MI6 Community Novel Bondathon - Reborn!



  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    Yes, the casting was ideal.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    @BeatlesSansEarmuffs @Some_Kind_Of_Hero @Revelator

    Didn't get too much feedback, so I guess this weekend is off. Anyone have any ideas or preferences to where we can get together for a few drinks, play Bond trivia and maybe watch a Bond film?
  • Posts: 1,199
    There's still next (not this) Friday's Bond double-bill at the Castro--if I'm not too tired I'll be there.
  • I'll try to make that as well...
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    I'll go. Want to carpool @Some_Kind_Of_Hero ?
  • Wish I could, but I can't make the 25th.

    The night before has a pretty sweet double bill too—A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and PHANTASM—but I can't make that one either.
  • Posts: 1,199
    To help spur the conversation along, I hope no one minds if I reprint some comments I made about Dr. No a few years ago on this board (and later on Artistic License Renewed).

    Doctor No marks a shift in the Bond novels from the subdued, smaller-scale books that preceded it. From Russia With Love, was a realistic, Eric Ambler-style cold war espionage thriller; Doctor No is a larger-than-life adventure story that harks back to the Fu Manchu novels Fleming read in childhood. From here on the Bond novels grew more grandiose and outlandish. The next book, Goldfinger, was on an even larger scale, almost a self-parody, and determined the tone of the James Bond films.

    Doctor No is a hinge in the Bond saga, situated between the sober early books and the wild later ones. It’s been called a modern-day “fertility myth,” thanks to its lush island setting and its mythic overtone of a modern-day St. George trekking through the jungle and fighting a “dragon.” Two dragons actually–-the fake tank and Dr. No himself, though the latter looks more like a worm. He just might be Fleming’s greatest villain, and I love all the crazy details Fleming gives him, like the heart on the wrong side of his body, just as I love his great supervillain speeches, some of the greatest lines ever spoken by a Bond villain. “Yes Mr. Bond, I am a maniac. All the greatest men are maniacs." Why hasn't anyone said that in the movies? I read DN after seeing the film, and was initially disappointed that No was crushed by a mountain of bird guano instead of drowning in a radioactive pool. Now I appreciate the craziness and ignominy of his original death. It should also be in a movie.

    The film of Dr. No is certainly disappointing when it comes to the torture sequence, the longest, most excruciating description of physical pain in any Bond novel. You can see Fleming’s sadomasochism at work in his minute description of Bond’s physical sensations, how alert he is to the state of Bond’s body and its growing exhaustion. The torture course is what got Fleming in trouble with the literary tastemakers, and Amis claimed this reaction caused Fleming to forgo using torture in his later novels, which seems accurate. In any case, discussion of the scene is incomplete without its capper–-Bond fighting the giant squid. The scene could have easily proved ridiculous, but Fleming makes it not only plausible but terrifying. Ironically, it's also very cinematic: read this excerpt and try visualizing it onscreen:
    Below him the water quivered. Something was stirring in the depths, something huge. A great length of luminescent greyness showed, poised far down in the darkness. Something snaked up from it, a whiplash as thick as Bond's arm. The tip of the thong was swollen to a narrow oval, with regular bud-like markings. It swirled through the water where the fish had been and was withdrawn. Now there was nothing but the huge grey shadow. What was it doing? Was it...? Was it tasting the blood?

    As if in answer, two eyes as big as footballs slowly swam up and into Bond's vision. They stopped, twenty feet below his own, and stared up through the quiet water at his face.

    What an "oh sh*t" moment that would be!

    Yet another book-is-better scene: Quarrel is given a fine send-off, and his death is far more affecting than in the film (which makes him literally carry Bond’s shoes). However, the book's treatment of “Chigroes” is more racist–-Bond and No treat them as subhuman and call them “apes.” They are looked down on by both Blacks and the Chinese, and one feels sympathy for this “tough, forgotten race,” even if Bond doesn’t.

    Honey is one of Bond’s best heroines–-she is self-sufficient and the opposite of a damsel in distress. Her oneness with nature also adds to the book’s mythic feel. Her coming-on to Bond in Dr. No’s mink-lined prison is overdone, but I do like the low comedy of her naked introduction. Even better is her domineering command at the end of the novel: “Do as you’re told.” That would be a great closing line for a Bond film.

    Doctor No also features a characteristically Flemingian feature pointed out by Kingsley Amis–-a scene of Bond wined and dined by the villain. Amis said Crab Key was one of the most exciting settings in modern fiction, and he praised the book’s “unrelaxed tension, its terrifying house of evil, and the savage beauty of its main setting on a Caribbean island, a locale which Fleming made part of himself and which always excited his pen to produce some of his best writing.” DN's influence is strongly evident in Colonel Sun, which features Bond journeying to a remote island and getting tortured by a sadistic Chinese supervillain.

