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A decent reading of a groundbreaking but somewhat underwhelming science fiction classic
on 26 June 2012
NB: As is their whim, Amazon have unhelpfully lumped together reviews for various different formats. This review is for the AudioGo unabridged audiobook.
It's been a common complaint throughout most of the past century that `the movie isn't as good as the book,' but Pierre Boulle's Monkey Planet - to give it its original title - is something of an exception in that it's an example of a book that was greatly improved by the film. It's a brilliant idea, casting a human astronaut into the future and stranding him on a planet where apes are the dominant species rather than men, but the impression the at times quite radically different 1968 version left was so strong that the novel seems underwhelming by comparison. It's certainly a very different kind of beast, framed by a pair of solar sailors discovering a message in a bottle floating in space from a French journalist relating how he found himself on the alien planet Soror where humans are animalistic savages and apes live in a modern technologically advanced world much like our own with only minor simian-compatible adjustments. Adopted and regarded as something of a celebrity for his ability to mimic apelike behaviour and intelligence, he eventually becomes a threat to the society that was originally bemused by him, threatening their almost divine belief in their own innate superiority...
Although many of the key plot developments of the film are present, Boulle's treatment of them is very different, the novel at times more akin to a science fiction version of the Brobdingnagian section of Gulliver's Travels. The writing is at times rather on the nose, with the twist in the framing device rather obvious long before it is revealed, and while there is neat twist to the traveller's journey that doesn't involve any statues, you do come away feeling that the author never quite makes as much of the story's possibilities as he could. It's an interesting comparison to the film for its very different approach to the idea, but it's more a great idea than a great novel. Greg Wise's reading of the unabridged audiobook version is similarly professional yet somewhat uninspired - it gets the job done, but doesn't particularly stand out doing it.