Review–New novel bridges the Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Firestorm

We’ve reviewed several TV and movie franchise tie-in novels over the past several years.  As a matter of course, editors that select the writers for these novels tend to choose authors with a grasp of the universe and characters and the result is usually an adventure beyond the original that will please fans.  Such novels include Alien: Out of the Shadows, Grimm: The Chopping Block, and Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.  We’ve also seen plenty of stories in print that serve as prequels or bridge the film versions of franchise stories.  Star Trek: Countdown and Alien: Out of the Shadows are examples of these, with Star Trek: Countdown being among the best Star Trek stories I have ever read from any incarnation of the franchise.  Then there are the novelizations of movies.  In the review stack are novelizations of the new Godzilla, Pacific Rim, and a new edition of the original Alien.  In the Planet of the Apes franchise, historic novelizations of the classic series always served as a reminder of the adventure behind each film, and allowed readers to add a bit here and there from their own imaginations as they revisited the stories they watched on the big screen from the comforts of their home.

Coming soon to bookstores is a new novel by Greg Keyes that bridges the recent movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the coming summer release Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Known for its great, long titles, the franchise’s latest novel calls itself the official movie prequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm.  More than a novelization, Firestorm is among the best movie tie-in novels you’ll find.  It is much more than a quick read, and Keyes delves into social, political, and scientific issues in so many ways to provide a story steeped in the morality tales of classic science fiction, while carrying with it that wide scope of action and excitement that readers want.

Keyes takes on the “apes that take over Earth” mythos from every angle.  Best of all is the viewpoint of the apes themselves, as they follow their noble and stalwart leader Caesar and learn to think, react, respond—to behave—like humans.  Better yet, Keyes takes on what must be the most difficult subject matter of science fiction—communication without a common language.  No franchise ever gets communications between lifeforms right.  Even Star Trek pretty much ignored the subject by relying on a universal translator to skip over the biggest impediment to dealing with strange new worlds.  Exceptions, when done right, often shoot far above the rest: The Next Generation’s “Darmok,” and Enterprise’s “Acquisition” come to mind.

Dawn Apes

Planet of the Apes has taken the inter-species communication hook from Pierre Boulle’s original story and modernized it with advances in science and language studies.  Keyes sets up a gut-wrenching set of circumstances for apes, chimps, and orangutans as they move from test lab subjects to attempt to be free thinkers arising from the aftermath of the events in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  The result is a group of sympathetic characters that you want to know more about.  Koba the chimpanzee becomes the most layered in this story and is a triumph of characterization.

Like a Michael Crichton thriller, Firestorm is not just about one theme.  A virus begins to kill tens of thousands in the San Francisco area.  One of the protagonists is an ex-gorilla hunter from Africa who has no sympathy for the apes, whereas his scientist counterpart sees each ape as an individual.  Another protagonist is an ex-chief of police running for mayor, who simply wants to keep the peace and get to the bottom of a local corruption ring.  What fits together from these plot threads and what doesn’t gives the reader plenty of reasons to flip to the next page.  And this compelling bridge novel will get readers into the theater to see what happens next.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm is available May 27, 2014, but it is available for pre-order now here from  The film is in theaters July 11, 2014.

C.J. Bunce

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