The Rise and Fall of the Simian Empire

Lavie Tidhar

  1. Being a Rather Brief Introduction

Things come to us in broken pieces, old records, torn fragile parchments, the task of the historian is beset with difficulties, half-lies and myth, unreliable narrators, invented memories. One of our most persistent stories begins, There were humans in the world in those days…

This is by no means a historical document. It is, rather, a fanciful one, as all such material as dealing with myth must be. It is a record of our species’ subconscious, our mutual fears, and desires, our hopes and our dreams.


  1. On Giant Apes

Stories of giant apes abound in our mythology. In the Holy Book of Ape a record is made of a race of giant apes, or nephilim, of which most prominent were two, King Kong and Donkey Kong. Sometimes the stories cast them as brothers. Sometimes as rivals. Sometimes it is said one was the son of the other, and some say Son of Kong was a different ape to the other two.

The following story fragment was found at an archaeological dig on a continent in the northern hemisphere.


  1. The Day King Kong Stood Still

You all know that famous picture: the giant ape on the top of the Empire State Building, frightened, angry, high up there, with the stars behind him cold and small like pinpricks, like needle-points of light. He holds on, surrounded by flying saucers. They attack him. They fire laser beams that burn his fur and he roars, but he hangs on, he won’t let them take him.

We knew he was doomed, those of us who watched up, who looked up to him. He must have known it too. But he held on, and with one free hand he slapped at the flying saucers, sending them against each other, crashing, finally sending them out of the sky.

They fell down on the city, smashing buildings, traffic lights, cars, people. Sometimes they exploded, and downtown Manhattan was filled with miniature mushroom clouds, and babies were born sick and malformed the next couple of years after that. Sometimes they remained inert, closed. The bolder amongst us, the curious, the rebels, went up to them, tried to break them open. We spray-painted their sides with gang tags and messages of rebellion. We’d never surrender. Not so long as we had Kong.

I remember the night had been so bright… the saucers swooped low over the city, the aliens’ magnified voices emanating out of them: Disband immediately. Remain indoors. Failure to comply will result in instant death.

They fired on us, too. But we ran and we hid, in the ruined buildings, behind smashed cars. We brought out our hidden arsenal and fought back. A man beside me that night, chewing on an unlit cigar, wearing military uniform without insignia, grinning, held up a rocket launcher, found God knows where, and fired, and we watched a saucer exploding into a thousand shards, and a rain of molten metal fell down, silent and silver and deadly.

Up there, almost too high to see, the giant ape still held on. The smell of burning fur filled the air.


  1. Questions for the Reader

Consider the previous fragment. Who is the speaker? Could the teller of the tale be one of those mythical humans, figures of dread and fascination of which the Bible says, “Simian in appearance, hairless, with malformed skulls and pink tongues, parents of a doomed civilization?”

Do you believe in lost civilizations?

Do you believe in “flying saucers”?

What is “Manhattan”?


  1. The Holy Book of Ape, Also Called The Bible

Most prominent in our literature is the Bible, a book of intense religious significance, a compilation whose writer, or writers, were lost to time.

The Bible tells us of a mythical figure known only as “Darwin”. It says:

“The Earth revolves around the sun, it is the planet of us, apes. Apes are the apex of evolution. All things evolve, all living things die.” The Bible tells us of mythical creatures called dinosaurs, giant beings, the progenitors of Kong and the giant lizard Gojira and their like. It tells us, too, of that lost species we call humans, who some say had built cities, and machines, as we do, and went into space, as we do. But we find no trace of them on the moon, or the fourth planet, and the cities of Earth are our own.

Several centuries ago holy wars were fought over the Kong dichotomy, between the Church of Latter Day Apes and the First Church of Darwin, over the exact question of who begat who, King Kong or Donkey Kong. The Thirty Year War only ended with the Edict of Worms, which proposed a Holy Trinity, with the ill-defined “Son of Kong” as the third-yet-equal member of the trinity.

But this is history, of which we are not, as stated previously, concerned. Let us turn then to another apocryphal episode, a fragment from the so-called “Skull Document” found on an island in the south seas.

Our mythology is filled with islands, lush jungles, vines, humidity and humans. The following tells of a famous one-eyed simian…


  1. Escape From Skull Island

They found him on the edge of the desert and they had guns and he was outnumbered.

Nevertheless he fought.

They caught him and bound him and put him on the chopper. They came to a place with no windows. He found himself sitting before a desk. He was no longer bound. He adjusted his eye-patch and grinned, revealing large yellow teeth.

‘Ape Plissken,’ the president said. The president was a grey-haired simian with an easy smile and a born-again devotion. He had recently declared war on the apes of another continent since they had sided with the Dawkinist heretics while the president himself was a devout follower of St. Darwin.

