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Exclusive preview: Taylor's Forbidden Zone travels revealed in new Death of the Planet of the Apes novel

Contributed by
Nov 12, 2018

Earlier this year SYFY WIRE helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Planet of the Apes feature film and we're still beating our chest over this seminal sci-fi franchise and its impact and influence on pop culture.

Adapted from Pierre Boulle's 1963 French novel, La Planete Des Singes, and directed by industry veteran Franklin Schaffner (Patton, Papillon), Planet of the Apes swung into theaters on March 27, 1968.

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The Twilight Zone's own Rod Serling and blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson penned the script and the phenomenon ultimately birthed a wealth of sequels, reboots, action figures, comic books, cartoons, tie-in novels, video games, lunch boxes, board games, and a live-action TV series.

While it might seem that every corner of the franchise has been plundered and explored, a new in-universe novel from Titan Books seeks to explain what happened to Charlton Heston's character, Taylor, long after he freaks out over seeing the derelict Statue of Liberty and heads off into the Forbidden Zone with the native mute girl, Nova.

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Death of the Planet of the Apes is written by Andrew E.C. Gaska and SYFY WIRE has snagged an exclusive excerpt from the 464-page novel which arrives worldwide on Nov. 13.

The plot centers around the events of the first screen sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, when Colonel Taylor vanishes under the irradiated wastelands. His character does return for an explosive death scene in the 1970 film's climax as the telepathic human survivors guard the doomsday bomb they all worship, but little is known of the astronaut's discoveries down in the Forbidden Zone.

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48 years later, Gaska's gratifying book reveals the truth behind what lies beneath the scorched Earth and the deadly wonders of a gleaming city and its savage citizenry. On the surface, gorillas led by General Ursus launch an all-out attack to exterminate the brutal animals known as Man. While in the desert, the chimp scientist Milo attempts to reconstruct the sleek spacecraft that accidentally delivered the humans from the past.

Planet of the Apes was an important part of my childhood," Gaska told SYFY WIRE. "While fantastic, the series is nonetheless rife with continuity issues which have plagued fans for decades. Death of the Planet of the Apes fills in a lot of the holes. The project also gave me the opportunity to tell the last story of one of the greatest antiheroes in sci-fi history—Charlton Heston’s Taylor. It was a labor of monkey love, and I’m proud to have contributed to the Apes saga.”

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Enjoy this exclusive chapter excerpt taken from Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E. C. Gaska, published by Titan Books, then tell us if this latest tie-in novel sounds like a worthy addition to the Apes legacy.

Their trek seemed endless. The small patches of mostly dead shrubs that had marked the landscape for days had given way to sterile stone. Taylor could only hope that their provisions would hold out.

Then the rolling landscape of rock and sand morphed into something familiar. Taylor’s gaze darted across the horizon.

“I know this place.”

He was certain of it. Not like he knew the Statue of Liberty, yet this was a place he had been through, and not long ago. On his trek through the Forbidden Zone, with Dodge and…

With Dodge and Landon.

Landon was an excellent navigator out in space, but on the ground he couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag. The Liberty 1 had crashed into a dead lake deep within the Forbidden Zone, and they had crossed the desert for more than a day—yet it had seemed like forever. He’d been forced to endure Landon’s constant sniveling about home, and about the member of their crew who hadn’t survived—Maryann Stewart.

Now they were all gone. Dodge was dead, Stewart was dead, and Landon might as well be, after what the apes had done to him. Taylor looked for the jagged rock—the one where Landon had hung their dog tags. It didn’t take him long to find it. The tags were dirty, and Dodge’s short chain tag had broken away, but the other set was intact.

Taylor’s tags were still complete.

He ran his fingers across the bumps and grooves—the only surviving testament to his existence. Landon’s tags weren’t there—the distressed man had pulled them from the sands and pocketed them like a coveted prize. For all the good it had done him. Dr. Zaius had lobotomized Landon, leaving him little more than a zombie.

“A sort of living death,” Zaius had called it. Taylor was to have been next.

