Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

The Road – Cormac McCarthy (2006)

November 17, 2017

Pulitzer prizes handed out to genre works are rarer than hen’s teeth, the excellent alternate world The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Art Spiegelman’s anthropomorphic  holocaust graphic novel Maus being exceptions. While I’d read some rave reviews in horror magazines (primarily in Rue Morgue) I was surprised to learn that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a Pulitzer recipient, but that was enough to seal the deal and add it to my read pile.

While not strictly a genre novel, the account of a man and his young son wandering a dystopian ravaged Earth can be considered a science fiction novel despite no mention of what exactly occurred to render our planet one vast desolate wasteland. On the other hand some of the gut wrenching abominable acts found within could easily categorize this as horror. But it is speculative fiction regardless.

While I have never read anything else by McCarthy, I was immediately taken by the writing style which bent a number of grammar rules. But after reading a bit further I understood that the occasional dropped apostrophe was symbolic of the similar yet irreparably changed world. Cormac also extends bleakness of the situation by some of literary choices. The novel is nameless, timeless, even chapterless, continuity breaks only denoted by asterisks. There is sparse use of spoken words and the third person perspective also diminishes the reader’s insight into the character’s frame of mind and thoughts.

There is no grand, overarching plot. The sole goal for the two characters are to reach the coast hoping that there is something better. You would think that this novel would rely on encounters with other characters but there are hardly any and even those few are always brief and often distant. Despite all that the drama is constant and the protagonists are always just one step away from death or some life threatening predicament.The desolation within their souls as evident as the desolation of the road.

I did find that the author took a few liberties with some near incredulous luck being bestowed on the journey, but as addressed within the novel ‘luck’ is relative and survival under such circumstances may not even be considered lucky at all. But overall the novel is fantastically riveting and poignant and while addressing such a bitter story.

I’ll be honest in stating that I didn’t even know a movie was already made in 2009 which evidently slipped my radar. From what I gather from my limited reading of reviews it appears to be a fairly accurate adaptation and I do hope to watch it before too long.

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War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations – Gregory Keyes (2017)

October 21, 2017

Gregory Keyes is no stranger to writing Planet of the Apes movie prequel novels having penned the prequel Dawn on the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm which I really enjoyed. These prequel novels, when done correctly, provide a little more substance and background to the main event they are foreshadowing, and give us that little extra for those who want more than what a limited time film can deliver. Much like Alan Dean Foster was in his day, Keyes writes both original novels and franchise supplements, in this case also dipping his pen into Star Wars, Independence Day and Babylon 5 universes aside from my beloved simian series. I point this out to delineate the fact that he is not a new writer trying to find his groove and I do have expectations despite the fact that many would consider such an novelizations self indulgent fluff. But with War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations bridging the Dawn on the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes movies, I must admit that the end product did little to satiate my hunger for more.

To briefly recap where we are in this storyline, the emergence of sentient simians due to a human intelligence serum has killed of most of mankind and plunged the planet in a post apocalyptic largely barren world. Caesar, leader of the apes hopes to leave the few remaining humans to their own devices, but the renegade bonobo Koba started a war with the residents of San Francisco. Caesar defeated Koba, but not before word of the battle got out to other distant human colonies.

The novel draws on the events immediately following Dawn and is a direct lead up to the movie War. (Note: I also have the novelization of War and will be reviewing it at some point). Having seen the last movie and noting that the human contingent befriended by Caesar, Dreyfuss and his family, are nowhere to be seen, I figured that this novel may be explain how that family and the apes parted ways. Sadly, while Dreyfus is included here, the matter of how he separated was dealt with in just a few lines and basically matter of “We’re going in this direction. See ya.”

What this movie does address in greater detail is the role of Colonel McCullough who leads the forces of the military that approached San Francisco at the tail end of Dawn. In this plot line McCullough, a hardened war vet from a family with a long line of military allegiance knows little of his adversary leader Caesar. He slowly comes to realize that is dealing with a highly intelligent and tactical savvy opponent when his battleship locates the apes on the Golden Gate bridge and environs. Limited in artillery, McCullough awaits reinforcements from another ship while Caesar and his troupe attempt to escape.

