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Literature / Planet of the Apes

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This cover spoils the ending... but not the ending of the book.

La Planète des Singes, released in English as Planet of the Apes, is a 1963 French satirical sci-fi novel by Pierre Boulle. It formed the basis for the 1968 film, which spawned a decades-long franchise in its turn.

In this original version, we follow a journalist named Ulysse who accompanies his mentor, the professor Antelle, to a long space trip, after getting bored of Earth and humans. They land on a planet strikingly similar to Earth, and are welcomed by a beautiful young (and naked) woman… who strangely acts like an animal, as do the other members of her "tribe". And soon enough, they are taken in the middle of a hunt where the hunters have an… unexpected appearance. They are both captured and separated, and Ulysse ends up in a research center, where he will learn what it feels like to be on the side of the animals.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: The apes of Soror that were named in the book are: Zira, Zaius, Zoram, Zanam, Helios, and Cornelius. Also, the ancient Genetic Memory of one of the humans mentions a woman named Anna.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Mostly explained by Translation Convention after Ulysses learns the apes' language but the doll they find in the archaeological site says "Papa" and it's theorised that children on a lot of planets use the simple word to describe their fathers.
  • Artistic Licence – Biology:
    • After living a few months among savage humans, the old scientific genius Professor Antelle loses his memory, his speech, and even his conscience, becoming totally animal-like like the others... that's a bit radical. Though he was bit of a cynic which may have had something to do with it.
    • Put electrodes on a woman's head, stimulate specific areas of her brain, and she will awaken memories of what her ancestors said ten thousand years ago. No, really!
    • Gorillas are apparently meat-eaters and chimps abhor the idea of murder. Justified, though, in that it takes place in the future and on an alien planet, so the apes could certainly have evolved differently from their modern Earth counterpartsnote .
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Zig-Zagged. Once Zira knows Ulysse is intelligent, she's somewhat put off by his closeness with Nova. Once Ulysse proves himself to the rest of the Apes of Soror, he dares not get close to Nova again, or even show her preferential treatment, for fear of scandal. Since Nova is, in every way but form, an animal, her ability to provide informed consent is a sticking point.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: The couple in the framing device have gone to a remote solar system on their honeymoon. It's not clear if they have some unmentioned Faster-Than-Light Travel or are using Time Dilation and will return from their honeymoon to find their families dead for centuries.
  • Colonized Solar System: It's mentioned that all the other planets in the solar system have been colonized, causing the need to explore others.
  • Covers Always Lie: Many modern covers of the book show the Statue of Liberty, even though this is something exclusive to the first movie adaptation.
  • Creative Sterility: Apes can mimic human civilization but haven't come up with any new inventions for ten thousand years. However, while their rate of advancement is incredibly slow (and at times, it seems, deliberately hindered by the orangutans), their society is stable enough to eventually vastly surpass anything humans can accomplish, achieving Casual Interstellar Travel.
  • Cute Mute: Nova. The first thing our explorers notice about her is her stunning beauty. But like all Sororian humans, she only communicates with animal noises.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The "stock exchange" scene. It certainly looks nothing like reality.
  • Downer Ending: Phyllis and Jinn reveal that they know that there are no intelligent humans on Earth.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: After their first encounter with Nova at the waterfall, Antelle wants to move the launch and explore a different part of the planet. His two companions would like to stay, and don't even pretend that the possibility of seeing the gorgeous naked Nova again isn't their primary motivation.
  • First-Contact Math: Ulysse finally convinces Zira of his sapience by drawing geometric shapes and the theorems describing them. This was discussed on the voyage as a potential way to make contact with whatever extraterrestrials they might find in the Betelgeuse system.
  • Formerly Sapient Species: Soror's Human Aliens used to have their own civilization, before falling into decadence and degenerating into animals as the increasingly intelligent apes overtook them.
  • Framing Device: The majority of the book is a manuscript which a couple of scientists find floating in space at the beginning.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Nova does not like when Ulysse and Zira converse, and Ulysse has to resort to slapping her to get her to behave around them.
  • Going Native: Professor Antelle completely embraces the life of the animalistic humans of Soror, to the point of completely forgetting he ever had intellect or speech. Seemingly a result of:
    • Go Mad from the Revelation: Seeing how the species roles have swapped on Soror and being confined in a zoo, Antelle apparently can't handle it and forgets everything that separates him from the human animals. Ulysse reflects that, had he not had the opportunity to communicate and demonstrate his intellect, he might have done the same, the burden of living as an animal without being one too great to bear.