‘You got a cigar?’ Ape Plissken said.

The president shook his head.

‘I’ll settle for a banana,’ Ape said.

‘Listen to me, you damn dirty ape!’ the president said. ‘I have two choices for you.’

‘I’m listenin’,’ Ape said.

The president leaned back and thoughtfully scratched himself. ‘Take the mission I offer you,’ he said. ‘Or die for your crimes.’

‘What’s the mission?’ Ape said.

The president smiled, grimly. ‘Dawkinist scum have kidnapped my daughter,’ he said. ‘They are holding her on Skull Island. Your mission is to enter Skull Island, liberate my daughter from the “duke” or “king” of Skull Island, and return her to me.’


[fragment missing]


‘… or I’ll shoot!’

Ape laughed grimly. He had been dropped into Skull Island in the midst of night, but the place confused him. Giant bones lay everywhere, and the apes of this place spoke a strange tongue, and their females covered themselves. He had found his way to the presidential palace and there encountered guards, who were currently threatening him. He laughed as he shot them. Then the laughter died in his throat.

‘I’m the king of Skull Island!’

The king towered over him. He picked Ape up as if he were a toy. He held him in his huge palm. Giant eyes peered at Ape. Giant teeth grinned.

‘Ook you!’ Ape said.


[fragment missing]


‘I’m the King! I’m the King! I’m…’ the giant simian shuddered as Ape’s bullets hit him repeatedly.

‘Save me!’ cried the female. Ape picked her up and together they swung along the vine, high in the air, flying, and he thought they would be flying forever.


  1. Questions for the Reader

What were the reasons behind the Thirty Year War?

What exactly is the Edict of Worm?

How do you feel about Dawkinist immigration? Do you feel calling them “dirty apes” is justified?

Is Skull Island a real place?

Would you like a banana?


  1. Astounding Ape Stories of the Imagination

One important source of modern myth are the banana pulp magazines. These are printed on cheap recycled paper made of banana skins. Some of the more prominent ones are Astounding Ape Stories, Weird Ape Tales, Ape Detective, Thrilling Ape Stories, and many more. There are also the curious illustrated tales our young love so much, such as Captain Simian, SuperApe, X-Apes and so on. Our young adore this rubbish, these cheap disposable banana-skin fantasies, but the serious researcher of mythology need not shy even from such insignificant offerings. On the contrary! It could be argued that within the pages of the banana pulps the racial subconscious comes truly alive, our dreams and nightmares tattooed in ink over peel. This apocryphal account was first published several decades ago in the short-lived magazine Simian Excitement Quarterly.


  1. Return to the Planet of the Humans

Sometimes I dream I am in a spaceship, and I am returning home. Sometimes I wake up in the night, sweating, and I go across the cold floor to the bathroom, all china tiles and gleaming metal. I look in the mirror and I touch my face, and it is covered in hair, and I cannot tell what I am, where I begin and the beast ends.

In the dreams I can’t speak. The humans speak English, but English is not my language. Sometimes when I close my eyes I see apes throwing barrels. Sometimes I see a statue of an apish woman, and a man kneeling in the sand, and crying.

Sometimes I drink too much and take the last train home. Swaying with the motion of the train, my eyes fill up with tears of tiredness, and the faces of the people blur in their seats, and suddenly the train is filled with silent apes.

Sometimes I dream I’m in a spaceship, escaping. There is something so glorious about escape. But always the ship turns back, the planet hovers on the view-creen, and I crash-land, in the ruins of the world there are only apes, an ape president declares war on ape infidels, Dawkins ikons mutely stare, a Dawkins Jesus, a Darwin Bible, and there really was an Edict of Worm, life is always stranger than what you can make up. Like evolution.

I will not tap dance in the palm of the giant ape.

The island didn’t hold him.

Sometimes my wife trims the hairs growing out of my ears, with little scissors. Rise and fall, rise and fall… the planes didn’t bring him down. We are all beautiful beasts. Sometimes I dream of escape, but I always return, I always return to your planet, I always return…

There is no escape.

You. Ape-man. Ape-woman. Look in the mirror. Look at your fellow apes. We’re on the train together…

Sometimes I wake up in the night and I am sweating, and I step across the cold hard floor to the bathroom, and run the tap, and drink cold water, and when I raise my head I see him staring at me from the mirror.

lavieLavie Tidhar’s latest novel, A Man Lies Dreaming (“A twisted masterpiece” – The Guardian) is out now in the UK, and The Violent Century is out Feb. 2015 in the US. Lavie’s previous novel,Osama, won the World Fantasy Award in 2012, and he is the author of several novels, novellas and collections, as well as numerous short stories. His comics mini-series Adler is currently in development with Titan Comics.