However the majority of the novel deals with an insurgent group of apes once dedicated to the deceased Koba and the anti-human sentiment he sowed. The rebellion could not come at a worse time for Caesar, already short on fighters, with the women and children separated as they seek a secure hideout, and with his son Blue Eyes sent on another reconnaissance mission.

A common theme of father and son strained relationship prevails, not only between Caesar and Blue Eyes, but also that of McCullough and his son and subordinate. It is also a coming of age tale as Blue Eyes and two other apes have a long journey in which he encounters both sympathetic and combatant humans, even having to deal with some rebellious apes on his own. Largely focused on Blue Eye’s adventures, the novel occasionally shifts to Cornelia, Caesar’s wife, and the party of women and children who are temporarily on their own. While it was satisfying to seeing an expanded role for her, having largely been a minor character so far, having her deal with rogue apes as well became a somewhat tiresome thread.

There are a few nods to the original series from the 70’s with the inclusion to the Alpha and Omega from the Book of Revelations, and characters named Armand (Armando from Escape and Conquest), Evans (a tribute to Maurice Evans the original Dr. Zaius).

While there is abundant character development I found the book largely unsatisfying, shocking as I’ve enjoyed a lot of PotA drivel over the years. The one evident thing that this novel was missing was Caesar himself who is used only sparingly and then often wondering about the others. Even the duel of wits against McCullough is largely predictable and tame.

The novel lacks grandeur in the plot and is just one stretched threadbare setup to War without really giving us much that is new or revealing. Unlike Firestorm those few new characters introduced here are imminently forgettable as is the entire book. Usually at this point I would just recommend this for PotA diehards, but in this case even those fans may want to skip this one and just watch (or read) War.

The Zap Gun – Philip K. Dick (1964)

February 25, 2017

the-zap-gunAs a long time fan of Philip K. Dick I’ve always enjoyed the lunacy of his novels, even some of those that are not as endearing as his classics like The Man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (A.K.A. Blade Runner). Some of the fondest on mys hselves have been his quirkier novels like Dr. Bloodmoney and Clans of the Alphane Moon. Based on past experience I thought that a novel about a world which features ersatz psychic weapon designers that jeopardize the Earth when faced with an alien invasion would be a sure bet. But The Zap Gun, while encapsulating the usual Dick staples of conspiracy theories and paranoia, was a bit of slog and took it’s sweet time to get to the expected insanity.

Reflective of the then contemporary Cold War divided world, Dick posits a similar East and West disunity, but with more convoluted hierarchies. Under the surface both sides have suppressed the arms race by having the populace (or ‘parsups’) believe that they have supreme weapons designers that have been continually receiving new designs in trancelike dreams for some unknown higher being. But instead of building the weapons ‘imagined’, the designs are studied (understood?) and then ‘plowshared’ into inert common use devices.

Lars is the preeminent Wes-bloc ‘Weapon Designer” who has been in a funk largely due to a case of conscious regarding his fraudulent role. The one thing that does interest him is finding out more about his Peep-East counterpart, one Lilo Topchev. But elusive miss Topchev remains nothing more than a blurred picture provided by Western intelligence.

All that changes when a satellite shows up in the sky one day, the first salvo in an invasion by  Sirius. The two planetary alliance’s only hope is to combine Lars and Lilo’s talents together in the hope that their trances can produce an actual viable weapon.

Mostly political intrigue, navigating the machinations and echelons of bureaucracy, this is largely Lars’ story. His interest in Lilo, his relationship with a mistress, and his few friends who are the manufacturers of his ‘weapons’. The invasion itself is just a plot device and the ‘war’ is simply described in a sentence here and there as cities disappearing under a veil.

