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Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes is a novel by Pierre Boulle, originally published in 1963 in French as La Planète des Singes. As singe means both "ape" and "monkey," Xan Fielding called his translation Monkey Planet. more...

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It is an example of social commentary through dystopia.

Plot summary

The main events of the book are placed in a surrounding story, in which Jinn and Phillys, a couple out on a pleasure cruise in a spaceship, find a message in a bottle floating in space. The message inside the bottle is the log of a man, Ulysse Mérou, who believes that he may be the last human left alive in all the universe, but has written down his story in hopes that someone else, somewhere, will find it.

The message's writer, our protagonist, begins by explaining that he was friends with Professor Antelle, a genius scientist on Earth, who invented a sophisticated spaceship which could travel at nearly the speed of light. The protagonist, the professor, and a physician named Levain fly off in this ship to explore outer space. They travel to the nearest star system which the professor theorized might be capable of life, the red sun Betelgeuse, which would take them about 350 years to reach. Due to time dilation, however, the trip only seems two years long to the professor and him.

They arrive at the distant solar system and find that it contains an Earth-like planet, which they christen Soror, "because of its resemblance to our Earth." They land on the planet and discover that they can breathe the air, drink the water, and eat the local vegetation. They soon encounter other human beings on the planet, although these others act as primitive as chimpanzees and destroy the clothing of the professor and the protagonist. The protagonist and the professor live with the primitive humans for a few days, hoping to civilize them and learn their language.

At the end of this time, they are startled to see a hunting party in the forest, consisting of gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees using guns and machines. The apes wear human clothing identical to that of 20th century Earth, with the exception that they wear gloves instead of shoes on their prehensile feet. The hunting party shoots several of the humans for sport, including Levain, and capture others, including the protagonist.

Ulysse is taken off to the apes' city, which looks exactly the same as a human city from 20th century Earth, with the exception that some smaller furniture exists for the use of the chimpanzees. While most of the humans captured by the hunting party are sold for manual labor, the protagonist winds up in a research facility doing experiments on human intelligence. The apes perform experiments on the humans similar to Pavlov's conditioning experiments on dogs, and the protagonist proves his intelligence by failing to be conditioned.

He is taken in by one of the researchers, Zira, a female chimpanzee, who begins to teach him the apes' language. He learns from her all about the ape planet. Eventually, he is freed from his cage, meets Zira's fiancé, Cornélius, a respected young scientist. With Cornélius' help, he goes to make a speech in front of the ape President and several representatives, and is given specially tailored clothing. He tours the city and learns about the apes' civilization and history. The apes have a very ancient society, but their origins are lost in time. Their technology and culture have progressed slowly through the centuries. The society is divided up between the violent gorillas, mystical orangutans, and practical chimpanzees.

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