Rich Handley Author and Editor

Throwbook Thursday—Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone

I’ve been highlighting books I’ve written, edited, or contributed to throughout my career, with a new entry posted every Thursday. It’s “Throwbook Thursday,” ya’ll! (But please do not throw books. It can hurt someone and damage the books.)

In 2017, my friend and frequent collaborator Jim Beard and I did something neither of us were expecting to do, and which only happened due to our joking around online two years earlier. Someone had noticed that other than a few obscure British children’s books from the 1970s, no one had ever published a short fiction anthology set in the Planet of the Apes mythos. One of us (I don’t recall who said what) joked “We should totally do that,” then the other (again, no idea which one) said “Actually, we really should.” (Or something like that. I’m blatantly making up the words here.) A lightbulb went off, and the end result was what ended up being Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone.

Published by Titan Books in 2017, Tales from the Forbidden Zone came about thanks to editor Steve Saffel, who graciously accepted our proposal and allowed us to enter the official Apes realm, which we’d both dabbled in prior but only in unlicensed books. In the science fiction tie-in world, short story anthologies don’t always generate high enough sales for publishers to view them as a worthwhile project to pursue, and so companies tend to be reluctant to greenlight such pitches. But Jim, Steve, and I all believed this one had a good shot at succeeding, given the popularity of the recent theatrical films and the renewed spotlight they have shined on the classic era.

At Steve’s request (and Jim and I were totally fine with it since this was our intention anyway), we focused solely on the classic era of the franchise, and we set out to come up with a great lineup of respected authors from multiple genres. With a landscape spanning thousands of years, the possibilities for new adventures were infinite. Our intent was to draw upon each writer’s unique individual strengths, background, and enthusiasm to craft entertaining tales of the sort that readers might not normally experience. Jim and I began reaching out to high-profile authors, with the goal of featuring a wide range of stories told with different voices and styles, set throughout the timeline and spotlighting characters both existing and new.

Especially exciting was that we were allowed to include characters and settings from both the live-action and animated TV series, branches of the Apes family tree that are often overlooked but have loyal fans nonetheless. After a great deal of footwork, exchanged e-mails, and outreaches to novelists, screenwriters, and comic book professionals, we finalized our lineup. In addition to stories from me and Jim, we were delighted to feature the work of Dan Abnett, Kevin J. Anderson, Nancy Collins, Greg Cox, Drew Gaska, Robert Greenberger, Greg Keyes, Sam Knight, Paul Kupperberg, Jonathan Maberry, Bob Mayer, John Jackson Miller, Ty Templeton, Will Murray, and Dayton Ward, and there was not a story in the bunch that we didn’t both enjoy. I consider myself truly privileged to have worked with them.

We encouraged the writers to vary their proposals, and we ended up with stories exploring not only the chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, mutants, and mute humans you’d expect to see in Planet of the Apes, but also gibbons, baboons, and other surprises along the way. Plus, a few authors proposed stories that could only be written unconstrained by existing continuity, and to shake things up a bit we let them have at it. The result was a book Jim and I are both immensely proud of, and which still maintains an Amazon rating of 4.8 out of 5 almost five years after the anthology hit stores. I’ve always wished we’d been allowed to do a second volume, Maybe someday.

You can order Tales from the Forbidden Zone from Titan, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Penguin Random House, and other booksellers.

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