In Review: Planet of the Apes: Tales From the Forbidden Zone

This is a superior collection of original stories from a rock star list of writers. Highest possible recommendation.

Planet of the Apes: Tales From the Forbidden Zone edited by Rich Handley and Jim Beard

Published by Titan Books, January 24, 2017. Oversized paperback of 438 pages at $14.95. 

The cover: Underneath the giant image of a chimpanzee’s face is the iconic logo of this franchise. Just below is Dr. Zaius riding a horse, accompanied by several gorillas using the same method of transportation. Beneath them is the subtitle, which is followed by six authors who contributed to this collection. The editors’ names are the final words on the cover. I grew up watching the Planet of the Apes movies after school and I’m immediately transported to that time when I see the classic apes in their make-up. I love that the Apes‘ logo is scarred, showing that their environment is a hostile one. This is the perfect cover for this book. There’s no credit given to the designer of this, but there should be, given how awesome it is. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Sixteen brand-new adventures set in the world of the original Planet of the Apes. The 1968 Planet of the Apes has inspired generations of authors. Now a who’s who of modern writers produces sixteen all-new tales, exclusive to this volume, set in the world of the original film and television series. Dan Abnett·Kevin J. Anderson·Jim Beard·Nancy Collins·Greg Cox·Andrew E.C. Gaska·Robert Greenberger·Rich Handley·Greg Keyes·Sam Knight·Paul Kupperberg·Jonathan Maberry·Bob Mayer·John Jackson Miller·Ty Templeton·Will Murray·Dayton Ward. Each explores a different drama within the post-apocalyptic world, treating readers to unique visions and nonstop action.” This is a list of rock star writers. I’m familiar with several of these creators, and seeing them in one book is an amazing accomplishment itself, but having them also write original Apes stories? Oh, yeah. I’m on fire to read this. Overall grade: A+ 

Confession: I ran home after school to watch the 3:30 movie when there was an Apes movie marathon for the week. I’m more than familiar with the five films. I remember watching the television series when it originally ran, but only about three of those episodes stuck. The cartoon, I’ve only seen fleeting scenes from on Youtube. Before I began the book I wondered if my lack of intimate knowledge of the television series would pose a problem. The answer is absolutely not. These stories tapped into some hidden Ape memories, because the characters from those shows sprung back to life instantly.

The characters: Taylor, as played by Charlton Heston in the films, is shown in several tales, with one before leaving his Earth and an alternative history, where things played out much differently for him. Zira and Cornelius are also in a few stories and every writer wrote them so well I heard Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall each time they spoke. A young Zaius also appears in a terrific story. Caesar, the ape that tried to lead his people in peace, is in a killer of a story. The stars of the television series, Virdon, Burke, and Galen are in two tales, chased by Urko and his men. Speaking of antagonists, there are two major groups of them, the gorillas and the mutants that live in the Forbidden Zone. I was left in awe at how brutal the apes are, as writers can have them do so much more than what can be done on film, and they do. The mutants never really frightened me too much in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but these stories make them exceptionally devious. Overall grade: A

The stories:  The first tale is “Unfired” by Dan Abnett. This is a really cool story to open this collection as it deals with a group of mutants going somewhere with something. The ending left my jaw hanging. “More Than Human, Less Than Ape” by Nancy Collins focuses on young Cornelius encountering a group of individuals that will change the way he thinks. This story sets him up for the first Apes film nicely. “Blood Brothers” by Will Murray shocked me with how good it was. It feels like a lost episode of the television series and left me clamoring for more. It was outstanding and the most memorable of the book. Next up is “The Pacing Place” by Bob Mayer which has an incredible alternate history tale focusing on Taylor and what could have been. It was beautiful, and that’s not an adjective I was expecting to use in a review of this book. “Murderer’s Row” by John Jackson Miller was a surprising tale told from an equally surprising point of view. It was funny and probably the most true to life tale of the collection. Set several generations before the first film, “Endangered Species” by Greg Cox mirrors a very famous primatologist with some very heartfelt results. This was another tale where the ending was a complete surprise. “Dangerous Imaginings” by Paul Kupperberg has a scientist who is far above his peers, but may have to come down to the ground to survive. I loved this. Another ape who’s shown in his younger years is Zaius in “Of Monsters and Men” by Kevin J. Anderson and Sam Knight. This tale had a lot more action than I expected and nicely showed some of the events that turned the iconic ape into a very smart leader. “The Unknown Ape” by Andrew E.C. Gaska is a slick, smart time travel story that has a terrific ending. Covering several time periods in the Ape franchise is “Silenced” by Jim Beard, a co-editor of this book. Comprised of several famous characters, this was on point for hitting every emotional peak for the characters covered. The one story that Ape fans must read is “Who Is This Man? What Sort of Devil Is He?” by Robert Greenberger. It addresses a burning question from the television series and is wonderful. I love the way Greenberger captured his protagonist’s voice, which I could clearly hear. “Stone Monkey” by Greg Keyes is an absolute surprise in that it features an Ape story not set in North America. The best stories are ones that leave a reader wondering why such a tale wasn’t done years ago. Keyes has opened up the Apes in a whole new arena and I want more! “Milo’s Tale” by Ty Templeton gives some welcome background to the short lived character from the big screen. I like the differences that Templeton gave to Milo’s culture. Another story that felt like a lost episode of the television series is “Message in a Bottle” by Dayton Ward. I was disappointed where this story ended because I was sucked into so completely, I needed to know what happened next to the characters. It was perfect. “The King Is Dead–Long Live the King” by Rich Handley, the other co-editor, had me yelling at the book, trying to warn the characters of what was coming. It’s brutally painful and completes the arc to a damning future. It’s a gut punch of a story, but a magnificent one. This collection ends with “Banana Republic” by Jonathan Maberry. Apes from another part of North America are focused on and their dialogue and logic is wonderful. If fans thought the inhabitants of Ape City were deviant, they’re in for a great surprise. I loved all of these stories. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This is a superior collection of original stories. I thought I would read a few and turn in for the night after I purchased it, but I read the book non-stop, only being disappointed that my experience had ended. If you’re a fan of the Apes saga, this is a must own book. If you’re vaguely familiar with the Apes, this will make you hungry for more. This collection can’t be the only one; there must be another volume of more original stories collected. Every Apes fan needs this book! Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
    One Comment
  • E. Lee Zimmerman (@ELeeZimmerman)
    24 February 2017 at 3:33 am -

    Ordered based on the review. Nice work, and keep it up!

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