The oddest thing about this book is that it’s by the same writer as The Bridge on the River Kwai and that he’s French. My American chauvinism scoffs at the idea that French-speaking astronauts would land on the Planet of the Apes and teach them French! But alas, what makes this book much more interesting than the movie, although the movie’s plot is not all that different, is that it takes its time. Our narrator is the first-person account of who would be Charlton Heston in the movie, and his thought-process as an explorer and his role as consciousness in the book makes what extraordinary all the more rewarding for having his voice guide us through the plot. Also having the narrator need to establish contact and learn and teach language with the apes also helps to slow the narrative down and really show up how much of a change of situation this narrator finds himself in. There’s even an initially confusing, but really rewarding frame narrative happening in this book, so we get a kind of story in a bottle aspect to everything.
The book is still silly as hell, and with the shifts from the movie (which I am more used to), this becomes a treatise on colonialism and race in much richer ways. There’s a level of stakes here that make more sense than in the original movie. Otherwise it’s an entertaining, perfectly competent sci-fi novel that ends up being better than it probably had any right to be.