    The most shocking part of the novel has nothing to do with Dr. No or his torture course-–it's Bond humiliation at the hands of M. If Dr. No is a hinge between the earlier and later Bond books, this marks a permanent change, a deterioration in the relationship between spy and spymaster. The wise and humane Sir James Molony had recommended giving Bond a more comfortable assignment, but M does this with such coldness and ill-concealed disapproval that Bond–-for the first time in his life–-gets angry with his boss.

    Worse, M strips Bond of his trusty old gun and insists he use a new one. Freud would say this represents a symbolic castration of the son by his father. But the scene is uncomfortable enough without such a subtext. Bond is ordered to stand up so the armorer can inspect his build. After the armorer feels up his biceps and forearms, Bond is ordered to hand over his Beretta, which is mocked by Major Boothroyd: "‘I think we can do better than this. sir.’ It was the sort of voice Bond’s first expensive tailor used.”

    Bond would have first met an expensive tailor during his teenaged, public school years--Boothroyd’s comment therefore strips Bond of his adulthood. (I wonder if Bond’s irritation was shared by Fleming, who made Boothroyd a rather unattractive character.) Bond’s old Beretta might not be phallic, but it’s practically his spouse :
    He thought of his fifteen years’ marriage to the ugly piece of metal…when he had dismantled the gun and oiled it and packed the bullets…pumping the cartridges out on to the bedspread in some hotel bedroom somewhere around the world. Then the last wipe of a dry rag…he had ties and M was going to cut them.

    M is unmoved–-“there was no sympathy in his voice.” But there is belittlement: he tells Bond “The sunshine’ll do you good and you can practice your new guns on the turtles or whatever they have down there.” And then M demands Bond leave behind his Beretta. Now their relationship is truly marred:
    Bond looked across into M’s eyes. For the first time in his life he hated the man. He knew perfectly well why M was being tough and mean. It was deferred punishment for having nearly gotten killed on his last job. Plus getting away from this filthy weather into the sunshine. M couldn’t bear to have his men have an easy time. In a way Bond felt sure he was being sent on this cushy assignment to humiliate him. The old bastard.

    Shocking! In all the earlier books M and Bond had a near-perfect relationship–-Bond was happy to take orders from a man he loved and regarded as being a Churchillian God, a perfect father. The reader was encouraged to feel the same way Bond dif about M. But now Fleming mocks him: “M’s occasional bursts of rage were so splendid.”

    After concluding his Jamaica mission, Bond sends a snarky telegram to M about his new guns proving ineffective against No’s dragon. Bond has second thoughts about this “cheap” gibe, but “he just wanted M to know that it hadn’t quite been a holiday in the sun.” I doubt if M noticed or cared. In the following books he stays rude, belligerent, and nasty, to a degree that convinced Kingsley Amis M was really evil.

    It’s certainly true that Bond and M never regained the idyllic relationship they enjoyed before Doctor No. In Goldfinger Bond laughs in M’s face, in “For Your Eyes Only” a morally compromised M uses Bond as a personal hitman, in OHMSS M drives Bond to the point of resignation and is stupidly belligerent when Bond devises a plan to snare Blofeld. In YOLT M shouts at Bond and almost fires him. In TMWTGG–-well, the relationship hit bottom. Even M’s employees start calling him a bastard.

    That said, M is not the sort of evil, duplicitous spymaster found in a Le Carre novel. But it is fascinating how the unambiguously good M of the first books transforms into the crusty old fart of the later ones. As with Bond, Fleming made the character more human as the years went by. But in M’s case, this meant poking fun at the old admiral. You can’t say he didn’t enjoy it.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    Good stuff. Some of my notes are also from previous reviews that I have done

    DOCTOR NO (1958)

    -Every page clicked. It was an absolute joy and and and absolute thrill. Fleming's descriptions of the world and the inhabitants have never felt sharper or more spot on. I felt like I was going through everything that Bond went through.

    -Honey is without a doubt my favorite literary Bond girl. She is so unique in the pantheon, and so well realized. This is magic on Fleming's part. She seems so real to me that it is hard for me to conceive that she is simply a man's fictional invention. Quarrel and the Doctor himself are written to perfection, not much more to say there.

    -Again, at the onset (more tight continuity between books), we get warnings that M may be pushing Bond too far both physically and mentally, and, again, M just doesn't seem to give a shit. In his mind that's what the 00s are for.

    -What happens after is probably the worst physically abuse our hero has suffered to date (well, looking back, that is a tough cal to make). We're made to feel every burn, every cut and every rip of the giant squids tentacles.

    -Small criticism; in the past few books I've detected a little bit of sloppy writing on Fleming's part. Things like awkward repetition of words or phrases, excessive exclamation points and a few other bad habits have bothered me to a minor degree. But, it is hardly interfering with my enjoyment.

