Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle
Rating: A quick read
A French Journalist, Ulysse Merou, joins the first interstellar expedition and lands on a planet run by sapient great apes, where humans are non-sapient beasts. After being captured, he succeeds in convincing the scientist Zira that he is intelligent, and eventually learns to communicate. Zira and her fiance Cornelius explain to him that Ape society is very slow and stagnant. It is eventually revealed that Humans once ruled the planet, until apes evolved enough intelligence to overthrow them. Once repressed, humans quickly devolved into the feral animals they are now. Ape culture was thus built on “aping” (mimicing) human society, explaining its stagnancy. Ulysse then escapes with his life back to Earth, only to learn that in the past 1600 years the same process has occured.
Ape society is absolutely a satire. Some arguments that could be made from the story: The Academy is an inherently damaging structure since it is controlled by people who value personal interests and politics over the empirical pursuit of the truth. Humans do not treat animals with enough respect. Humans presume too much by believing that we are the deserving inheritors of intelligence and mastery over our world. It is ironic how many people use technologies that they themselves did not create and for that reason do not fully understand.
Ulysse’s relationship with Nova is very strange, since she seems to be the equivalent of an ape. She is extremely beautiful, yet intellectually an animal. Zira acts as her foil, since she recognizes Ulysse’s uniqueness. However, her friendship with Ulysse can’t quite be called platonic since Ulysse indicates that the only thing stopping their romantic tension is that each considers the other to be unattractive (for obvious reasons). I guess what I’m getting at is, the feminist representation is on par with men’s 1960s sci-fi. It would be neat to read a woman-oriented reinterpretation of this story.