Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes is the debut novel from Andrew E.C. Gaska, which shows great promise for future prose work. If the critical buzz and the quality of the excellent Apes comic series from BOOM! Studios is any indication, there is still a wealth of good material to mine from this franchise. The writer shows this by taking his book back to the original 1968 film with which Charlton Heston emoted with his signature intensity. For a new take on the story, perspectives are change with a focus on interstellar ANSA navigator John Landon of the ill-fated Liberty I. This character lacks the bravado of the previous protagonist, which makes for a nice change and some added angst to the piece. Unlike Taylor, Landon is constantly questioning both his resolve and sanity as he traverses trials that lead him into the hands of an awful chimpanzee.

Gaska paints this tragedy beautifully with language that gifts settings with life, action with visceral physicality, and dialog with personality. This is done through a point-of-view that constantly shifts. This combined with a protagonist whose grip on reality is constantly in question creates some confusion at first, but resolves itself with a layout that filters each roving plot-line to a coherent intersection. In the end, the intentions of most of the principal characters is fully realized. Each is given a personality that is reactive to varying situations and true to its intents, while keeping a level of sympathy to all but the most despicable characters. Be it hubris, desperation, or lust, there is a reason for most of the happenings found within the novel's contents. The bulk of the story is pretty heavy drama and suspense, yet the author leaves room for humor in some instances to break up the intensity and to keep a sense of science-fiction fun to the work. It allows for depth without admonishing a reader for actually enjoying the spectacle of it all.

The greatest strength here is in the dialog which brings the simian and human characters to life and the succinct, but on-point descriptions of settings. As a singular writer, Gaska truly emulates several voices to inhabit this prefabricated universe that he claims as his own. Mentioned above, each character's intent is given voice with a glimpse of reality despite the fantastical backdrop. In describing this alien planet, the author varies his language enough to give each subsequent scene an interesting turn, especially as it is observed from differing perspectives. It also permits the writing to delve into the grotesque with a well-maneuvered hand that deftly judges the level of shock needed to bring about emotional resonance without turning a reader off.

The most negative critique for this book is in its editing. There are small flaws within the text that seem obvious enough that one can see how they may of slipped past the writer's gaze while wrapped in his evolving plot, but not the watchful eye of an editor or a decent proofreader. The most frustrating thing is that these are not problems that dissolve the narrative integrity, yet are small mistakes which coalesce to a persistent annoyance. Certain words will be missing a letter or dialogue will be attached to the wrong speaker's name. An observant reader will be able to pick up on these errata, but it breaks the otherwise sanguine flow of the novel. Its a good work that would have been made even better with just another patient read through. Whether this is the product of simple oversight and/or hasty release at the time of a connected blockbuster film, the result is the same.

On that same point, there is a dominate plot line that is never wrapped up or explained completely. While mystery can produce a sense of the ominous, this creates a glaring plot hole where the intentions surrounding Landon's dubious sanity are never fully exacerbated. This plays such a large part within the story and is built up so much, that it seems a waste to be used as a simple device. Again, there is the longing for a potential that might have been achieved if the title was given more time for gestation.

These criticisms aside, the book overall is an excellent read that could have been better given a bit more time. A lot of concepts and themes are presented so completely, however, that it makes those elements that aren't more glaring. The most important aspects are handled extremely well. The plot engages to its end, the end surprises without a stretched twist, and characterizations are dynamic and varied. Gaska shows a definite level of raw talent in his writing that makes his fiction involving for the reader, which should be the goal of any work.

Also within the pages of Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes are several illustrations from different artists. As illustrations, they serve no real narrative purpose, but do provide some visual context for many characters and situations. Not being a distraction, they can only enhance the experience, especially for the more optically focused.

Archaia’s new prose novel initiative debuts with Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes! Set during the classic 1968 “Planet of the Apes” film, Conspiracy tells the story of what happened between the scenes and centers on the astronaut John Landon, Gorilla police chief Marcus and Chimpanzee scientist Dr. Milo. Contains over 50 illustrations from various top talents in the industry, including full-color paintings by Jim Steranko, Joe Jusko, Dave Dorman, Barron Storey, Sanjulian and Mark Texeira, starship design by Andrew Probert, character portraits by Matt Busch and more!

Author: Andrew E.C. Gaska
IIllustrations: Matt Busch, Patricio Carbajal, Colo, Dave Dorman, Dan Dussault, Chandra Free, Erik Gist, Lucas Graciano, Scott Hampton, David Hueso, Joe Jusko, Ken Kelly, Timothy Lantz, Leo Leibelman, Miki, Chris Moeller, Andrew Probert, Brian Rood, Sanjulian, Chris Scalf, Thomas Scioli, David Seidman, Dirk Shearer, Barron Storey and Mark Texeira
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment

3.5 Stars