  • Revelator wrote: »
    Worse, M strips Bond of his trusty old gun and insists he use a new one. Freud would say this represents a symbolic castration of the son by his father. But the scene is uncomfortable enough without such a subtext. Bond is ordered to stand up so the armorer can inspect his build. After the armorer feels up his biceps and forearms, Bond is ordered to hand over his Beretta, which is mocked by Major Boothroyd: "‘I think we can do better than this. sir.’ It was the sort of voice Bond’s first expensive tailor used.”

    Bond would have first met an expensive tailor during his teenaged, public school years--Boothroyd’s comment therefore strips Bond of his adulthood. (I wonder if Bond’s irritation was shared by Fleming, who made Boothroyd a rather unattractive character.)

    An interesting reading of the scene and one I think has much merit. Your point about the deterioration of Bond's relationship with M over the course of the novels is one I had never noticed in the past and hopefully will now that I am reading them in order and closer together. This comes in stark contrast to Bond's previous attitude toward M and those "grey eyes" he obeyed and respected.
    Birdleson wrote: »
    -Honey is without a doubt my favorite literary Bond girl. She is so unique in the pantheon, and so well realized. This is magic on Fleming's part. She seems so real to me that it is hard for me to conceive that she is simply a man's fictional invention.

    Honey, I'm finding, is a fantastic character. She is so far Fleming's best realized female character, exceeding even Tiffany Case. The sheer volume of pages Fleming devotes to characterizing her and filling in her background is astounding. With FRWL, Tania got off to a wonderful start, then simply faded right out of the story. It's almost as if Fleming realized the unfulfilled potential and went above and beyond with Honey.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    I love the bit in the chapter COME INTO MY PARLOR, when Bond and Honey are riding the underground lift to meet Dr. No, he says to her, "Be natural and don't be worried by Dr. No. He may be a bit mad." I guess one could argue that Bond is basing this assumption on the elaborate charade and environment that No has created under this island. But that can be credited to indulgence. I prefer to think that at this point he has knocked heads with Mr. Big, Drax and Red Grant. He expects his adversary to be beyond eccentric.
  • Chs. 11-20 (Amidst the Alien CaneSlave-Time)

    Despite a less than completely gripping start, Dr. No charges full steam ahead, Fleming firing on all cylinders, in the novel's second half. The adventure, the sadism, the dialogue, the wicked humor—all anchored by the spectacular setting of Crab Key and two of Fleming's most fascinating and best realized creations: Honey Ryder and Dr. Julius No.

    The sheer number of pages devoted strictly to realizing Honey as a character, without compromising the forward momentum of the story, is kind of stunning. Honey's self-consciousness over her battered nose and Bond's insistence that she's still beautiful and doesn't need it changed (and especially the story over how her nose got that way) endear her all the more. Fleming endears Bond as well, with Bond's resolution to see Honey gets the money she needs to have her operation in America if she really wants it once this is all over.

    Bond's reaction to the black widow story is much better in the book than in the film. In the film, he reacts with visible disgust before conceding "It wouldn't do to make a habit of it." In the book, Bond's initial reaction is one of reverence before he "mildly" adds, as if he supposes it's the responsible thing to say, "It's not a thing to make a habit of...but I can't say I blame you the way it was. So what happened then?" A world of a difference between the two reactions. I agree with book Bond's response.

    Bond, who must be 40-41 at this point, is roughly double the age of Honey, punching holes through any argument of actor-actress age differences in any of the films outside perhaps AVTAK. Fleming addresses the matter briefly in a couple of sentences, but overall appears more interested in writing of the wildness, the animality, the complete abandon in Honey's relationship with Bond.

    Indeed she's a fascinating creation—and one of the most bizarre and most humorous scenes in an undeniably bizarre novel arrives when she's delightedly bathing and taunting Bond over his refusal to immediately make love to her. "He's a coward. He's frightened of a simple girl. I wonder why he's frightened. Of course if I wrestled with him I'd win easily. Perhaps he's frightened of that." And on and on, here on the brink of discovering Dr. No's madness, here in the clutches of the enemy, in this "Mink-Lined Prison."

    Speaking of which (and speaking of bizarre), the reception by Sisters Rose and Lily fussing over the rooms and showering Bond and Honey with hospitality, after the horrors of the marshes and the incineration of Quarrel, is one of Fleming's greatest literary magic tricks and a delightful turn of atmosphere. (Also—Bryce? Was that not the name Bond used with Solitaire in LALD? Another echo?)

    Scrambled eggs for breakfast, thank God. (And drugged pineapple juice.)

    Dr. No's introduction at the conclusion of that chapter is pretty much perfection: him stalking into the rooms where his guests are sleeping and observing their naked bodies with the lamp affixed to his chest. And though he spends a great deal of time looking over Bond, studying his fate line and whatnot, there is nothing remotely erotic about the passage. There is nothing remotely sexual about Dr. No whatsoever. He barely registers as human in fact with Fleming describing him as a great venomous-worm whose heart is even in the wrong place in his body as you might expect of an insect. And then there is that great alien-like head, almost like a praying mantis's and the insectile mechanical pincers for hands. The man is a towering insect in a shimmering silver kimono. He is quite possibly Fleming's absolute creepiest villain of all (though Bond takes some of the wind out of his sails with his remarks about the man's cheap parlor tricks).

