Xan Fielding’s translation of La Planète des singes was known in some quarters by another title, Monkey Planet (1964), a phrase lacking the dignity Pierre Boulle had conferred on his simian civilization. The dignity of a simian society that, whatever its many ineradicable imperfections, has eliminated war and the serious consequences of racial and class conflicts is somehow associated less with the prank-suggestive adjective “monkey” than with the more substantial noun “apes.” It is dignity, or the quality of worth, with which the story is largely concerned.
The story’s frame is the discovery of a manuscript inside a bottle that is floating in space. Its retrievers are Jinn and Phyllis, a wealthy couple enjoying a holiday as they cruise in their private spaceship. Jinn, who knows the Earth language in which the manuscript is written, reads it to Phyllis, after which both react to it incredulously.
The manuscript contains the account by a French journalist, Ulysse Mérou, of his two-year stay on an Earth-like planet on which the Earth’s situation of civilized humans and wild apes has been reversed. Humans lack intelligence and speech, live naked in the wild, and are preyed on by apes, who use them as objects of study in physiological research. Ulysse and his companions, scientist Professor Antelle and physician Arthur Levain, are captured by gorillas after landing on the planet, which they christen Soror because...
(The entire section is 447 words.)