Fiction: “Moonraker” by Ian Fleming

moonrakerOooohhhh it is 10:50 and I should really go to bed but I can type this up real quick because I don’t have a lot to say.

I picked up Moonraker almost a year ago because deep down, I still have a cockamamie plan to someday write a scholarly thesis about James Bond. But winter and (slight) depression set in back in January (when I finished reading this), and then my book blog backlog got stupid, and then earlier last week I went to pick up this book again so I could actually write the review and get moving on my backlog and I couldn’t find the book, and long story short, I found it, and now I realize I only have a couple of things to say about it.

Which is fine – sometimes I think I’m too damn long-winded on this thing.

This is the second time I’ve read this book, and the good news for you, Dear Reader, is that the first time I read it I actually did a sorta okay job reviewing it. No, really! I talked about Bond’s relationship with Gala Brand and how it wasn’t completely misogynist, and how Moonraker actually showed Bond’s personal life, and other things!

ALSO: that review mentioned a soon-to-be-happening tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, because Alaina had Never Seen Moonraker, and guess what? It actually happened.

Behold, 2013: A Year Where Alaina Didn’t Completely Suck At Blogging.

Please, by all means, go read my “review”-slash-liveblog of Moonraker: The Movie. It is, to date, one of my most favorite things I’ve ever written. You’ll meet such characters as: the Illiterate Braless Pilot! The Venetian Ninja! The Braless Mute Orchid Whisperer! It’s great! Don’t forget your vodka.

So with all of that, there’s only one other thing I want to say about Moonraker, and it’s about the villain, Hugo Drax.

He’s a fucking Nazi.

I’m not making that up, and I’m not being hyperbolic. The book was first published in 1955. Ian Fleming was an operative that infiltrated Germany in hopes of gathering intelligence. James Bond and his exploits were modeled, in part, on some of Fleming’s missions. Nazis were fucking real, is what I’m saying.

I’m also saying Nazis are still fucking real and anyone daring to wear a swastika in public shouldn’t be surprised when they get punched in the face, but that’s another story for another blog post.

ANYWAY. Drax’s backstory in the book is that he was shelled and when he woke up in a hospital, he pretended to have amnesia. The British identified him as Hugo Drax, and he returned to England and made a whole lot of money and enjoyed great success in engineering, to the point where Drax was awarded the contract for the Moonraker missiles, designed to defend Britain from attack. Except Drax actually plotted Moonraker’s collision course for central London, and his plan would have worked if it wasn’t for those meddling spies, Bond and Gala Brand.

But, true to any type of villain, Drax enjoys monologuing to Bond, and explains that his whole plot boils down to mere revenge:

“[My plans] consisted quite simply of revenge on England for what she had done to me and to my country. It gradually became an obsession. I admit it. Every day during the year of the rape and destruction of my country, my hatred and scorn for the English grew more bitter.” The veins on Drax’s face started to swell and suddenly he pounded on the desk and shouted across at them, looking with bulging eyes from one to the other. “I loath and despise you all. You swine! Useless, idle, decadent fools, hiding behind your bloody white cliffs while other people fight your battles. Too weak to defend your colonies, toadying to America with your hats in your hands. Stinking snobs who’ll do anything for money. Hah!” [p. 208]

So, picture it: I started reading this in late November, early December. I finished reading it when I returned home from my Las Vegas trip. I finished reading it after the inauguration.

And at that time – after the inauguration -, I read Drax ask Bond:

“Well. Say something. Don’t sit there like a dummy. What do you think of my story? Don’t you think it’s extraordinary, remarkable? For one man to have done all that?” [p. 210-211]

And here, my friends, is Bond’s cool response:

“It’s a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge. Curiously enough,” he went on conversationally, “it may have something to do with your teeth. Diastema, they call it. Comes from sucking your thumb when you’re a child. Yes, I expect that’s what the psychologists will say when they get you into the lunatic asylum. “Ogre’s teeth.” Being bullied at school and so on. Extraordinary the effect it has on a child. Then Nazism helped to fan the flames and then came the crack on your ugly head. The crack you engineered yourself. I expect that settled it. From then on you were really mad. Same sort of thing as people who think they’re God. Extraordinary what tenacity they have. Absolute fanatics. You’re almost a genius. Lombroso would have been delighted with you. As it is you’re just a mad dog that’ll have to be shot. Or else you’ll commit suicide. Paranoiacs generally do. Too bad. Sad business.”