    The extended dinner conversation is rife with barbed dialogue and Bond seeking opportunities to slash No's jugular with the dinnerware. No's scheme is a fascinating one, even more interesting than what made it to film. Still, the one drawback of the book's climax, by comparison with say Moonraker, is that there is no immediacy to stopping No's scheme. No countdown to destruction. Not even the ticking bomb on the boat in LALD. Fleming compensates marvelously by distracting the reader with sadism and calamari. (And admittedly, giving Bond the internal countdown of having to rescue Honey from the run of the crabs.)

    I recall, upon my first read, thinking Dr. No's "obstacle course" would take place out in the jungle, presenting a sort of "Most Dangerous Game" scenario for Bond. Which really got my blood pumping. Bond's journey through the metal shaft, therefore, came as a disappointment up against my wild expectations. Knowing what to expect, however, I appreciate how positively brutal Bond's torment is here. The reader's too, for that matter. The part where Bond lances the tarantulas into a bloody pulp then climbs over their mass of hairy, mostly dead legs is quite possibly the singularly most revolting thing found in all of Fleming. In my opinion. But then, I don't really do spiders in general.

    The squid...

    Again, upon my initial read, this was for me a real jumping the shark point in Fleming's chronology. And anyone would have to admit the scene pardons a lot of the more outlandish things that have cropped up in the films. It's pure Jules Verne. That said, it is stunning writing and Fleming immerses you fully in the horrific reality of the scene. It's fantasy, it's nonsense, it's not of our world, but Fleming makes it oh so real and the pages fly by until Bond is covered in stinking black ink with the kraken and its blazing red eyes descending back into the sea. Now that CGI animals have been introduced into the last two films and with CGI improving with every passing year, I really think this scene—playing fully toward realism—needs to crop up in a film at some point. It could be one of the greatest, most stunning sequences in the whole series.

    The squid conquered, we're on to the climax—and Fleming simply does not relent. It's an exhilarating, go-for-broke, one against many finale with Bond commandeering construction equipment (Casino Royale, Skyfall) to bury his freakish nemesis in bird poop. Dr. No himself is such a bizarre creation it's almost impossible to visual this tall, slim alien figure out there amongst the island vegetation, drowning in guano. It's wonderfully ridiculous.

    A View to a Kill springs readily to mind with the blonde Honey showing up in oversized workman's clothes tied about her figure and their journey down the tunnel and into the dragon, Bond shooting up what were likely the opening chapter's Three Blind Mice along the way.

    Bond's tussle with Honey brings a bit of, still grounded, amusement to the proceedings and it's actually a nice surprise to learn that Honey knew all along that the crabs wouldn't possibly hurt her and that she had fainted over the thought of what would be done to Bond.

    As things wrap up in the final chapter, Fleming takes a few jabs at bureaucracy, even letting Bond lay into M a little (though he immediately regrets having done so), leaving Pleydell-Smith the sole representative of bureaucratic sanity and of the sort of man Bond/Fleming approves of in the world.

    Continuing with the LALD echoes, Fleming concludes with his second "traditional film ending," allowing the story to close with Bond and Honey on the brink of lovemaking in her zoo/animal paradise, now emptied of its usual inhabitants. I do wonder, however, if the lobsters had anything to say to Honey before she cooked them for dinner.

    Total scrambled eggs count: 1

    An unexpectedly thoroughly enjoyable experience, Dr. No. I hope all my previously disappointing Bonds are met with such positive reappraisals. My hopes, unfortunately, aren't quite so high for Goldfinger however. Though I am eager to dive in.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,742
    I'm travelling this weekend, so I will be reading Bond in motion, as Fleming intended :)
    The part where Bond lances the tarantulas into a bloody pulp then climbs over their mass of hairy, mostly dead legs is quite possibly the singularly most revolting thing found in all of Fleming. In my opinion. But then, I don't really do spiders in general.

    Puke. Me neither.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    I am about a day behind with a few chapters left in DOCTOR NO, my semester (I'm a teacher) began in conjunction with our start of that book. GOLDFINGER has traditionally warred with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER for my least favorite of the novels, but I was staying at my mother's house last year and she had a copy on the bookshelf. I read the first 20 pages or so while I was there and was sucked right in; so I'm looking forward to this next round. If I remember correctly it is the last third or so that is rushed and comparatively weak.
  • I think we can provide a couple days grace period for final thoughts on Dr. No with the day and a half lost on the site crash.
  • Posts: 1,199
    Hey guys, I decided to invite someone new to the Bondathon. He can't stay for the entire thing, since he happens to be dead, but he's an expert on thrillers and detective novels and was even a friend of Ian Fleming. So please give a warm welcome to Raymond Chandler, who reviewed Doctor No for the Sunday Times on March 25 1956:
    The Terrible Dr. No

    Ian Fleming first attracted me for three qualities which I thought—perhaps wrongly—almost unique in English writers. The first was escape from mandarin English, the forced pretentiousness, the preoccupation with the precise and beautiful phrase, which to me is seldom precise or beautiful, since our language contains an interior magic which belongs only to those who in a sense, care nothing about themselves.