Perhaps a case of going to the trough once too often, the story did not really pique my interest until things got really crazy mid way like finding out that Lars’ and Lilo’s trance productions were coming from the mind of a South Ghanaian comic strip writer of “The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan“. If that wasn’t wacky enough, the ultimate solution to the Alien invasion is nothing short of genius, and involves a toy.

So if you’re a fan of P.K.D, stick with this one and you’ll be rewarded. For those not acquainted with the man, it is (eventually) another example of the warped mind of the late, great author. That cover insane painting is more apropos than you would be led to believe.

Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer (2013)

January 13, 2017

red-planet-bluesAuthor Robert J. Sawyer is obviously a film noir buff based on the many references, both overt and surreptitious in his novel Red Planet Blues. The noted science fiction author is no stranger to mystery fiction as several of his novels focus on courtroom drama as plot elements but here he takes it up a notch as his protagonist is an old school gumshoe who has to solve several enigmas on Mars starting off with a good old fashioned murder.

The cover of the novel states that it contains Sawyer’s highly lauded novella “Identity Theft” which I had not read prior. But reading the plot arc of the first few chapters it was clear that that first section was the novella, which I found to be both a source of great pleasure and at the same time a mild annoyance as I’ll explain.

In the not too distant future after a pair of explorers discovered fossils of ancient life on the planet, Mars now sports a dome city of New Klondike that operates much like the Dawson City which once rose from the ashes of the Gold Rush. Like gold, the commodity of highly valued fossils is now a scarce resource of riches – meaning that New Klondike and it’s denizen have seen better times. With transformance technology available to those rich enough to afford it people can discard their frail and eventual terminal bodies and migrate their consciousness into android bodies. These so called Transfers are not only durable and stronger and may have optional specialized upgrades, but they can also be manufactured to look like anyone. Some opt to look like their former selves – perhaps with a few esthetic ‘touches’ – or they can be any celebrity, or just a complete redesigned human.

When a woman enters Alex Lomax’s dingy detective agency seeking help to find her missing husband we may as well be seeing Ingrid Bergman meeting Humphrey Bogart but without the cigarettes. The simple case turns out to be much more complex as Lomax learns that a physical Transfer can really have any former person within the new shell.

But once past the “Identity Theft” plot arc the novel takes up where the novella left off and delivers a much more complex story regarding the rediscovery of the long lost ‘mother lode’ of fossils which created the initial frenzy. From there we get many twist and turns to secure that knowledge, a bevy of new characters – both human and transfer, good and evil – all vying for different personal goals. This extension of the original storyline, while not altogether inadequate is not as intriguing. Like any good mystery it does have a number curves in the plot and and does tackle some new ground, but at the same time it does stretch elements to the point of incredulity.

The “Identity Theft” portion is a great tale, full of suspense and serves a great plot twist at the end. As a standalone whodunit story it is easy to see how it garnered both Hugo and Nebula nominations and is worth the price alone of the book. As for the rest, it’s interesting but certainly not Sawyer’s best. The character of Lomax was really what kept me going on as he certainly was a likeable yet imperfect character that perfectly fits the film noir mold and one I hope Sawyer gets back to him at some point.

Last but not least, the novel has many notable ‘nods’ that I always find enjoyable. The brief ‘tip of the hat’ include one to Ray Bradbury, and even the oft forgotten Raymond Z. Gallun. More interesting is naming one of the spaceships Katherine Dennings which makes me wonder if Sawyer is a fan of the actress (not that that is a problem as I’m a fan myself). And finally, Planet of the Apes fan, Sawyer being an avid one, will be sure to get a particular short descriptive sector that certainly had me smiling.

Here’s looking at you Rob, as I tip my fedora until the next adventure.

The Comet Kings – Edmond Hamilton (1942)

December 16, 2016

The Comet KingsI thought it was high time I read a cheesy, old school, space opera novel so I just pulled the first musty smelling pulp off my shelves which was Edmond Hamilton’s The Comet Kings and give it a whirl.

Set in a future where man has conquered space and spaceships seem to be a dime a dozen zipping throughout the solar system, the story begins with authorities receiving reports of ships mysteriously disappearing in a area between the planets Jupiter and Uranus. The government officials are perplexed and at their wit’s end as scouts sent to investigate also disappear without a trace.

When Captain Future (real name Curt Newton), hears that the last such ship that disappeared had as passengers Joan, the woman he loves and Ezra, an old friend, he dutifully volunteers his  rag tag team of the Futuremen to head out and solve the mystery. Lead by Captain Future, The Futuremen consists of Otho the synthetic android, Grag the robot with superhuman strength, and Simon who is just a highly intelligent human brain encased in a floating protective enclosure.

As it so happens, the area in question is also where Halley’s Comet is sauntering during one of it’s cyclical visits. With space barren of any other ships the Futuremen approach the comet only to be sucked into it’s coma (or nucleus if you will). Incredulously the Futuremen discover an entire civilization within. They soon learn that the residents, some of which include the missing personnel from all the lost ships, are now aglow with electric energy. But the Futuremen also determine that the other inhabitants, called the Cometae, were responsible for modify the abductees with the energy force which also makes them immortal, also hold now hold them as de facto prisoners, Joan being one of them, as they are bound to the energy source within the comet. But those who refuse to join the Cometae are thrown into prison where the Futuremen soon find themselves. They then learn that the Cometai are themselves ruled by the Allus, a mysterious unseen alien force who are really the ones responsible for the energy forces.

The Allus who come from the 4th dimension have nefarious plans to suck out all the energy from one conquered planetary system to another and will soon be draining our own. I comes down to the Futuremen to save everyone, but complex questions remain. Why, for instance did Joan agree to undergo the transition? Will Captain Future be able to reverse the process even if he rescues her? Will she even want to revert to being mortal again or has she has she embraced her newfound immortality?

It’s all good swashbuckling space opera fare, none too deep in character development but with enough of a zany plot and action to keep one amused. The Allus use mind control to keep a tight leash on their captives, but they also use it in more interesting ways such as leaving doors wide open and then embedding mental blocks so that captives cannot escape despite no barrier. The effect of the electrical lifeforce that the Allus accord to the Cometae also means that the Futuremen effectively cannot touch them and since they wield weapons that emit electrical discharges, getting ahold of those weapons would still be useless to use on the Cometae. These are all obstacles that the Futuremen have to circumvent in their efforts to combat the Allus.

There are also a number of secondary cardboard characters that have a few scant lines of dialog and hardly figure into the story. These include Cometae king, queen and evil wizard who forms the alliance with the Allus, a few helpful guards that form the seed of a Cometae revolution, and a helpful martian scientist. Even Joan has but a few lines and honestly hardly serves a purpose other than to be Curt’s driving force. Paint by the Numbers space opera.

I’ve since found out that The Futuremen was a fairly renowned series of books to which Hamilton was the most prolific contributor and the person largely associate with the series although he was not the originator. Also of note to those who may be interested, I learned that there was a Japanese anime made based on the characters and it was also translated into French as “Capitaine Flam”.

My only regret is that I was deceived by the fabulous cover art (artist anyone?) in that there was no creature as the one depicted to be found anywhere in the story.

Hellmaw: Eye of Glass – Marie Bilodeau (2016)

November 2, 2016

hellmaw-eye-of-glassFor myself, there is nothing like a severed head to make me giggle in delight. But my ill mannered rejoicing usually comes in the form of slasher movie gore scenes and not in written prose. Marie Bilodeau ups the ante by not only having a severed head in her new novel Eye of Glass, but has the audacity to make the severed head one of the main characters. And just to be clear I’m not talking about some bound medical experiment like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (one of my faves, natch) but a mobile, talking, scheming noggin that gets around more than a cheap corner hustling floozy.

