Friday, August 19, 2011

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle 

The novel opens in a fairly banal manner. A wealthy couple, Jinn and Phyllis, travel through space at their leisure. They as they loll about the universe they see an object floating in the void. Intrigued they retrieve it only to discover that it is a glass bottle containing a message written in one of the many languages used on Earth. Phyllis entreats Jinn to read aloud the message as she is unacquainted with the language the message is written in. Jinn commences reading…..

Earth 2500AD. Three astronauts embark on a voyage of exploration to the star Betelgeuse on the far side of the universe. The three comprise of journalist Ulysse Merou, Professor Antelle and physicist Arthur Levain.

Travelling at the speed of light minus epsilon the journey will take the astronauts three years. On Earth more than 350 years will have elapsed. On arriving at Betelgeuse they discover the second planet rotating around the sun which is roughly the same size and composition as Earth. They decide to call the planet Soror and leave their ship in order to learn more about this new world.

As the astronauts descend they can clearly discern signs of intelligent life. Large cities are observed on the planet, though the astronauts land in the jungle. The first sentient being the encounter is a young human woman whom Ulysse Merou, the narrator, names Nova. They soon come to realise however that however much Nova resembles a human her characteristics resemble that of a wild animal.

The astronauts meet the rest of Nova people who like herself are reduced to a feral status. The situation for the astronauts worsens when their landing craft is destroyed by the enraged tribe.

Soon after however the encounter the real overlords of the planet, the apes. An ape hunting party is organised and Merou for the first time observes the brutality of the apes as they indiscriminately kill humans while being shocked at how readily they adopt human traits.

Merou is captured along with Nova and brought to a scientific laboratory where he can be observed and examined. It is here that Merou befriends Zira and female chimpanzee scientist. Gradually Merou convinces Zira of his intelligence, learns some simian words and is able to communicate with her and learn of the world in which he now finds himself.

In Planet of the Apes, Boulle creates a world which in many ways resembles our own. We see the pig headed Gorillas who are only interested in war, the Orangutans who thrive on flattery and the intelligent chimpanzees, the scientists, doctors and thinkers in society.

Merou though time discovers the reason for mans downfall; the complacency which allowed them to be usurped by the apes and the terrible revenge wrought on humanity by their former servants.

Throughout the novel we observe Merou as he negotiates his understanding of the ape world. The writing is exceptional and flows along. I won’t spoil the ending suffice to say that Planet of the Apes will leave the reader pondering the fragility of society and how humans react with other.


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