Bridging the gap between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes a novel with a much shorter title, Firestorm, written by Greg Keyes. This prequel to the second movie takes place only five days after the events of the first movie, promising a closer look into how the apes react to their new found knowledge and the spread of the inescapable Simian Flu. Granted, this was what fans of the films were hoping to find, but what Keyes gave to audiences was a story that lacked so much of what could have been an epically insightful prequel to a very well thought out and well done franchise.
The standoff on the Golden Gate Bridge between man and ape ended in the apes escaping towards the Red Woods. The apes, however, are far from safe and their leader, Caesar, knows he must protect them and get them safely to their future home before they are found by the humans who are now hunting them. The apes are not the only ones fighting for survival. Humanity has been introduced to a virus that kills anyone who obtains it and they believe the apes are to blame. Humans and apes alike are fighting for their lives, but who will live and who will die?
This story was not written badly, Keyes simply missed out on many opportunities. For instance, Firestorm would have been a great way to introduce the characters of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, such as Malcolm and his wife before she died or Ellie and her daughter before the Simian Flu took Ellie’s little girl. Instead, the only familiar characters are some of the apes like Caesar, Maurice, and Koba and one human character, Dreyfus (who appears in the sequel). Instead, audiences are given characters who seem to be placed in the book just to keep the story moving along and who will never appear again after the book is over. Speaking of humans, Firestorm fell into a very similar trap as many science fiction movies and books of today do, focusing more on the human aspect rather than the fictional characters the movies and books are named after such as Transformers, Godzilla, Pacific Rim, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to name a few. Fans and audience members do not view these movies or read these books to see what the humans will do: they view and read them to know more about the fictional characters that are far from being even remotely human.
One human audience members would have liked to see, though, is Will. After Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Will seems to just disappear. Where does he go? Does he travel away from San Francisco believing it would be easier on Caesar if he left? Was he infected with the Simian Flu? Viewers and readers are lead to believe that Will is dead, but what if he is not? It would have been interesting if Keyes had placed at least a scene with Will, not necessarily interacting with Caesar, but maybe trying to help him and the other apes from the sidelines. And what about Caesar’s family? How and when did it truly start? Cornelia is introduced as being the future mate for Caesar, but their relationship hardly takes off, the two bickering more than getting along. When did they really start to like each other? When was Blue Eyes born?
One major character Keyes should have been very careful in writing was Koba. Koba plays a very large role in both movies and Keyes had the perfect opportunity to elaborate on his character. And yet, once again, Keyes missed a perfect opportunity. Sure, he gave Koba the back story fans have been waiting for, but it was poorly executed. The way it was written made the reader not feel sympathetic towards Koba. Of course, everything that happened to him was awful and no animal, ape or otherwise, should have to endure that pain and suffering, but his back story was told in the present tense when it happened in the past while what was happening presently was told in the past tense. If anything, Keyes should have written the story’s events in the present tense and Koba’s back story in the past tense. It would have made it easier to comprehend at times. On top of a weak back story, there were not enough scenes between Caesar and Koba. It would have been nice to see more scenes that expressed them forming a deeper connection and brotherly bond which would have made the betrayal in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that much worse.
Though Keyes did miss out on many opportunities, there were some points he did exceptionally well on. Normally, sequels/ prequels like these occur a few months or even a year after prior events. Having this novel take place only five days after the standoff from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and having all of the events of the novel occur within maybe a week’s time shows how quickly everything, especially the virus, expunged, and this instantly draws in the reader. How people react to the virus, breaking out in riots because they think doctors are hiding the cure from them, is incredibly accurate. Though nothing like the Simian Flu or other virus outbreaks from other science fiction media has ever happened in reality, fear is a dominant trait in human nature and once fear has taken over, it is difficult to get rid of. Along with the virus outbreak captivating readers, what will also interest readers is Caesar. Though he may not be in the book as much as audiences would have hoped for, the parts he is in there are very well written. His insecurities about leading the apes are expressed through his thoughts. He has barely been leading the apes for a week and he is unsure of exactly how to lead them, but at the same time, he wants to protect them.
Succeeding in some areas, but disappointing in most others, Firestorm is an intriguing one time read, but it could have been executed differently. Keyes missed out on many opportunities to impress and please fans. However, just because there was more he could have added does not make Keyes a bad writer, for his writing style flows very nicely. Firestorm would have perhaps benefited more if the writer of the following novel, Alex Irvine, had done both this novel as well as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on September 27, 2015.