At the center of the story we find Cassie, a young woman trying to eke out a living as a waitress. Her life implodes the day she finds a lifeless head in an alley with nothing more than a spine attached. Only the head is Jaeda, and prankster that she is, likes to lay dormant only so that she can bound to life and scare the living crap out of unsuspecting humans. When the cops swoop in what is evidently a murder scene, the salty detective Tren calls in the resident gangly morgue technician Charles Kite to gathers up “the head” much to the chagrin of Charles who witnesses her escape and becomes equally entangled in the mystery.

A tale of a juvenile delinquent daemon alien slowly regenerating a body, but who is also almost as clueless of her origin as her two new found friends, Jaeda is the precious subject of her one time giant green caregiver as well as another fire spouting villainess. But what are the plans of these alien Araurrans and why do they all want Jaeda? Who are the members of a clandestine underground online forum that Charles has infiltrated and are just as focused on Jaeda while seeming to help Charles? With Tren one step behind Cassie and Charles, the two each have their own motives to rescue Jaeda from the evil daemons hot on her heels. Well not heels since she doesn’t have those either, but you get the picture.

This action packed adventure provides non-stop intrigue and comedy relief largely at the hands (well spine) of Jaeda. Her vertebrae operate like a Swiss army knife of tools that can be used to take down adversaries, climb walls, slither through the streets and vents, or even drive a car. All seemingly with ease (maybe not the car driving thing) as long as there is no shag carpeting which seems to be the only thing that can cramp her style.

Eye of Glass is part of the Hellmaw series of books brought to us by Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood. Greenwood has assembled a troupe of writers to form The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG) and the Hellmaw series based on the daemons on a planet called Aurant will be but one of the series coming under the TEGG banner. The best part is that Bilodeau’s  Eye of Glass is only the first in the series called The Bodyless Series. I foresee more heads will be on my bookshelves in due time.

Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe – Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum [Ed.], (2016)

September 28, 2016

Tesseracts 19It was only three years ago that we were treated to an anthology of short stories that had as a central theme Canadian superheroes. Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (Tyche books)

was a long overdue collection that was right up my alley and I anxiously awaited its release. I was lucky enough to have attended the Ottawa book  launch where I met a number of the authors and was entertained to readings of select passages and stories. Alas, when I finally got around to completing it I was too busy to give it a review it rightly deserved and once some time had gone by the opportunity to do a proper write up had passed.

Imagine my surprise in learning that Tesseracts 19, the annual collection of Canadian speculative fiction was going to be superhero themed. More Canadian superheroes and a chance for redemption. Edited by Claude Lalumière (who also co-edited Masked Mosaic) and Mark Shainblum, this collection runs the gamut of perspectives from caped defenders to vigilante guardians, and a few that fall in between the spectrum of the moral curtain.

My hands down favorites was  Pssst! Have you heard… The Rumur by D.K.Latta, a story in which each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, each relating the events leading up to a mob hit and the following strange events that lead to the mobster’s demise. The story itself must be pieced together by the reader, beginning by reading Tony “Spats” DeMulder’s account of being publicly embarrassed by actor Ken Anton and then piecing together the accounts leading up to and beyond the mysterious death of the actor. We get slices from Spat’s moll, a detective, a grocer who regularly gets shaken down, a reporter, Spat’s lawyer and finally his doctor. The story that unfolds as narrated by each of the tongue-in-cheek stereotypes describes Spat’s fallout with his number one moneyman and hitman, the mysterious “Book” and how that fallout is precipitated by a pulpish, shadow-like figure messing with various aspects of Spat’s operations.

Canadian fans of indie comics will be pleased to hear that Bernie Mireault has resurrected his underground comic hero The Jam in prose form with The Jam: A Secret Bowman. As the title suggests, our hero stumbles across a mysterious bowman and ends up being a suspect himself under the knuckles of an attention seeking police officer. I wish the story went a little deeper with the Jam’s prey, but it was a pleasure having him back in any case.

