20 best genre fiction writers from other countries to expand your horizons

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17. Pierre Boulle

Most of us know Planet of the Apes as a film, wherein Charlton Heston grits his teeth and yells about a series of woes that include talking apes, a vanished civilization and a certain large statue on a beach. However, the 1968 film is actually an adaptation of an earlier French novel. So, for all that Heston’s character George Taylor is a strong-jawed American astronaut, that picture is not entirely accurate.

The now-sprawling Planet of the Apes franchise had its genesis in La Planète des singes, written by Pierre Boulle and published in 1963. The very basic structure of the novel is similar to the film — human space travelers visit a planet, are hounded by talking apes, oh no, it was Earth all along, and so forth.

However, there are significant differences that make reading La Planète des singes or its translation worth your time. The novel is presented within a frame story, wherein a spacefaring couple, Jinn and Phyllis, translate a message found floating in space. The message contains the main story, wherein Ulysse Merou describes his flight to Betelgeuse.

Merou and his companions travel close to the speed of light towards the star Betelgeuse. Because of the resulting time dilation, their two-year trip happens while centuries pass on Earth. The crew lands on a seemingly distant planet, comes across speech-less humans, the talkative apes, and general adventuring ensues. Eventually, Ulysse and his mate, Nova, board a rocket during a spaceflight experiment (the apes apparently having gotten to the Sputnik stage of history) and make their way back to Earth — sort of.