Few would have realistically expected the Planet of the Apes franchise to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of Tim Burton’s banana-skin 2002 ‘reimagining’ of the landmark 1960/70s sci-fi phenomenon. Yet here we are, easing slowly into the summer season at the Box Office and Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the third in a powerful and intelligent new take on a world created back in 1963 by Pierre Boule in his novel Monkey Planet, is one of the most eagerly anticipated blockbusters of the year.
Yet it’s heartening to see that the timeline and the characters from the original incarnation of the Apes saga has not been swept aside and forgotten but is proving to be fertile ground for modern storytellers whose youthful imaginations were fired up by the saga which first came to the screen in 1967’s iconic Planet of the Apes. Tales From the Forbidden Zone is a lovingly-curated collection of sixteen short stories (many of which are set in or around the titular post-holocaust wasteland frequently referenced and depicted in the film series) which imaginatively plunder the rich heritage of the Apes from the original feature film, its numerous sequels, the short-lived live-action TV series and the even shorter-lived animated series. Several stories deftly chronicle key untold moments from the series’ history; one tale sees a young Dr. Zaius discovering that other intelligent – and horribly malevolent - lifeforms exist in the Forbidden Zone, another sees a young Cornelius discover a tribe of intelligent baboons whose very existence plants in his mind the possibility of a ‘missing link’ between human and ape, yet another sees the TV series’ grumpy gorilla General Urko coming to terms with his discoveries in the episode ‘The Trap’ and one wry yarn is cleverly set during the events of the third movie, Escape from the Planet of the Apes and sees a television entrepreneur desperately attempting to get chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira to host an entertainment spectacular for his ailing TV Network. But there are some interesting – and occasionally amusing – diversions from the timeline too; in “Unfired” a group of mutants enter the Forbidden Zone and return with a device which will eventually lead to the destruction of the Earth in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and “The Pacing Place” is a beautifully-elegiac piece which sees Charlton Heston’s Taylor live to a ripe old age, founding a new society of articulate humans away from the watchful, unforgiving eye of the ruling Apes.
Writers such as Dan Abnett, Nancy Collins and Kevin J. Anderson bring their A-game to the collection but in truth the majority of the tales here are elegant pieces of thought-provoking writing, with only one or two entries drifting into the realms of over-excitable fan fiction. Although it takes its cues exclusively from the lore and mythology of the original incarnations of Planet of the Apes, there’s enough here in these visceral, imaginative, wide-ranging stories to appeal not only to the hardcore but also to those drawn to the series by its latest incarnation and who might be intrigued by what has gone before. It’s the ideal primate primer for the new movie, the perfect ape-retif, you might say. Or you might not.
PLANET OF THE APES - TALES FROM THE FORBIDDEN ZONE / AUTHORS: VARIOUS / EDITORS: RICH HANDLEY, JIM BEARD / PUBLISHER: TITAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW