Fiction: “Moonraker” by Ian Fleming

moonrakerMy Friend Sarah was watching all of the James Bond movies chronologically over the past two weeks. During that time, I needed to find a book to read in-between Gone Girl and what I’m currently reading now (but more on that later), and Moonraker is less than 300 pages; I figured I could finish that in a week.

And holy shit, I did! For those keeping track, August is the first month since March in which I have been able to read more than two books. Okay sure, I topped out at three, but I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot more reading in the future (but more on that later).

The James Bond Movies totally ruined me for the actual chronology of the series. Here I was, believing that Dr. No was the first book in the series, but it turns out to be Casino Royale. Okay, then, Dr. No has to be second, right? Nope! Dr. No is, like, seventh. And I’ve never seen the Roger Moore movies, so I just assumed that the ones he did came later in the series … but no, and so Moonraker is actually the third in the series.

Moonraker follows Bond when he returns to London after the Live and Let Die caper. And the whole thing starts off innocently enough. In fact, what I really liked about this book was that it gave us an insight into the typical day of a double-0 agent:

It was the beginning of a typical routine day for Bond. It was only two or three times a year that an assignment came along requiring his particular abilities. For the rest of the year he had the duties of an easy-going civil servant – elastic office hours from ten to six; lunch, generally in the canteen; evenings spent playing cards in the company of a few close friends, or at Crockford’s; or making love, with rather cold passion, to one of three similarly disposed married women; weekends playing golf for high stakes at one of the clubs near London. [7]

In the movies, we never see the drudgery. Apparently, his role as 007 is one that reads a lot of reports in-between bouts of super-duper espionage. And we only see his living quarters in one movie – Dr. No, and even then, I’m not sure if it’s actually Bond’s apartment or maybe just a room he rented, but in the movies, he doesn’t have any sort of personal life (and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – but more on that later).

The plot of the book almost doesn’t even sound like it would be worthy of Bond’s “particular abilities.” Bond is called into M’s office, and instead of being given a brief and sent out to a distant-yet-exotic corner of the world, M starts talking about Sir Hugo Drax, some hoity industrialist that has manufactured the Moonraker rocket, which is supposed to be the most technologically-advanced rocket that Britain has ever made, and I’d like to remind everyone here that Moonraker was written only ten years after the end of World War II, so British defense was top on the country’s mind. Anyway. M doesn’t want to talk about the Moonraker, which is set to have its inaugural test launch later that week; he’s concerned that Drax is cheating at bridge.

Now, I know even less about bridge than I know about baccarat. So that whole section of the book is like reading a technical manual on flanges and widgets. But apparently it was very high tension stuff back then, when everyone played bridge. All I got out of it was “Three No Trump,” and the only reason I knew that term was because that was the game that Norma Desmond was playing when the repo men came to take back Joe Gillis’s car in Sunset Boulevard. I don’t know how she played it, and I don’t know how she won pennies at it, but I know that’s what she was playing.

Anyway. You can see how this goes. Bond, being the ‘best card sharp in the MI-6 office,’ easily sorts out that Drax is cheating and calls him out on it during the bridge game, winning 15,000 pounds. The next day, Bond is deciding to upgrade his Bentley (*snort* written in 1955, there is no 1964 Aston Martin DB5 to aspire to at this point), when M calls Bond into his office again, and informs him that the security officer at Drax’s compound killed himself in a murder-suicide while Bond was beating the pants off Drax at cards. (Hm. Y’know, that’s a way worse thing in Britain than in America.) As Bond is the only stateside agent in all of British Intelligence that speaks fluent German as well as being a pretty good spy, he is sent to Drax’s compound to ensure that the Moonraker gets launched without a hitch.

Bond quietly investigates the goings-on at Drax Compound, complete with an ally in Gala Brand, a female officer from Special Branch of MI-5, working undercover as Drax’s secretary. When Bond and Brand investigate the nearby cliffs of Dover for security measures and one of the cliffs happens to almost collapse right on top of them, Bond realizes there is definitely some shade where Drax is concerned.

I am going to stop with the plot there, for two reasons: 1) someone may want to read this book in the future, and I am bound and determined to stop ruining things for people, and 2) I don’t want to hear how it happened in the movie, because GUESS WHAT, GUYS? I’m going to do a tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen for the first time ever! I’ve never seen any of the Roger Moore-Bond movies, and why not start with the book I just read?

Full Disclosure: 1) I had hoped to have the companion piece up at the same time as this review, but … Netflix stopped streaming the Bond movies two days ago. I completely missed the boat, and I’m actually kind of pissed at myself for not attempting to power through Moonraker at 3 a.m.
2) My Friend From College Bryan unfortunately ruined that the book is nothing like the movie. THANKS, BRYAN, THUNDER-STEALER.