    The second was daring. He was not afraid to attempt any locale anywhere. He wrote expertly of New York’s Harlem and Florida’s St. Petersburg, in both of which he didn’t miss a trick. He wrote of Las Vegas and did miss one small trick. He forgot the glass of ice water which is always the first thing a waitress or bus boy would place on your table.

    What has happened to him in “Dr. No” is what happens to every real writer. He has found that a novel, a thriller, or what you choose to call it, is a world, that it has its own depth and subtleties, and that these can be expressed in an offhand way, without calling attention to themselves, and be very much alive.

    The first chapter of “Dr. No” is masterly. The atmosphere and background of the elegant Richmond Road in Kingston, Jamaica, are established with clarity and charm. They had to be, or the ruthless violence which takes place there would be in a vacuum.

    The third thing that attracted me in Ian Fleming’s writing was an acute sense at pace. How far to go, when to stop, when to destroy a mood and when to regain it, when to write a scene on a postcard and when to write richly and with leisure. Some of the most honoured novels lack this completely. You have to work at them. You don’t have to work at Fleming. He does the work for you.

    The story concerns itself with a strange disappearance of two British agents in Jamaica, and why they disappeared, when no possible reason seemed clear. All was peace, so why suddenly in the night are they gone? James Bond is sent to find out—a trivial matter, a vacation in the sun. Yeah?

    I have a few complaints. The beautiful girl does not appear until page 91, but in return for this she is allowed to live, and the last love scene is more gentle and compassionate than Ian Fleming usually permits. My second complaint is that the long sensational business which is the heart of the book not only borders on fantasy, it plunges into it with both feet. Ian Fleming’s impetuous imagination has no rules. I could wish he would write a book with all but one of his other qualities, yet with a plot which, at least to my world, seems part of what I know to be actual. The sequence is beautifully written, there are many very good things in it, especially detailed descriptions of the locale, the birds, the fishes—Fleming seems to be in love with rare fishes, and other dwellers in the water—some interiors, and a long torture scene which I thought a bit too sadistic, as though, he liked to write this sort of thing for its own sake.

    The terrible Dr. No is a strange creature, but his motives become clear and his end very original. The beautiful girl this time is no sophisticated doll from the night clubs. The ending of the book is, as I said, written with an unusual tenderness—for Ian Fleming. I’m glad of that.

    As I said, Ray cannot comment on the later novels, since he died before Goldfinger was published, but he did review Diamonds Are Forever for The Sunday Times on March 25 1956. I realize we've moved on from that book, but I figure you'd be interested in what Ray thought:

    Some three years ago Mr. Ian Fleming produced a thriller which was about as tough an item as ever came out of England in the way of thriller-writing, on any respectable literary level. “Casino Royale” contained a superb gambling scene, a torture scene which still haunts me, and of course a beautiful girl. His second “Live and Let Die,” was memorable in that he entered the American scene with perfect poise, did a brutal sketch of Harlem, and another of St. Petersburg, Florida. His third, “Moonraker,” was, by comparison with the first two explosions, merely a spasm. We now have his fourth book, “Diamonds are Forever,” which has the preliminary distinction of a sweet title, and of being about the nicest piece of book-making in this type of literature which I have seen for a long time.

    “Diamonds are Forever” concerns, nominally, the smashing of an international diamond smuggling ring. But actually, apart from the charms and faults I am going to mention, it is just another American gangster story, and not a very original one at that. In Chapter I Mr. Fleming very nearly becomes atmospheric, and with Mr. James Bond as your protagonist, a character about as atmospheric as a dinosaur, it just doesn’t pay off. In Chapter II we learn quite a few facts about diamonds, and we then get a fairly detailed description of Saratoga and its sins, and a gang execution which is as nasty as any I have read.

    Later there is a more detailed, more fantastic, more appalling description of Las Vegas and its daily life. To a Californian, Las Vegas is a cliché. You don’t make fantastic, because it was designed that way, and it is funny rather than terrifying. From then on there is some very fast and dangerous action; and of course Mr. Bond finally has his way with the beautiful girl. Sadly enough his beautiful girls have no future, because it is the curse of the “series character” that he always has to go back to where he began.

    Mr. Fleming writes a journalistic style, neat, clean, spare and never pretentious. He writes of brutal things, and as though he liked them. The trouble with brutality in writing is that it has to grow out of something. The best hardboiled writers never try to be tough, they allow toughness to happen when it seems inevitable for its time, place and conditions.

