at such a young age I barely remember anything about it. I had always wanted to read the novel, Planet of the Apes. As someone who has always been fascinated with the concept, yet only experienced it in it’s film versions, I was quite interested to finally experience the source material. Finally having achieved my wish, I have to say it was worth the experience. The Planet of the Apes is a gripping science fiction thriller that, while containing elements that made its way into both of the film versions, is it own unique animal.

Ulysses Merou is a journalist traveling on a scientific expedition to an Earth like planet in a ship capable of near lightspeed travel. While the trip only takes two years, hundreds of real time years pass due to time dilation of near lightspeed travel. When arriving on the planet they name Soror, they discover that the humans there are nothing more than mindless beasts, yet a race of simians have obtained sentience and now dominate the planet. While there are many elements that differ from the film, I want to point out two that I found specifically interesting. In both of the film versions, the Simians are descendents, in some way of Earth’s Apes. While this isn’t entirely written off in Boulle’s novel, it is also not specifically addressed, leading to some interesting concepts of congruent evolution and precursor societies. The second one I found interesting on a sociological level. In both film versions, while the simian culture is advanced, they were not up to the level of humanity, with modern tech, like cars and airplanes. I sometimes wonder if the producers thought that presenting a Simian culture on par with modern human tech would just have been too unbelievable. While the human’s of Boulle’s novel were advanced past the apes, the Simian culture had progressed to the point that at least equaled the tech at the time the novel was written in the 1960’s. Boulle makes some interesting sociological observations about the differing ways that humans and apes learn that provide perspective on the development of both species. Boulle’s novel definitely tackles issues like racism, class, elitism, scientific stagnation, nature vs., nurture and other social extrapolations yet, does it with a darkly humorous satirical bent.  It would almost seem mind-blowing the depth of the plot Boulle has developed, but it is covered in an accessible science fiction yarn that allows you to process the implications, and twists and turns of the plot without being overwhelmed. In fact, Planet of the Apes is such wonderful escapism, that the pure joy of the story takes what could be overbearing social satire and just makes it feel like simple fun. Those who have only experienced the movie should definitely consider taking the time to experience the novel. In so many ways, it’s like being given a new perspective to a much beloved tale made better when you realize it is its origin. My only real complaint is that the original title, Monkey Planet, was replaced. Just because I love the idea of a Monkey Planet.

Greg Wise did a wonderful job bringing this tale to life. I did find it interesting that a British narrator was chosen for a title with a French Main character, but in no way did this fact take away from the production. Wise reads the novel is a simplistic fashion that allowed the story to shine. I found much of his characterizations to be enjoyable. I not exactly sure why he made some of the choices he did, but, I couldn’t help but laugh sometimes at the voices he chose. While Zira, the female chimpanzee that champions Ulysses cause, is given a light English accent, most of the male Simians are performed like Goombah Americans. It often made me laugh. I think, in retrospect, I may have enjoyed a bit of delineation between the three sects of Simians, Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans, but I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t even think about it until after I was completed. Planet of the Apes is a thrilling science fiction joyride, full of fascinating scientific and sociological concepts, and really was just a joy to listen to.

Note:Thanks to AudioGo for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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