Twenty Years Ago Today: Death of Pierre Boulle

Pierre_Boulle Pierre Boulle was a French novelist whose most popular works are ones you've almost certainly heard of and possibly even enjoyed: The Bridge over the River Kwai, and Planet of the Apes. He's credited as the screenwriter on the film of the first, despite the fact that he didn't write a word of it and didn't even speak English. He only received the credit as cover for the real screenwriters, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, who were blacklisted at the time.

The film as inspired by Boulle's own wartime experiences, when he spent two years as a captive labourer working on the death railway. The reason why he was sentenced to this living hell is just as interesting: he was actually a secret agent working to help the resistance movements in Indochina, and a supporter of General de Gaulle. Once the war was done, the French government gave him a shoulder-full of medals for his work. The British were less than happy when his novel was published, because they assumed that the character of Col Nicholson (who collaborates with the Japanese) was based on the real British commander of the troops forced to work on the railways, when he was really an amalgam of French officers who actually did collaborate.

Pierre Boulle always denied that Planet of the Apes was science fiction, and here I have to object to him and all the literary authors who dip their toes in science fiction and desperately hope that it can be washed off as soon as possible. Just because you write well and are trying to attempt something more than just entertainment, it doesn't mean that you should be ashamed of writing in a genre. I write science fiction because it lets me put interesting characters through extraordinary trials. And isn't that what fiction is supposed to be about?