Another bizarre – although somewhat questionable guideline entry – Crusher and Typhoon by Brent Nichols, doles out an honest to goodness old west, Kung Fu story. Reminiscent of the old Wild Wild West TV show, it’s a symbiotic friendship between a one time martial arts master and an impaired steampunk inventor. Hardly super hero fare and with only a reference to the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the relationship to the anthology’s theme is tenuous at best but the story was endearing enough that it did not matter.

The Rise and Fall of Captain Stupendous , by P.E. Bolivar is the unveiling of a superhero as a lesson that you can’t believe everything you read. A tangled story of deceit, love and betrayal, which gives rise to a super villainesses and we get a front seat in the transition. We’re reminded that the world is not all black or white and there is always another side to a coin.

Another villain oriented story was Jason Sharp‘s Black Sheep where the protagonist manifests Magneto like powers but instead of being able to control metal, water is the substance of manipulation. Not an action story at all but an introspective personal quest that the villain pursues after a prison break.

Friday nights at the Hemingway is a short story by Arun Jiwa that blends superhero history in a local watering hole the likes of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon that answers the question “Where have all the heroes gone?”

In a world populated by super hero mutants that need medical attention and mending, where do they go for healing and convalescence? Find out from the point of view of a first day medical recruit at secret mutant superhero hospital in Corey Redekop’s SuPER.

Exhibiting both amusing stories with serious fare the overall collection is highly satisfying with only a few clunkers that are easily dismissed by the other entertaining ones. And in all, a highly recommended collection made all the more interesting to Canadian readers who will recognize a few people, places and events.

If you want a taste of what’s in the book the publishers have created a sampler you can read online which basically contains the first 2 pages of each story. Give it a try here:

http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/downloads/SuperheroUniverse-Tesseracts19-Sampler.pdf

Mindscan – Robert J. Sawyer (2005)

July 13, 2015

Mindscan-SawyerChances are that if you’ve read a few other novels from Robert J.Sawyer you may have discovered that he likes to add court room conflict to his stories (Illegal Alien, Hominids). He also likes to play around with the definition of human, or more accurately, what constitutes human souls and sentience (The Terminal Experiment, Rollback). In his 2005 novel Mindscan, he tackles both and, as always, with a special twist.

In a near future where mankind has just developed the capability to place a person’s consciousness into a robotic body, some of the affluent but elder begin taking up Immortex corporation’s new Mindscan process. Basically a snapshot copy of your brain is deposited into a robot body mimicking your own (or a slightly improved version). They idea is that your consciousness in the robot becomes an immortal instantiation of yourself. People signing up remain in their current bodies, but they go to pasture on the Moon in a specifically isolated Eden-like community to live out their remaining days. Meanwhile, their new robot selves take up the lives on Earth of the former flesh and blood versions.

No problem, right?

Of course there are problems. When wealthy young Jake who has a brain condition that may turn him into a vegetable at any moment takes the Mindscan plunge he doesn’t take into account certain factors that will make him regret his decision. Unfortunately for Jake, he soon realizes there are obstacles to coming back and resuming his own life. Is it really even his to take back? Meanwhile, his robotic self has also hooked up with a woman who has undergone the process. But when her ‘skin’ dies of natural causes on the lunar surface, her son decides that he is entitled to his inheritance, robot copy be damned.

While a precedent setting court case investigates all the science and philosophical implications on Earth to decide the issue of the inheritance, Jake is staging a showdown of his own with the Immortex cronies on the Moon.

Coming off the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy (Hominids, Humans, Hybrids) one and the overlapping plot points, one can easily imagine that this novel was conceived while writing the latter series. The characters are interesting enough, the science is cool, but as always it’s the deeper implications that are driving factors in the story. Sawyer always provides interesting (and cool) stories even if the prospects aren’t exactly ‘near future’.

One problem I had was that those undergoing the procedure gave little thought to the fact that their current entities would indeed remain in their current bodies, thus really negating any benefits for the current ‘self’. The procedure makes a copy that lives on, but the original is left right back where they were before the procedure. Indeed, it’s clear that they are agreeing to being shuffled off (literally) to the far side of the Moon for their remaining years. This seems to come as something of a shock for our protagonist Jake which seems outlandish.

