Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (3.5 stars)
Pierre Boulle published two dozen novels in his lifetime – but he is most famous for the semi-autobiographical The Bridge over the River Kwai and this franchise creating science fiction story from 1963.
We’re all familiar with the basic story, right? A group of scientists board a ship bound for Betelgeuse (the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion, after Rigel). Due to traveling near the speed of light, centuries pass on Earth. When they finally reach their destination, they discover a planet filled with human beings…..very primitive humans who have no language or material culture. However, the planet isn’t void of intelligent life; the great apes have built cities, discovered science, and have language. Famously, the story ends with a surprising reveal.
But the most famous reveal – from the movie – is different from that in the book. In the movie, Charlton Heston discovers that he has been on Earth all along, as the Statue of Liberty stretches, half submerged by the sand, into the sky.
But the book is somewhat different. It has a frame story with two space travelers discovering a message in a bottle that tells the story of Ulysse Merou, our protagonist. At the end, when Ulysse returns to earth with Nova and their child, they are fly over Paris. Everything looks as it’s supposed to – until they land, when they are confronted by a field officer who looks like a gorilla.
The ending surprised me because it’s basically the ending of the 2001 remake by Tim Burton – which, as I recall, was generally reviled by both audiences and critics.
The frame story ends with the reveal that the space travelers are actually chimpanzees, and they dismiss the story of Ulysses as preposterous for having an intelligent human.
All the social themes are spelled out in the book, and I think they’re probably handled a bit better. What, for me, really sets the book apart is the characterization of Ulysses. I hated Charlton Heston’s character in the movie. He was an asshole. Part of this was Heston’s acting (I’ve never been a fan), but part of it was the writing, as well. In the book, he’s a lot more sympathetic.
Except for his relationship with Nova. She’s basically an animal, and they are put together by the ape scientists performing psychological tests on them. Their goal is to have them mate – and, while initially reluctant, Ulysses ultimately goes through with it. There’s no respect there, because there’s no understanding. She’s less than an unwilling participant, she’s incapable of being willing. She has no agency. She’s an animal.
It’s pretty gross.
But all the people here are intentionally dehumanized. Because of her interactions with Ulysses (and especially their child), she starts to rediscover her humanity.
I’ve never been a huge fan of these movies – but this book was pretty good, all things considered.
Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory (4 stars)
But HP Lovecraft is not only pretty close to being unreadable – he was blatantly racist. Like, even for his era.
So I’m always on the lookout for a new book to put on my shelf.
Thirteen years prior to the start of Harrison Squared, Harrison Harrison (thus the name) lost his father at sea when their boat was attacked by a giant, tentacled monster. He also lost a leg. In the years since, he’s repressed the memory, and convinced himself that it wasn’t actually a tentacled monster. Now, at 16, he and his mother (a marine biologist specializing in giant animals) have moved from San Diego to the New England coastal town of Dunnsmouth.
Dunnsmouth is……well. It’s basically Innsmouth.
The differences are key, though. We aren’t meant to be horrified by the mixing of races. This is Lovecraft without the impenetrable language or unmistakable dislike of non-white people. And it helps that there’s a nice strain of sarcasm throughout the book. Harrison is a 16 year old – and he certainly acts like one.
I really liked this book, and want more. This book is actually a young adult sequel to a novella (about an adult Harrison) that earned Gregory a World Fantasy Award and a Shirley Jackson Award, and was a finalist for the Nebula, Locas, and Sturgeon Awards. He’s also planning more sequels.
So it looks like I’ve got more reading ahead of me.
Apt Pupil by Stephen King (4 stars)
I’ve never read this before, and I haven’t seen the movie. If you had asked me what it was about I would’ve said something along the lines of a high school student discovers that one of his teachers is secretly the head of a Nazi cult. That’s not what this is about. And why I thought the Master of Horror wrote a version of a series of books I read in the fourth grade has no explanation. I guess I saw pictures of Ian McKellen in Nazi regalia and made a far more tame connection than Stephen King would’ve. Maybe I should be relieved that King and I don’t think on the same wavelengths.
Todd Bowden is a high school student, and there is an old man who wears Nazi regalia. But we get there from a different direction. An elderly German immigrant named Arthur Denker is actually a Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander, and he’s been living in secret in the US. Todd Bowden, who wants to be an historian, was able to put this together and chooses to confront Dussander with this knowledge rather than turn him over to authorities. Bowden uses this discovery to coerce Dussander into giving all the sordid details of his activities during the Holocaust. For months Bowden goes to his house to prod him. It becomes a sick fascination for him. He starts having nightmares about it, and his grades start slipping. He then starts lying to his parents and forging report cards. It warps his mind and twists the way he sees the world. Eventually, this turns from sick obsession into something he wants to see in the real world.
But these visits also seem to awaken something in Dussander: a murderous hunger.
The title of this novella is….apt, one might say. (Does that count as a dad joke?)
I “liked” this story. It was captivating.
But it’s Stephen King. He’s really good at characterization, and this story is all about characterization. Which means it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
Morality by Stephen King (4 stars)
I read this thinking it was a different short story by King. I thought I was reading A Good Marriage, which was inspired by Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer.
But this was worth it, I suppose. I mean, it’s Stephen King. And, given the last story, I accidentally explored a theme, here.
Morality is about a married couple suffering from financial woes. Chad is an aspiring writer working on a book about substitute teaching. Nora is a nurse who has taken a job working for a partially paralyzed clergyman, named Winston. One day, Winston offers Nora $200,000 to vicariously commit a sin for him. While initially hesitant, she and Chad decide to do it. Chad films her walking up to a child and punching him in the face.
Much like Apt Pupil, Nora’s brief taste of evil opens a door within herself of which she wasn’t previously aware.
While your mileage may vary, I’m fascinated by how people turn to evil.