Here’s what I liked about Moonraker: in a couple of ways, we the reader have seen a different, more human side of Bond than in Casino Royale or Live and Let Die. (And if I haven’t been clear up to this point, please let me be very clear: I am discussing the books and not the movies at this point. Book blog, bitch! [I and my Breaking Bad habit apologize for that last exclamation.]) I’ve already mentioned how we see a typical, non-awesome day in the life of James Bond; there’s also a passage where Bond goes to his apartment (which I think I was leading to that in the paragraph way up there, but I got distracted by HANNIBAL WEARING A FLOWER CROWN, THIS IS NOT A DRILL, and now I’m writing this like, three hours after and I forgot where I was going with that). As I said, we never see Bond’s apartment in the movies. The fact that he has an apartment, and his own car, and a secretary that isn’t Moneypenny, and boring reports to read, and a cafeteria to eat lunch in … it gives him a human element.

Now, let’s talk about women.

In Casino, Bond is, in M’s [movie – sorry] words, a “blunt instrument” – he’s supposed to get in there, do the job, and get out. He does let his attraction to Vesper blind him, somewhat, and when he learns of her betrayal, he immediately hates her. I found in the book that hatred was much more severe than in the movie. I mean, yes, in the movie he is actively running through Venice to kill her, but since any misogynistic comments are running through Bond’s head and the audience can’t hear them, it lessens the hatred slightly. In the book, the words are there and we read them and we see just what Bond thinks of Vesper, and it’s almost more brutal, because words can hurt. (Okay, PSA over.)

In Live and Let Die, he refuses to develop an attraction to Solitaire beyond one that will get him what he wants: a solution to the mystery of Mr. Big — I’m postulating here, but his lack of emotional attachment to Solitaire feels like a direct correlation to how much attachment he put out there to Vesper. Solitaire also has no strength to her character – she is only pawn in game of life. There’s no need for Bond to attach to her beyond his immediate work needs.

But in Moonraker, not only does he appreciate Gala Brand’s appearance, but also her smarts. It is her idea that Bond implements to save the day. She’s been on-premises longer, has a cooler head about her (Bond readily admits that Drax and Drax’s attitude sets him off immediately on the wrong foot), and truly knows her stuff. At the end of the caper, Brand is rewarded with a medal of honor from the Prime Minister (Bond, as a secret agent, is not allowed to receive any medals. Shame), and both are getting a month off from their respective services. Bond and Brand agree to meet before their vacations, and Bond imagines him taking her on a tour of France – not Paris, but farmlands, and vineyards, and other simple pleasures.

Places like Beaugency, for instance. Then slowly south, always keeping to the western roads, avoiding the five-star life. Slowly exploring. Bond pulled himself up. Exploring what? Each other? Was he getting serious about this girl?


It was a clear, high, rather nervous voice. Not the voice he had expected.

He looked up. She was standing a few feet away from him. He noticed that she was wearing a black beret at a rakish angle and that she looked exciting and mysterious like someone you see driving by abroad, alone in an open car, someone unattainable and more desirable than anyone you have ever known. Someone who is on her way to make love to somebody else. Someone who is not for you. [243]

As this is written from Bond’s point-of-view, you really feel the disappointment Bond feels; he clearly expected her to run away with him, and when he realizes he didn’t count on her already being engaged to someone else and that he is not interesting enough to her to make her leave her beau, he becomes sad.

James Bond doesn’t get sad. It’s a thing that isn’t done.

I appreciated the small glimpse into the aspect of Bond-as-human-male, beyond the sheen of blunt-instrument-ministry-secret-agent. I continue to be fascinated by James Bond, as a character, as a symbol, as a hero. I’m sure I’ll write more about him (especially an essay about how Daniel Craig’s incarnation is the best version of Bond, and not just because I want to lick ice cream off his chest I MEAN he’s hot, okay?). Meanwhile, stay tuned over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen for the review of Moonraker: The Movie.

(It’ll probably be next week, as I now have to wait for the fricking DVD to come from Netflix. Stupid Netflix I MEAN NETFLIX IS THE BEST THING IN EVER PLEASE DON’T CANCEL MY SUBSCRIPTION I NEEDS IT TO LIVE)

Grade for Moonraker: 3 stars

M takes Bond to the club to see if Drax is cheating at cards and runs into the club president:

The door opened and [President] Basildon came in. He was bristling. He shut the door behind him. ‘That dam’ shut-out bid of Drax’s,’ he exploded, ‘Tommy and I could have made four hearts if we could have got around to bidding it. Between them they had the ace of hearts, six club tricks, and the ace, king of diamonds and a bare guard in spades. Made nine tricks straight off. How he had the face to open Three No Trumps I can’t imagine.’ He calmed down a little. ‘Well, Miles,’ he said, ‘has your friend got the answer?’ [40]

Miles? MILES? M’s first name is MILES??!

I ... wait, WHAT??

2 thoughts on “Fiction: “Moonraker” by Ian Fleming

  1. Damn. I was banking on M standing for Mervin.

    “Mervin?… your name is Mervin?”

    Also, please don’t let Bryan deter you from doing a Moonraker book-to-movie comparison. The results would be more hilarious than you could possibly imagine.

    • a) My personal head!canon: M has a different alias every place he goes. At the bank, he’s Mervin. His grocer knows him as Marvin. At the gym, he’s …. I dunno, some other weird ‘M’ name. I don’t think Miles is his actual name. If it is, I’m going to be very disappointed.

      b) When have I let Bryan deter me from anything? There’s just going to be a lot less “that’s not how it was in the book!” and more “If only Bryan hadn’t told me this isn’t how it was in the book!”

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