While it has a few logic flaws there is never a boring moment and with his ever present touch of Canadiana, this is another fine novel that Sawyer fans will be delighted with. Oh, and given that Rob is a devoted fellow Planet of the Apes fan, be sure to be on the lookout for a nice nod to the original movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Alex Irvine (2014)

November 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes NovelThis isn’t so much a novel review as it is a comparison of the novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Alex Irvine to the movie. So be forewarned, I assume readers are already at least familiar with the movie.

First let’s be clear on one point.There are two distinct kinds of movie ‘novelizations’.

When a movie is based on a preexisting novel, the movie is really an adaptation of the novel and may have little (or almost nothing in some cases) in common. The movie is basically cashing in on a novel of some repute, whether it adheres to the story or not. Ironically the 1968 Planet of the Apes movie was one of those where the movie adaptation treatment which only kept the basic premise and the main characters was vastly superior to Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes.

The other, more common novelization, as is the case here with the novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is strictly an adaptation based on the movie script (or one of the preliminary scripts as the movie is still in development). In these cases there is little or no difference between the written word and what appears on screen. The studios and publishers are basically trying to cash in on the popularity of the movie, luring a few who haven’t seen the movie and simply want to read the story, but more likely targeted to the ardent fan of the subject matter, as I include myself in that category for all things Planet of the Apes.

But even with direct script novelizations authors sometime take liberties, and while not changing any scenes, they can still provide new, fresh perception and depth to the characters and give readers insight into events and specific actions. This is often provided by describing the thought process of characters or highlighting things that characters have visually singled out that may have been missed onscreen by moviegoers. In this way, a novelization can deliver a richer experience to a movie.

I was hoping that this particular novelization would fall into that latter category and provide an enhanced experience to Dawn. A movie featuring talking apes who are only beginning to grasp the concept of speech it provides an excellent opportunity to explore more. What are the apes who hardly speak  thinking? What is their unique take on events given their non-human perspective? Even the main character Caesar, while the most proficient speaker, he is not very verbose, and mostly still signs rather than speak with the other apes. So if you are looking for more insight on the characters, this novelization fails in that regard.

So what, if anything does the novel have to offer compared to the movie itself? I did find it interesting in how they handled Koba’s last scene.  Koba plunges down the skyscraper into the abyss below but there is no definitive eyewitness account of any human or ape seeing him splatter below and everybody just assumes he died in the plunge. It’s an important distinction because in the moments leading up to his death during the battle with Caesar the building is rocked and many apes lose their footing. The novel mentions apes clearly dying as a result (described as bodies laying across beams), but some, including Caesar, manage to grip onto beams and other fixtures. So it is possible, however unlikely, that Koba also managed to grip onto something on the way down. This is a case where the novel could have easily provided clarification but it did not.

There is one small pertinent addition to the novel and an important one considering what we can expect in the next movie. Some of the early movie teasers and trailers showed scenes of a battleship entering the San Francisco bay, but this footage never made it into the movie for some reason or another. This scene is included at the end of the novel, shaping a potential new heightened war among the apes and humans. Now it is possible that the scene was excised from the movie because the franchise brain trusts changed their mind and no longer wanted this to be the cliffhanger as some other direction has since been decided upon. Perhaps they just did not bother removing it from the novel or, more likely, it was too late to change because printing was already in progress. Whatever the reason for the difference it will be interesting to see if readers did get a real advance peek.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm – Greg Keyes 2014

