I often, and infuriatingly, wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep. It happens quite a bit these days. I start thinking about stuff, my mind goes haywire and “ping” I’m wide awake at three in the morning as the important and vexing questions of human existence whirl and swirl around my head. Things like where did Taylor disappear to at the start of Beneath of the Planet of the Apes? Nova, turns up, cavorting about in all her mute cave girl glory, riding an horse and is met by Brent, the newly crash landed astronaut and sole survivor of the rescue party looking for Charlton Heston’s gang from the first film. Taylor of course turns up imprisoned by the mutants in their subterranean lair at the end of the movie as everyone, and I mean everyone, like the entire planet everyone, is destroyed. Probably the bleakest ending to a Sci-Fi film ever, but questions remain unanswered. After Taylor disappears leaving poor old, bamboozled by it all, Nova on her own in the Forbidden Zone, what happens to him? How does he end up incarcerated by bomb worshipping, psychic, peace loving, nuclear holocaust fans that dwell in the remains of the New York underground? Well, when I lie awake pondering ape invasions of the Forbidden Zone, I can now flick on the bedside lamp and read this book, as Mr Gaska has answered that age old question … whether it actually needed answering is up to you to decide.
Kicking in right at the end of the first film and start of the second, there is plenty of retreading paths already taken. Brent meeting Nova, discovering Ape City, being shot and captured, Zira helping him escape and so on. This isn’t a slew of spoilers, honest. I’m assuming you’ve seen the movies. We can’t be friends if you haven’t. It’s not until about half way in to the book before the Beneath the Planet of the Apes scenes and the Behind the Beneath the Planet of the Apes scenes taper off and we get the new narrative the blurb on the back of the book promised so tantalisingly. On top of this there are many sub stands. Many, many sub strands involving apes we know and apes we don’t, involving mutants we’ve met previously and even more bizarre sights we haven’t. As if this multi pronged approach wasn’t enough, Gaska laces the narrative with numerous flashbacks to Taylor on Earth in his youth as a soldier in Korea experiencing various horrors and atrocities and as time goes by. War mongering escapades, boozing, fighting and womanising all flash by before we reach his initiation in to the space programme that would see him leave behind the world he knows for an uncertain future on a world where evolution has been turned upside down.
I’ll be honest, this packed nexus of stories can be hard work and feels like something of a missed opportunity. Taylor is written as I imagine Charlton Heston himself was. An arrogant and rather unsympathetic character. It’s hard to care for him, it really is and the flash backs that flesh out the man he becomes get in the way of all the ape antics. Looking back at his life becomes frustrating as the tales of political subterfuge and stubborn religious fundamentalism in the world of Ape City are far more intriguing than Taylor having affairs and getting smashed on whiskey and scrapping with his best mate. Powerful apes doing all they can to guard the truth from those than can’t handle it while back stabbing and empire building run riot in far more entertaining moments. As explored before in the ape-verse, the stratification of simian society provides plenty of dramatic and intriguing plottage. This time out I was particularly taken with the machinations revolving around the political and religious soul of the apes and how Zaius and co worked to maintain the status quo while under threat from talking humans and the unknown threat emerging from the Forbidden Zone. Various other apes get lost and have many a misadventure in the cursed ruins of New York and it all ends with … well, you know how it ends don’t you? Somewhere in here is a really great story. Honestly. It has all the ingredients of the madcap slice of 70s Sci-Fi that was Beneath the Planet of the Apes – and a whole host of other bonkers “after the bomb” flicks to be fair – but is so convoluted that the tension and page turning drama that it could have been, is lost, like the world at the end of this whole crazy tale … Marv Gadgie