    I don’t think “Diamonds are Forever” measures up to either “Casino Royale” or “Live and Let Die.” Frankly, I think there is a certain amount of padding in it, and there are pages in which James Bond thinks. I don't like James Bond thinking. His thoughts are superfluous. I like him when he is in the dangerous card game; I like him when he is exposing himself unarmed to half a dozen thin-lipped processional killers, and neatly dumping them into a heap of fractured bones; I like him when he finally takes the beautiful girl in his arms, and teaches her about one-tenth of the facts of life she knew already.

    I have left the remarkable thing about this book to the last. And that is that it is written by an Englishman, The scene is almost entirely American, and it rings true to an American. I am unaware of any other writer who has accomplished this. But let me plead with Mr. Fleming not to allow himself to become a stunt writer, or he will end up no better than the rest of us.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    I love Chandler, great stuff. Funny how out of the first three books MR is the throw away. He seems to really dig location.
  • edited August 2017 Posts: 1,199
    Birdleson wrote: »
    I love Chandler, great stuff. Funny how out of the first three books MR is the throw away. He seems to really dig location.

    Yes, which makes sense considering that Chandler's books certainly depend far more on mood and setting than plot. Chandler also admired Fleming's pacing--yet another Chandlerian quality. It's also interesting that Chandler had recurring qualms about the level of violence in Fleming--not just in the obvious case of DN but also in DAF. We do know that in a letter Chandler called Fleming "a bit of a sadist."

    As a lagniappe, here's an interview with Chandler that the Daily Express conducted to promote its Bond comic strip.
    Raymond Chandler Talks of James Bond (July 7 1958)

    By Donald Gomery

    Raymond Chandler rested on his bed in a Chelsea flat yesterday and talked about Ian Fleming.
    Chandler, creator of the world famous American detective, Philip Marlowe, is a friend and admirer of Ian Fleming, creator of the famous British secret agent, James Bond.
    “Ian Fleming’s writing,” he said, “is hard, racy, direct, vivid stuff.” A form of writing most suitable for translation into strip form.
    “I often wish,” said Chandler, “that I had Ian’s virtues.” For example?
    “Well,” said Chandler, “Fleming can go to a town for the background of a new novel, and in three days he will have mopped up every detail of that town.”
    “He will remember everything, and when he comes to that town he won’t make a mistake. Though I did twit him once,” he recalled, “when he forgot to have a glass of iced water on the table while he wrote about Las Vegas.”

    “Ian Fleming,” Raymond Chandler added, has the journalistic mind. “I was a journalist once, but I got fired. I’m too slow a thinker. But Ian—he gathers in every point quickly and accurately.
    “His hard, clean style is unusual in England. There’s that difference between American crime stories and British crime stories. The British stories lack pace. But Fleming has got away from the prosy style. He’s an exception—he has this pace.
    “I’ve enjoyed all his books. The one I liked most is ‘Casino Royale.’”

    Chandler, talking about Fleming, was not all praise. “Perhaps James Bond is a little too tough,” he said. (This is not, of course, a new criticism.)
    “Bond is a dangerous man,” said Chandler. “Dangerous to his enemies. Dangerous to himself. In real life, I suppose, Bond would not last more than 12 months. His enemies would combine to see to that.
    “Philip Marlowe, now—he’ll probably end his days in a street accident. The American crime syndicate would never really go out of their wat to bump him off. He’s not dangerous enough to them.
    “In real life, though, I suppose James Bond would not be a secret agent. I’m not sure whether secret agents behave as Bond does. Perhaps not. In real life such a man with such talents would probably be…a director, perhaps. A managing director.” Chandler smiled.
    For that matter, of course, there could never be a private eye like Philip Marlowe. “American private detectives,” Chandler said, “are usually sleazy little men doing rather sleazy little jobs.”
    He mediates on this character of his, Philip Marlowe. “I am very fond of Philip,” said Raymond Chandler.

    Next, an absurdly fascinating question: If Marlowe and Bond ever found themselves up against each other, who would win? (Rather like Matt Dillon gunning it out with Wyatt Earp.)
    “An impossible situation,” said Chandler. “But,”—he reflected for a moment—“I’d back Marlowe, I think. More subtle.” And he smiled again. (But I’d back Bond.)
    One last question: Who is Raymond Chandler’s favourite crime writer?
    I thought he was going to say Ian Fleming, But…
    “Me,” he said. And laughed.
  • Great stuff, @Revelator. I'm personally fondest of the lines, "You don't have to work at Fleming. He does the work for you."
  • edited August 2017 Posts: 4,969
    I have a few complaints. The beautiful girl does not appear until page 91, but in return for this she is allowed to live...

    Yes, allowed to live like no other before. One of Fleming's best realized characters.

    I have left the remarkable thing about this book to the last. And that is that it is written by an Englishman, The scene is almost entirely American, and it rings true to an American. I am unaware of any other writer who has accomplished this.

    Yup, Fleming really knows how to transport the reader and bring an environment to life.

