The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Ape and Essence begins in 1948, in an office at a Hollywood film studio. Screenwriter/director Bob Briggs is recounting his marital and financial woes to an unnamed narrator. Unconcerned with Bob’s troubles, the narrator contemplates the recent assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi and the relationship art and science have to politics and commerce. The narrator’s philosophy holds that the ideals of order and perfection are the aesthetics of tyranny and that nationalism and politics are corrupting forces. Gandhi died, the narrator decides, because he became involved in the “machine” of politics, a machine that destroys what it no longer can use.

When they leave the office, the narrator is nearly run over by a truck carrying rejected scripts to the incinerator. When the truck turns a corner, some of the scripts fall off. One of them is Ape and Essence by William Tallis. Curious about the author of this unusual script, the narrator and Briggs go to Tallis’ address, a ranch in the Mojave Desert. They discover that Tallis is dead.

The rest of the book is Tallis’ script, a surreal vision of Los Angeles after World War III, which involves the use of nuclear weapons. New Zealand, one of the few areas not ravaged by radiation, has sent several scientists to “rediscover” North America. The chief botanist, Dr. Alfred Poole, discovers a group of gravediggers in a Hollywood cemetery. All the diggers wear patches reading...

(The entire section is 446 words.)