July 11, 2014

firestormFirst off, let’s get something straight from the start. I’m a devoted Planet of the Apes (PotA) fan. I don’t mean I just like the movies and think they’re cool. It goes way deeper than that. The original series of movies were always a favorite of mine even as a kid, but as the years wore on, instead of just relegating the memories of the ‘Planet of the Apes” mania that occurred during my formative years in the 70’s to the back of my mind, the allure has grown. When discussion groups on the internet started popping up in the late nineties I stumbled upon a few PotA ones and it just took off from there. My interest has lead me to consume books, magazines, comics, fanzines and really anything that I can get my hands on. I now have just about every one of the above printed material and much more. Tapes, DVDs, Soundtrack CDs, Cups, posters, cards, super 8mm reels, and of course toys including puzzles, plastic models and action figures. (The more refined collector’s prefer the term “action figures”, but who’s kidding who? They’re toy dolls.). I’ve got them all. All this to say that when it comes to Planet of the Apes, count me in, baby! So you may want to consider that as you read this review.

Touted as a novel that bridges the events between the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Firestorm picks up immediately after the events of the first film. And in case anyone was curious, there really isn’t much for readers to summarize the story so far and what happened in Rise. So if you haven’t seen Rise, a lot of the book will be confusing (as will this book review). To recap, Caesar has led his troop of escaped apes across the Golden Gate bridge and into the Muir Woods forest just north of San Francisco. The same medicinal gas that Gen Tech was producing as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, and which gave rise to intelligent apes, was also found to be deadly in humans.The last scene from Rise indicated people showing signs of the virus and then we got to see graphics of the viral spread across the globe as the credits roll.

We now learn about the effects of the virus as the very first victims begin flooding into hospitals and how the growing numbers become a concern. Caesar in the meantime, having reached temporary safety of the woods, must now decide his next move and what to do with his group, many of which are injured. For Caesar, it is not so much a battle with humans at this point as it is one of survival for his troops of renegade apes.

Meanwhile, there has been a whitewash by the current San Francisco mayor’s office, where most of the events of the insurrection and battle on the bridge has been downplayed or silenced altogether. Anvil corporation, a sister company to Gen Sys which developed the smart serum and released the retrovirus now afflicting the population has hired professionals in their hunt of Caesar and the escaped apes. Clancy, a female anthropologist is teamed with Malakai, an African mercenary with practical knowledge of ape psychology. But both are standout reluctant participants with the rest of the Anvil crew. At first, there are mixed messages as to whether Anvil want to capture the apes or just kill them, but they have to rely on Clancy and Malakai to find them first regardless.

As the magnitude and spread of the deadly virus grows, the apes are oblivious to what is happening in the cities and must simply contend with finding sources of appropriate food and keeping one step ahead of the humans. Eventually they clash and it becomes clear that Anvil is trying to kill the apes, who are mistakenly being blamed as the source of the virus.

A large focus of the novel is on the Mayoral race going on in San Francisco where the recently retired police chief, Dreyfuss, is a major contender. Clearly one of the ‘good guys’, helping to quell skirmishes and fomenting riots, he eventually becomes the de-facto mayor as his city and the rest of the world crumbles.

Aside from Caesar, we also share much of the story with Koba, the one-eye, slashed and bedraggled looking fellow lab specimen we briefly encountered in Rise. We basically retrace his entire wistful life via flashbacks, some of which include scenes from Rise. Koba comes to understand his augmented intelligence and learns that he must refrain from violence and revenge for the sake of the other apes. We also get a lot of interaction between Maurice, the sign language savvy Orangutan as he shares his wisdom with Caesar.

Most of the action is all about apes outwitting humans, but we also get to experience of lot of human on human violence as the city and civilization itself goes down the tubes.

While I certainly enjoyed the novel, especially the first half where we get some interesting human characters dealing with their own personal crumbling lives, the latter half was not as engaging, being more action oriented as the apes elude capture, for which the outcome was preordained.

I think ape enthusiasts like myself will certainly enjoy this novel. But you really have to have seen, and enjoyed the first movie in order to relate to it.

How much is relevant to the new movie Dawn? Without having seen it (it opens today!) I can say that it’s a pretty open ended story that won’t impact anything in the movie itself with the exception that the character of Dreyfus will be in the movie (and played by favorite Gary Oldman no less, so that alone is promising!)