    Also: Moonraker, merely a spasm? I'm tempted to say Raymond Chandler has terrible taste in literature based on that comment alone.
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,232
    I'd love to hear Chandler talk about the errors of Moonraker more, just to get context on why that one stuck out. I think every Fleming book has one big thing that sets it back at times, and for that one it's got to be how the last chapters are really a retread of Casino with less impact. He seemed to love the first novel, so maybe he picked up on that.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    Some final thoughts on DOCTOR NO (the signet paperbacks have the word doctor fully spelled out on the cover, most other versions that I've come across do not).

    As I told a couple of members at our meet-up yesterday, when it comes to some of Fleming's greatest and most well-realized villains, such as Mr. Big, Hugo Drax, and certainly Dr. No, he throws in such bizarre and multiple deformities and traits that I can't hold it all in my "Mind's Eye". I'm thinking while being introduced to Drax, for instance, "Okay, one eye is oversized and can't even close. Crazy and erose patchy red hair. Ogre Teeth..." ...and so on. I find myself trying to put a mental image together in my head that I can sustain throughout the novel that does service to all of Fleming horrid details. It sometimes becomes overwhelming and I have to simplify the image for the sake of continuing; to not get mired down. Dr. No is the oddest of all; like some kind of an alien praying mantis. You'd think that (being a visual medium) the cinematic versions would have been more outrageous, but in fact they are quite mundane when compared to their literary counterparts. Despite the admirable performances by all three actors (outstanding, in Joseph Wiseman's case), all three characters were shortchanged on the big screen.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    I am three chapters into GOLDFINGER and I love it. This is where Bond's disgust with taking life starts to become clearly articulated in his inner dialogue. This recurs and gathers momentum form here on.
  • ThunderfingerThunderfinger Earth, spinning in its grave.
    Posts: 30,871
    First Norwegian edition from 1962, based on the original

    Second Norwegian edition from 1966

    What I love about Goldfinger is that, just as in Moonraker we got an extensive look into everyday life in the MI6 building, in this book we get a thorough glimpse into the inner life of James Bond himself, for the first time in the series.
  • I'm five chapters in and really enjoying it so far. Goldfinger does have a very strong start, and I'm dreading the drop off point as I forge ahead.

    As for Bond's inner dialogue, there is indeed a lot of great stuff in his mulling over the killing of the Mexican and various other things. Bond's disgust over his elaborate meal with Mr. Du Pont—a taste of the soft life to the extreme—particularly jumped out.

    Also, it came to my attention this morning that today happens to be the feast day of St. Augustine, whom Fleming quotes (and I'm paraphrasing, hoping for accuracy): "God grant me chastity—just not yet!"
  • 0BradyM0Bondfanatic70BradyM0Bondfanatic7 It was this or the priesthood.
    Posts: 28,232
    Ugh, I've still got some of Dr. No to get through. For most of the last week I caught something that kicked everything out of me and I spent more time sleeping than being awake. I think the fatigue of this whole process is kicking in alongside it, and that's hard to push through at times.
  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    It's okay, I didn't finish it until last night.
  • Posts: 1,199
    Birdleson wrote: »
    You'd think that (being a visual medium) the cinematic versions would have been more outrageous, but in fact they are quite mundane when compared to their literary counterparts. Despite the admirable performances by all three actors (outstanding, in Joseph Wiseman's case), all three characters were shortchanged on the big screen.

    Yes, though Wiseman at least got to play Fleming's Dr. No in spirit and retained much of his backstory. Kotto was deprived of the original Mr. Big's wonderful, intellectual speeches--how nice it would have been to hear that Cellini reference drop from his mouth! And despite being a fine actor, he wasn't physically imposing. Geoffrey Holder would have been better suited to the role; imagine if he'd played Samedi and Mr. Big. As for Lonsdale, he had nothing in common with the energetic, vulgarian ogre of the book, whose demeanor was anything but dry. Nor did Lonsdale's Drax share the original's Nazi origins, though this could have been used as his motivation for mass murder and starting a master race.

    On to Goldfinger...Henry Chancellor's James Bond: The Man and His World, which I really need to reread, notes that the Dupont card game scene started out as a separate short story which Fleming incorporated into the novel. Apparently the depressurization of Goldfinger's plane was also intended for use in another story. I was tempted to say those aborted short works might have been written for the Bond TV series, but this can't be true, since GF was written early in 1958, whereas the TV project didn't begin until the summer of that year.
  • Very interesting detail about the canasta cheating originating as a short story. It definitely works on its own as a contained story that helps lead into the greater plot, so much so that when M brings up Goldfinger to Bond in his office it feels rather like a coincidence/contrivance.
  • Agent_99Agent_99 Enjoys a spirited ride as much as the next girl
    Posts: 1,742
    DR. NO

    I’d been looking forward to this one, as it was the first Bond novel I ever read. School summer holidays. 10p charity book bin at the little convenience store up the road. Came at it cold; hadn’t seen any of the films. Hook. Line. Sinker.