Bond paused and put all the scorn he could summon into his voice. “And now let’s get on with this farce, you great hairy-faced lunatic.” [p. 211]

Gee. Why does that sound familiar.

hanx hmm late-show-colbert.gif

Change “teeth” to “extraordinarily tiny hands” and “bullied at school” to “Daddy didn’t love you” and doesn’t that sound like someone who thinks Nazis include some very fine people amongst their ranks?

And keep in mind:

  • Moonraker was originally published in 1955;
  • I finished reading Moonraker shortly after the inauguration.

I am not a witch. (They’re gonna need a shitload of ducks to prove that point when the Aunts come for me.)

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Fiction: “Live and Let Die” by Ian Fleming

live and let dieMy Project Bond research continues apace – if by “apace” you mean “very very slowly, but at least I haven’t abandoned the project totally, so there’s that.”

Live and Let Die is the second book in the original James Bond series by Ian Fleming, and this is my second read of the book. I just reread my first review of it (handily found here), and there’s really not a whole lot I want to add to it, to be honest.

[[Holy shit, I actually did a kindof okay job reviewing a book? I can read that review and know the majority of the plot, and nothing was spoiled, and in addition, there’s also some literary criticism? Maybe I’m not completely pants at this thing like I thought maybe I was?? I’m scared too, you guys. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to being shite at this sometime next week.]]

I can say that I’ve added three movies to the list of Bond movies I’ve watched: MoonrakerSpectre, Skyfall – digression, but it’s so weird to me that my first review of this book was before Skyfall came out. I mean, that is weird. Is it weird to find something you may have written, like a journal entry, or something from a diary you wrote in years past, where when you were writing that, you had no idea what was going to happen, and then an event happens and it changes your perception of other things?

Like, when I originally reviewed Live and Let Die, my favorite Bond movie was still a tie between Goldfinger (because Goldfinger is the universally-acknowledged Best Bond Anything Ever, No, You’re Wrong, Shut Up), and Casino Royale (because reasons, namely the scene where Le Chiffre tortures Bond in the chair) (holy shit when I first reviewed Live and Let Die I did not know that Mads Mikkleson would soon rise from relative Bond Villain obscurity to the King of Cannibals, Hannibal Lecter. I didn’t know Hannibal was a thing!! That’s so weird to me right now).

[[Also, super!digression, but speaking of Hannibal, Facebook reminded me that one year ago today was when I learned of Hannibal‘s cancellation. I would like to link you to that finger-quotes “review,” because that post — along with the above-linked finger-quotes “review” of Moonraker — is easily in my top five favorite blog posts I’ve ever written. Cheers. And also, the person who left the voicemail wasn’t actually Hannibal.]]

So back then, I didn’t really have an inkling of wanting to talk about James Bond. Casino Royale was good, but it wasn’t genre-shattering or anything. But Skyfall – you know what, I’ll get into this as I write my Project Bond book, but, haters to the goddamned left, Skyfall is a fucking masterpiece.

It wasn’t until Skyfall that I saw potential in digging into Bond’s character. Sam Mendes did so much with the character – giving him even more of an emotional tie to M, his backstory with the Skyfall lodge – it intrigued me. In addition, people were all up in arms over the fact that the gadgets and Bond girls were taking a backseat that they hated the movie, and I just wanted to prove them wrong.

Then, the whole, FUCK THIS GUY over Idris Elba being “too street” to play Bond last fall, and ta-da. Project X was born.

One thing that I did notice in this re-read was the usage of death imagery. Even more than just the title, Bond and the villain, Mr. Big, both spend a couple of paragraphs each talking about their attitudes towards death. One could also argue that Mr. Big is described in a way to evoke the idea that Mr. Big is Bond’s intellectual equal. A big (sorry) deal is made over Mr. Big’s genius, and the only person who comes close to ending his criminal empire (or, spoiler alert!, who does end said empire) is James Bond.

There’s a quote from Auric Goldfinger in the movie named for him, where he describes his desire to be the best criminal in the world, and I believe the same speech could be applied to Mr. Big:

Man has climbed Mt. Everest; gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor … except crime!

I look forward to delving deeper into Bond as a character. Hopefully just in time for them to realize that Gillian Anderson is the optimal choice to play James Bond.

WATCH THIS AND TELL ME I’M WRONG I FUCKING DARE YOU

give it to me NOW.gif

Fiction: “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming

Casino RoyaleBefore Spectre was released, there were A LOT of articles on the interwebs about James Bond: whether Daniel Craig was over being Bond (yes, he so is); whether Idris Elba should be the next Bond (YES HE SHOULD), what type of man Bond actually is (which is hard to discuss, as Bond is, above all, A FICTIONAL CHARACTER), and the endless lists that attempted to correctly rank the Bond movie theme songs from best to worst, all of which were horribly incorrect.

