Review: 'Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes', by Andrew E. C. Gaska.
2011’s Planet of the Apes movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is unusual in that it has no novelized tie-in. Instead, the movie release’s tie-in book is Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, an almost-coffee-table hardcover novel featuring an original “offstage” story by Andrew Gaska (from a plot by Gaska, Rich Handley, Christian Berntsen, and Erik Matthews) set during the events of the 1968 movie, imaginatively depicted by “over 50 illustrations from various top talents in the industry, including full-color paintings by Jim Steranko, Joe Jusko, Dave Dorman, Barron Storey, Sanjulian and Mark Texeira, starship design by Andrew Probert, character portraits by Matt Busch and more!” (publisher’s catalogue).
In the 1968 movie, four astronauts are sent in frozen hibernation on a 2,006-year mission to explore an extrasolar planet. One dies en route; the other three, Taylor, Landon, and Dodge, find a planet inhabited by intelligent apes and feral humans. The astronauts are separated, and the story follows Col. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) as he interacts with the gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees; discovers Landon lobotomized and Dodge’s body stuffed and mounted in a museum; and ultimately learns that this is not an alien planet, but Earth in the far future.
Los Angeles, Archaia Entertainment, August 2011, hardcover $24.95 (268 [+ 4] pages).
Rise of the Planet of the Apes franchise
First came the French novel La Planète des Singes, by Pierre Boulle (René Julliard, 1er trimestre 1963), translated by Xan Fielding and published as Planet of the Apes in the U.S. (Vanguard Press, June 1963).
Next there was the 1968 American motion picture, Planet of the Apes, which may have been “inspired” by the novel but did not follow it at all. The French novel, which had previously been published as both Planet of the Apes (U.S. title) and as Monkey Planet (British title), was reprinted as a movie tie-in despite having very little connection with the movie.
Then there was the 1970 movie sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. This had a paperback novelization by Michael Avallone of its script (Bantam Books, July 1970).
It was followed by the 1971 Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Its paperback novelization was by Jerry Pournelle (Award Books, March 1974).
The 1972 Conquest of the Planet of the Apes novelization was by John Jakes (Award Books, July 1974).
The 1973 Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the last movie (for awhile), was novelized by David Gerrold (Award Books, June 1973 – its sales were sufficient for Award Books to commission the novelizations of the two previous movies).
Then there was the 1974 television series, Planet of the Apes, reportedly rushed into production so fast that its episodes were based on recycled Rawhide scripts. Its 14 episodes were turned into four novelizations by George Alec Effinger: Planet of the Apes: Man the Fugitive (Arrow Books, November 1974), Planet of the Apes #2: Escape to Tomorrow (Arrow Books, January 1975), Planet of the Apes #3: Journey into Terror (Arrow Books, March 1975), and Planet of the Apes #4: Lord of the Apes (Arrow Books, September 1975). #4 is the hardest to find because the paperback publisher, Arrow Books, became bankrupt halfway through its distribution, and the undistributed copies were destroyed.
The 1975 animated TV series, Return to the Planet of the Apes, animated by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, had three paperback novelizations by “William Arrow”, a pseudonym for William Rotsler and Donald J. Pfeil. Return to the Planet of the Apes 1: Visions from Nowhere (Ballantine Books, March 1976) and Return to the Planet of the Apes 3: Man, the Hunted Animal (Ballantine Books, July 1976) were by William Rotsler. Return to the Planet of the Apes 2: Escape from Terror Lagoon (Ballantine Books, May 1976) was by Donald J. Pfeil, who was scheduled to write #4; but it was cancelled because of poor ratings of the TV cartoons.
Jump to 2001 and a “re-imaged” Planet of the Apes movie by Tim Burton. This was novelized by William T. Quick (HarperEntertainment, August 2001). It was followed with four original paperbacks; two Young Adult prequel novels by John Whitman, Planet of the Apes: Force (HarperEntertainment, April 2002) and Planet of the Apes: Resistance (HarperEntertainment, April 2002); and two adult sequel novels by William T. Quick, Planet of the Apes: The Fall (HarperEntertainment, June 2002) and Planet of the Apes: Colony (HarperEntertainment, April 2003). After that, the movie’s popularity had become so passé that further spinoffs were cancelled.
Gaska’s novel nominally follows the astronaut John Landon. Mostly, it follows the politics in Ape City, where Landon is imprisoned in Dr. Galen’s laboratory.
A short prologue tells what really happened to the Liberty 1 space mission. Chapter 1 focuses on the gorilla soldiers and police who venture from Ape City to hunt the wild humans raiding their crops at the edge of the Forbidden Zone. This concentrates on the rivalry between the gorilla civilian police led by Security Police Chief Marcus and the army led by General Ursus. Chapters 2 through 5 follow the three marooned astronauts as they stumble through the parched Forbidden Zone to the apes’ farmland. Chapter 5 mixes the apes and the astronauts, as the apes raid the crops to capture and kill the feral humans and incidentally capture Landon. Chapter 6 to the rest of the novel (to Chapter 18) tell the ape politics, with Landon only an incidental character.
Frankly, Landon makes an extremely negative protagonist. In the three chapters that focus on the marooned astronauts, he is sullen and whiny, blaming all their woes on Taylor, their commander. Taylor comes across as a bit of a martinet, but at least he is taking some initiative, while Landon is usually lost in mental flashbacks to just before they left Earth, when he was emotionally conflicted between his wife Laura and their fourth astronaut, Maryann Stewart, the one who didn’t make it. It is hard to blame Taylor for kicking Landon’s butt; he would probably sulk and die in the Forbidden Zone on his own. As a captive of the apes, he makes no serious effort to communicate with them for most of the story, leaving them to assume that he is just a dumb animal. Gradually it becomes clear that Landon is not just weak, he is insane.
No, the real protagonists of Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes are the chimpanzees Dr. Galen the surgeon vivisectionist, and his cousin, Dr. Milo the young physicist who is determined to fly; with their colleagues and companions: Dr. Zira, the chimp animal psychologist; Dr. Zaius, Galen’s orangutan superior; Chief Marcus, the suspicious gorilla Secret Simian policeman; Dr. Cornelius, Milo’s chimp explorer partner; Cormac, one of Ursus’ gorilla scouts; Liet, Galen’s chimp wife; Mungwortt, her gorilla/chimp half-breed lover; and more.
The underground city of the mutant psychic humans from Beneath the Planet of the Apes has several scenes. The ape action is intercut with more of Landon’s fugues, back to his last mission before the Liberty 1, exploring Jupiter for America against the Soviets.
When Landon finally does talk, it is too late to make any real difference:
Milo could barely contain his excitement. If this human was at least partially sane, and telling the truth, then his own theories regarding flight were correct! ‘This spaceship of yours – it was a machine of some sort?’
‘Yes. Your, uh, ‘people’. You have boats, right? Kind of like … kind of like that.’
‘Some,’ Milo said. ‘But nothing large, nothing designed for great distances. Apes prefer not to travel over water.’ He remembered his little jaunt through the surf in the Forbidden Zone and last night’s whitewater adventure, and shuddered. ‘For the most part, we dislike getting our fur wet.’ (p. 145)
Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes is satisfactory from the viewpoint of presenting a lot of anthropomorphic ape action. It is also a beautiful book with many full-page, full-color illustrations on slick paper. It lacks real suspense, though, since it has to end back in the well-known plot of the 1968 movie. But that never had a novelization of its own before. Now it does. If you like the POTA franchise, be sure to get this book!