    Is it my favourite? Not by a large margin. Would I recommend it as a first Bond novel? Oh yes.

    Edition I read: 1963 Pan with the film cover. (Same edition as my original one, which fell to bits.)

    Where I read it: On the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry.

    James Bond

    Bond has always been hard-edged and cynical, and bad-tempered when he's not working, but here he's tipped over into real bitterness - unsurprising given that he's been through months of pain and illness.

    Honey saves him: her childishness and optimism, as well as the chance to do a good deed and feel good about himself, are just what Bond needs right now.

    The villain

    Is Dr. No the best villain in all of Bond? I would submit that he has the best name, the scariest attributes (claw hands, and what appear to be metal eyeballs though Bond 'sees' through that, ha) and the most impressive hangout. With his hairlessness and strangely-shaped head, he's like an alien or robot. The scene where he checks Bond and Honey out while they sleep gives me the absolute heebie-jeebies.

    It's just a pity that he doesn't show up earlier. Because he's crammed into the latter part of the book, he feels underused. There's a lot going on - his pact with the Russians AND his side interest in pain - but we rush through it without exploring in greater depth. Bond and Honey arrive, they get fed, then very soon it's all over.

    The girl

    Honeychile made a big impression on me when I first encountered her. She was independent, tough and brave, and animals loved her - what's not to like? (I had no idea what all that call girl business was about.) Even having a broken nose felt exotic and appealing.

    She's still among my top Bond girls. I love the cool way she just goes along with the mission and all its associated dangers. She gets herself out of trouble without requiring rescue and sets off to avenge Bond, thinking him dead.

    She trusts Bond, and entrusts herself to him, but she's not his lapdog; she isn't afraid to tell him when she thinks he's wrong, or to order him around when he needs it...or when she wants something. First it was Tatiana bent on seduction, now Honey. Poor Bond! Women just throw themselves at him!

    (We don't find out what's happened to Tatiana, but my theory is she's been shunted off somewhere horrible for interrogation, then relocated; Bond promised he'd protect her through all that, but has been languishing in hospital instead, and the relationship hasn't survived their separation.)

    Other cast

    M really does give Bond a hard time here. I'm choosing to think that, like a parent, he's angry because he's been properly worried about him. There are a lot of digs about Bond's last case - which, after all, he completed successfully - as well as the punishment of confiscating his beloved gun. (Definitely parent behaviour.)

    Incidentally, I like the analogy of anger balling up inside Bond like cats' fur. He should cough up a hairball on M's desk as a parting shot.

    Reading out of order, I'd never noticed that Strangways was in LALD. Oh, and he was such a sweetheart, too. Now I'm really sorry about him.

    Quarrel's sudden, brutal death is a shock, and marks the point where the danger ramps up. Up to here, Bond's seen every trap coming and evaded it. Now, someone who was under his protection has met his end.

    The plot

    This is a book of two halves, and they're both GREAT. First we get a pacey thriller, with murders and suspicious incidents, tails, attempts on Bond's life, and a mysterious adversary with power over an entire section of the island population. Then, as soon as the boat touches the beach at Crab Key, we tip over into a fever dream of fantastic sights and incredible agonies.

    (We all imagined ourselves going through the assault course and wondered how far we'd get, right? I've always reckoned I'd get stuck at the tarantulas, though to be honest I'd probably struggle getting up the first shaft.)

    The location

    There's a wonderful contrast between rainy London and Jamaican sunshine, and I enjoy seeing Bond flip back into affection for England when it's all over.

    Here, Fleming is writing about places he knows well, and you get a real sense of the island life: crazy drivers in beat-up cars, beachfront dive bars, the busy town and the quiet countryside, then the swampy wilderness. If I ever get to Jamaica, I expect it to feel instantly familiar.

    But then he's just as good with the atmosphere of Dr No's HQ, entirely the product of his imagination and detailed down to the supplies in the medicine cabinet. The glass wall looking out beneath the surface of the ocean; who wouldn't want that in their dream home?

    Fleming is a great descriptive writer and there are some superb examples here: the 'sexual morse' of the fireflies, the 'glutinous flutter' of a boat engine.

    Food & drink

    Dr No provides a couple of decent meals (and Bond's middle-of-the-road menu choices for Honey are a sweet touch), but I'm most impressed by Quarrel's breakfast of salt fish, ackee and rum. Yeah, I'd hit that.


    Fifty S-bends on Junction Road, you say? Sounds brilliant!

    "Well, that aroused these bird people to a fury."


    In my charity shop browsings, I recently came across a 1977 Reader’s Digest collection that included Dr No. I didn’t buy it, because Reader’s Digest books are kind of horrible (and I romantically hoped that some teenager might happen across it and get hooked like I did), but I photographed some of the illustrations. It's neat how you never see Bond's face:

  • BirdlesonBirdleson San Jose, CA
    Posts: 25,389
    Fantastic illustrations! I love that.
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