Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Cassius Mass was known as the Fire Count, the Butcher of Kolthas a true heel in the eyes of his enemies. That was when he was a noble of Crius, part of the Archduchy, a big deal. That was also before the war with the Commonwealth that the arrogance of his class forced the nation into, before they lost it all and the Archduchy was no more. He managed to come out of it in one piece and for years he has been hiding on a freighter, under an assumed name, happy enough to while away his existence as a functioning member of his one time enemy; The Commonwealth.
When his identity becomes revealed to all aboard the ship he decides to leave, to save his own neck from those around him, as well as those who care for him. A small revolutionary group calling themselves the Freedom Army makes this difficult for him. Especially when he realizes that there is a clone among them, posing as him. That is not the only problem; his dead wife is there as well. With a newfound calling in life Cassius is soon enlisted to bring down the Freedom Army, or at least fight against his doppelganger. Things only become more complicated when a version of his sister shows up.
Lucifer’s Star is easy to dispel as your run of the mill space opera. A pompous and flamboyant story in the same vein as G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, but told in space. The kind of science fiction that was abundant during the eighties and was almost always written by Kevin J. Anderson et al. This is not that kind of story. It may appear so at first glance. We are propelled into the tale by virtue of a space battle and then most of it is told at quite an elevated speed. Lucifer’s Star does not suffer from the overabundance of pages that similar works do, and where other authors would struggle to keep things short and sweet, Phipps & Suttkus manage to say much with just a few words. It appears as if a lot of work has been put into the backdrop, a tapestry of intrigue and personal conflict. The conflict between the Archduchy and the Commonwealth is one that takes some more information, for there is an interesting to be told. Cassius May is the epitome of an antihero. A villain of gigantic proportions in the past he tries to redeem himself by doing what he thinks is right, in this case, what others want him to do. He is loyal to his family and the image he has carved out for himself under the guise of a new persona. This makes him one of the most dimensional characters within science fiction. Lucifer’s Star has something for everyone to enjoy. Political and relationship intrigue, great world building, clones and robots. It sets things up perfectly for sequels and rivals the work of James S.A. Corey.
Lucifer’s Star is a healthy mixture of genre fiction. On the the surface a science fiction tale, but at its heart it has all the properties of noir. It is gritty and dark, that does not wholly rely on action, but a great narrative to ensnare the reader. It would make Philip K. Dick very proud.
In some cases the movies or television shows become more iconic than the book they are based on. Often times the original piece falls into obscurity and is not given the treatment as its adaptations. For a long time that was the case of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, where the first silent movie was based on a play. The play, released shortly after the book was published, omitted the science fiction aspect of Mrs. Shelly’s story, and therefore also its greatness. In this edition of Rear View we discuss the classic science fiction novel Planet of the Apes, the victim of just such a thing.
In 1963 Pierre Boulle published his work La Planète des Singes in France and was that same year translated to English. In 1968 it was made adapted for the big screen and was then indelibly made part of our shared cultural heritage. The book and the movies, both the one from ’68 and the remake in 2001, do have some similarities, but Boulle’s overall idea has subsequently become lost. One might want to argue that it has been brought back thanks to the later franchise; Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), both hinting at similar backstories.
Planet of the Apes is more of a philosophical work, like Frankenstein or Handmaid’s Tale than an adventure Sci-Fi novel. Boulle discusses man’s use of animals for experiments and supposed superiority over races perceived as lesser. Like Frankenstein the story is told through another person’s voice. The couple Jinn and Phyllis are on a retreat in space, all alone in their little space ship, when they come across a document in a container. A message in a bottle as it were. The document is found to be the tale of the French journalist Ulysse Mérou, who is detailing his journey, together with a professor and his disciple, to the star Betelgeuse. They land on a planet similar to Earth and quickly come in contact with humans of that world. Naked and incapable of speech the wild men destroy their ship and Mérou and his companions are forced to stay in their village. The following morning the village is attacked by a hunting party, described very much like the British fox hunting groups, and those who are not killed are rounded up and placed in cages. Mérou is forced to observe, from his captivity, how the bodies of men are displayed like the game of his home world, photographed and taken as trophies.
He is subjected to experiments by other apes, chiefly orangutans, conditioning ones that he quickly recognizes from his time at school. He befriends the chimpanzee Zira, and convinces her that he has some intelligence, and he learns to speak her language, as she begins speaking his. Most of the book is a description of how the apes view humans, who they see as lower on the evolutionary chain. Man can’t speak or use the same facial expressions as Mérou is accustomed to and all attempts at teaching them is met with failure. Mérou learns that the apes are divided into classes. The orangutans who are the main authority on science, the chimpanzees who are the true innovators and the gorillas who enjoy hunting, but also steal the chimps’ ideas and use it for their own gain.
The apes live in a conservative society, where the orangutans keep any form of scientific progress contained. This has also caused their world to remain stagnant. Cornelius, Zira’s fiance, claims that the ape race sprung up from nothing several thousand years earlier, but has not evolved since. This makes him ponder whether they might just have mimicked something else. Mérou’s abilities are revealed to the scientific community and is released. He spends his days assisting Zira and Cornelius in their research, until the archaeological ruins of a city is found that might just reveal the origins of ape.
There is so much to be enjoyed by reading Planet of the Apes, and especially today. The world was different in ’63 and many of the ideas and points that Boulle tried to make were probably seen as odd and dystopian. As with any good science fiction novels he expertly took the science of his time and pondered its implications for our future. But there is more to it than that. The story is an intimate reflection on how we as a society have developed and how we chose to treat those we perceive as beneath us. It is only through the eyes of a man like Ulysse Mérou that this can be made clear. What must it be like to sit in a cage and watch ones family and friends be displayed as a prize, or try to communicate in your language when all that the listener hears is gibberish.
The book Planet of the Apes deserves to take a more prominent place in the world of literature. It does make the reader think and it is still relevant today.
Our good friend Jonathan Fesmire has now finished his novel Bodacious Creed; A Steampunk Western. Here is your chance to win an exclusive harcover edition of that book. Just click on the image and enter the giveaway.
In this episode Nick and Chris review Slammiversary, a show fifteen years in the making. They give their thoughts on all the matches and grade them.