  • The Grand Hunt: An organized expedition of apes (mostly gorillas) go out hunting humans. They kill a bunch but keep a few for medical experimentation. After the hunt they pose for pictures with some of their kills. This doesn't count as Hunting the Most Dangerous Game because (a) the prey humans aren't intelligent and (b) the hunters aren't human.
  • Hope Spot: Not only does Ulysse's son by Nova have his father's intellect and capacity for speech, but in mothering him and being with Ulysse Nova begins to become intelligent herself, being nearly "truly" human by the time they reach Earth. . . just in time for her to experience the full horror of the Twist Ending.
  • Human Aliens: The people of Soror look exactly like humans and can even breed with them (Ulysse has a child with Nova). Though they're on the mental level of the apes of Earth, they used to have human-like intelligence too, but they degenerated over time.
  • Humans Are Morons: Well, obviously with the animal humans of Soror, who have no intelligence or intellect about them whatsoever. But humanity at large, on whatever planet they may develop, are apparently capable of building massive civilizations, then just lazily turning everything they build over to Apes evolving to succeed them, then regressing to unintelligent animals. By the end of the book, this cycle has played out on Soror and Earth, and it's implied several other worlds in the cosmos.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Subverted. Soror's humans, before being overwhelmed by the apes, aren't so much depicted as bastards (although they do nasty experiments on them, but so do the apes afterwards) than as a decadent species no longer fit to survive by natural selection, with a "mental idleness" and a total incapacity to organize and resist against the rise of the apes. Ulysses lampshades that a race that submitted and resigned itself so pitifully easily might as well be replaced by a "more noble race".
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Nova never wears clothes, nor do any of Soror's humans.
  • Interspecies Romance: Zig-Zagged. Soror and Earth humans are similar enough to produce offspring, and Ulysse quickly takes a liking to Nova (and, in her way, she to him), but their relationship is hampered by her utter lack of intellect. Ulysse and Zira form a close friendship, and in her Ulysse finds the emotional and intellectual connection absent from Nova. Their romance goes nowhere for two reasons: Zira is engaged to Cornelius, and she considers him far too ugly to do anything with.
  • Killer Space Monkey: The alien apes who make up the dominant species on Soror hunt humans for sport and use them as lab animals. The "killer" part is downplayed, though: most of them aren't unnecessarily cruel and some even risk their careers to help the protagonist. The chimps in particular are said to abhor the idea of murder (but have no problem with performing horrific experiments on living test subjects).
  • Meaningful Name: Justified. The humans called her Nova because they thought she was as beautiful as a shining star.
  • Message in a Bottle: The Framing Device is two scientists finding the story in a bottle floating in space.
  • Nubile Savage: Nova, a savage woman living in the wild, is described as beautiful.
  • Solar Sail: The ship which finds the bottle containing Ulysse's manuscript is a solar sailer, designed and built by its pilots as a leisure yacht.
  • Time Dilation: The trip to Betelgeuse takes two years for Ulysse and co but centuries to the rest of the universe.
  • Translation Convention: Ulysse learns the local language after a while and from then on every is said in English/French for the convenience of the reader.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: It turns out that's how the intelligent apes originated. Before them, there were intelligent humans who used the apes as servants and lab animals. It's implied that the apes started out merely imitating their masters, treating them like they themselves were treated and learning to operate their tech. Eventually, they developed actual sapience.
  • Twist Ending: A completely different one from the movies. Ulysse escapes from Soror and returns to the Earth, but during the time which passed, Earth was taken over by apes as well. As a further twist, the scientists who are reading the human's diary turn out to be apes (to be precise, chimpanzees). After finishing their read, they scoff at the notion that a human would ever be that intelligent, since they know there are no humans like that living on Earth.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-Universe and subverted. Ulysse notes early on that the creepiest thing about the apes is how they don't fall into this while wearing human clothes and doing human things, like sipping drinks from straws or lighting pipes. A Terran ape in a hat is a sight to provoke laughter or sadness depending on your opinion, a Soror ape wearing a hat is as natural an Earth human wearing a hat. Later, he finds himself more disturbed when he simply stops seeing them as apes at all.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Our trio of space explorers find, on a planet of Betelgeuse some 300 light years from Earth, what is undeniably a human footprint, and not one of theirs. Somehow, on this world, against all probability, there are human beings exactly like them. Professor Antelle's reaction to this discovery? Mild annoyance that he flew 300 light years away from Earth to get away from humans, only to find more of them.
  • Wham Line: Ulysse's last line. "It is a gorilla".