Without uttering a word he went to work, scavenging the petrified branches of dead foliage and fashioning them into crosses. One for Dodge, one for Stewart, and one for Landon. Then he stood back and inspected his crude handiwork.

“There,” he said to no one—as if his companion wasn’t even there. Back home, he hadn’t given a damn about ceremony. Here, it was something to hold tight. They hadn’t been his friends—he had been their commander, and he had been a jackass. He’d thought the graveyard would put his regrets to rest.

He was wrong.

Landon was right. I should have cut him some slack. Taylor shook himself back to reality, stuffing his own tags into the waistline of his ragged loincloth. Some things are worth keeping. An animal grunt brought him back to the present. It came from behind him.

Must be Nova with the horse.

“Sorry about that,” he said without turning. A buzzing droned in his ear, indistinct but definitely there. He waved away any insect that might be the culprit. There were none. Taylor turned. “I had some unfinished business that needed to be—”

There was no Nova.

No horse, either.

Three short yards away stood a nightmare.

The gargantuan pig-like beast grunted, spewing hot air from its fist-sized nostrils. Its acrid breath was palpable—he could taste it even from this distance. The desert air smelled of vomit, and… and something else.

Rotten meat.

The creature was six feet long and four feet high at the shoulder. Its long snout curled past broken, weathered tusks that tapered into a face that seemed to writhe. While it was massive, it was also lean—too lean for its size. It looked emaciated. Hungry. Ribs showed through scar-crossed flesh.

No food in a long time, Taylor guessed. Lucky for him I just happened to be passing through. He wished fervently to have the gun that was holstered on their horse’s saddle, and wondered where Nova had gone. 

Then he realized why the face seemed to be moving.

Maggots.

The pig-thing was being eaten alive.

The beast coiled, ready to attack. The buzzing intensified. Taylor crouched, reaching for a nearby rock.

The monster sprung. 

As the shuttle spiraled downward toward its inevitable doom, its one good wing slammed into the side of the lander. The lander—with the command capsule attached to it—corkscrewed through the atmosphere. Even so, Maddox and Brent finally gained some semblance of control.

The skipper smiled. Brent nodded in return. The sound of the ship’s thrusters drowned out nearly everything. Maddox struggled to be heard over the din.

“Find a clearing to land in,” he bellowed.

“Skipper!” Brent responded. “We are still miles from the source of the transponder signal.”

“Forget the damn TX-9—we need to put down now!”

The commander was right. If they didn’t save themselves, the crew of Liberty 2 wouldn’t be saving anyone else. So the younger astronaut nodded and began scanning the terrain. It wasn’t the most hospitable place, but there was level enough ground for the lander to rest while they made repairs.

He found a likely spot. The lander rotated so that its nose was facing upward and her engines blasting toward the desert floor below. Vertical, she was suspended in the sky. Soon her thrusters would taper off, lowering her slowly to the ground below. They were going to make it. Despite everything, they were going to touch down in one piece.

Retro thrusters activated, and so did the warning signals on Brent’s dashboard.

“Extending landing struts,” Maddox ordered. “Touchdown in T-minus—”

“We’ve got a problem in fuel pod two.” Brent tried to deactivate the pod, rerouting fuel consumption to draw from the other two tanks. He couldn’t do it. The connection had been severed—it would have to be done manually.

“Keep us on descent,” Maddox said. “I’ve got it!” The skipper unbuckled his belt and rolled from his chair, falling to the downward-facing rear of the cabin. His landing was awkward, but he didn’t seem to break anything in the maneuver. He worked his way past the sleep capsules and down to the engine access port. He unshackled the airlock door between the cabin and the lander’s thruster array.

Then the fuel pod erupted.

A searing light blasted the cabin, catching Maddox in the face. Liberty 2’s engines exploded. The lander portion destroyed, the command capsule fell from its vertical descent, belly-flopped, and slammed hard into the desert floor.

Maddox was as good as dead.

Planet of the Apes TM & © 1968, 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

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