Caution: Vague Spoilers Ahead
I don't really think that I can do this book justice in my review. I thought that it was brilliant. I know that I have seen the movie long ago, and remember the big reveal at the end and Charlton yelling about damning everyone all to hell, but I don't remember much more than that. I'll have to watch the movie again.
I really loved the subtle cautionary tale running throughout the story. Maybe it's just my feminist liberal bleeding heart whispering to me, but I feel that Boulle just plain hated live-animal experiments and was determined to show people that the tables could be turned one day. Easily. But more than that, the book cautions us not to be complacent and lazy about our place in life and in the food chain and to keep striving and learning and bettering ourselves, but NOT at the cost of other life-forms. We're on top now, but only time will tell if we stay there.
And do we actually deserve to be? We, the "Lords of Creation," seem to think that we can do anything and everything we want to do. We're so filled with pride that we never think that OUR civilization could fall. Those kind of things are for history books, not real life. Yet we consume resources like they're going out of style, and pollute the earth like we have a spare, and just generally act like there's a "Reset" button somewhere that we can just press when we've reached the point of no return. Why shouldn't another species give running things a try? If they can do it better...
But that's the thing. They imitate us, so WOULD they do it better? At one point in the story, when Merou was being shown the experiments, I thought to myself, "They are proud of the fact that they are keeping the "animals" down... Taking any vestiges of humanity or rational thought away as soon as it is displayed in order to protect themselves. They are so fearful of the possibility of human uprising that they commit atrocities to prevent them." And then I thought to myself, "Oh, snap! So do we." We can justify anything. And so can Apes, who apparently learned from the best. In examining the Apes, we're looking at ourselves. Can we really pass judgment?
But, I was happy to see that the three "races" of Apes could cohabitate and cooperate in peace, which is more than we've accomplished so far. Our differences divide us, but the Apes recognize and relish their differences and use them well. But Apes still seem to rival Man in the fear department: the unknown is scary, so just destroy it and move on.
I do have to say that I was kind of annoyed with Merou's assumption that life forms in a far, far away galaxy would automatically be human to be intelligent. It just goes to show that our pride will be our downfall. But it reminded me of a quote from another science-fiction book that I enjoyed, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (which you should remember if you keep up with my reviews):
"...We take off into the cosmos, ready for anything: for solitude, for hardship, for exhaustion, death. Modesty forbids us to say so, but there are times when we think pretty well of ourselves. And yet, if we examine it more closely, our enthusiasm turns out to be all sham. We don't want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. For us, such and such a planet is as arid as the Sahara, another as frozen as the North Pole, yet another as lush as the Amazon basin. We are humanitarian and chivalrous; we don't want to enslave other races, we simply want to bequeath them our values and take over their heritage in exchange. We think of ourselves as the Knights of the Holy Contact. This is another lie. We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds. [...] We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us--that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence--then we don't like it anymore."Oh, it's so apt. We inherently assume that anyone of any worth or intelligence will be just like us. Even the "Little Green Men" type aliens that pop up in the Weekly World News magazines are still modeled after humans, and hell, they are nicknamed "men"! I just hope that one day we'll be able to see the bigger picture.
I do want to mention two things that I wish were clarified a little more in the book. I'd been told that the twist in the book was different than the twist in the movie. I had had a theory that somehow during the journey from Earth, something got mixed up and the planet they landed on WAS Earth, only far in the future. Since it seems that was not correct, I'm confused as to how two planets so distant actually would be so very similar. The two main races (Apes and humans) are the same genetically (or so it seems as Merou was able to successfully mate with an "alien" human), and there are several other animals that are similar. Not to mention the society and transportation etc. It just seems so unlikely that Soror would be so similar to Earth without knowing of its existence.
And speaking of which, that brings me to the second thing. Merou named the planet Soror prior to meeting any sentient beings. Didn't they have their own name for the planet? I cannot believe that throughout ANY of the discussions they had regarding the origins of their species, or space travel, or anything, that they did not once say, "Oh, and by the way, we call our planet Apex." (Haha, get it?) But really, that point bothered me in the story.
Anyway, Aside from those two points, I thought that this was a really great book. I hope that everyone gets a chance to read it one day.