So in the month of October, I had a lot of feels about James Bond, and for the most part, I felt I was shouting into the void. Especially with this article, which started the shouting: “Idris Elba too street to play James Bond

Reading that article led to … well … a bit of a rant.











Basically, when it comes to James Bond, I will fight you on three things:

  1. Daniel Craig is the best portrayal of James Bond I have yet to witness;
  2. Skyfall was the richest James Bond story put to celluloid, bringing in all aspects of Bond’s personality, history, and capacity for violence;
  3. “You Know My Name” is the best James Bond theme song after “Goldfinger,” because “Goldfinger” is the universally-acknowledged standard of excellence for Bond theme songs.

And if you disagree? I’m not kidding – I will fight you.

So all of these feelings led me to a realization and a resolution. The realization was that there really hasn’t been a whole lot of actual, critical discussion on James Bond the character and/or the canon of Ian Fleming novels. Well, wait – I say that there hasn’t been that level of critical discussion only because I haven’t found it yet. It’s entirely possible that some professor has written loads of treatises on the struggle Bond has to remain human while also being a brilliant mechanical assassin, or the portrayal of women in Bond novels and how that is a) indicative of attitudes towards women during the time of the novels’ writing and b) how that influenced portrayal of women during the films and c) how that attitude has become ingrained in society to this day, and they’re all just hidden away in some musty corner of a college library, and the only thing they’re accomplishing is giving their writer his tenure.

My resolution: I’m going to write that book.

There should be a book that actually tackles James Bond and some issues he brings up, that can also celebrate the fantasy Bond promotes while actually recognizing the humanity within the machine. Something that can also compare the books with their film adaptations, and call out the pieces that remain in the film while others are completely eradicated. Track the development from suave yet incredibly intelligent agent of MI-6 into a sex-crazed buffoon (why yes, Roger Moore, I am emphatically looking at you).

In order to write that book, I have to re-immerse myself into the canon. So I began at the beginning with Casino Royale and will continue to move forward throughout the thirteen novels and issues of short stories written by Ian Fleming. I will then watch the corresponding films (and probably branch out into the films that do not have their plotline or title taken from a Fleming novel or story) and analyze those, as well as compare them to their source material. There will be a definitive ranking of the Bond theme songs, wherein I will absolutely prove that “You Know My Name” is the second best Bond theme song, no really, you’re wrong, “Live and Let Die” is horrible and you should know better.

Obviously, this is going to be a massive project. I am not giving myself a due date because I don’t want to rush myself or make myself a promise that I won’t be able to keep. But I am serious about it. I’ve replaced my old, 50-cent Signet paperbacks from the 1960s with these gorgeous paperbacks I found on Amazon (I mean, I obviously still have those paperbacks; they’re just in my Classics bookcase with the other old books I have), and I bought a shit-ton of index cards. When I reorganize my office this winter, I want to put up a bulletin board so I can tack the cards up Kinsey Millhone style and help to organize my thoughts into chapters and such.

I’ll also be rereading Casino Royale, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, and Diamonds Are Forever. So expect to see mini-reviews pop up as I go through them. I may also be doing companion pieces over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen – but as I said I was going to complete Project X in a reasonable timeframe, again: no promises.

There really isn’t anything else I want to add to my previous review of Casino Royale here; my new paperback has all sorts of pencil marks in it, and the index cards are already broken out into categories (guys, I have four different index cards for four different types of attitudes towards women. The one where Bond is derogatory or uses violent language about women is the most filled, so – yeah, this is going to be deep).

So – stay tuned for that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shovel. Again.

Fiction: “The Intern’s Handbook” by Shane Kuhn

intern's handbookSo at this point in the fall, I’ve read, what, six books classified as either historical fiction or pulp fiction, full of femmes fatale and other assorted strong female characters, both actually strong and finger-quote “strong”? Well, if you know me like you think you know me, then you know it’s time for a VIOLENCE BREAK

will crying HANNIBAL

Actually, here’s what happened –
– I finished reading The Favored Child at work and didn’t have a backup to get me through the rest of the day. So I scoured my Want-to-Read page on Goodreads, came up with a quick list, and this title was literally (both actually and figuratively speaking) the only one that Barnes & Noble had in stock when I went there on my lunch break.

[Sidenote: the same thing happened to me today, and again, Barnes & Noble had fuckall in stock. Dear Barnes & Noble: WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU STOCK MICHAEL LEWIS?? I want to read The Big Short before I see the movie, and you apparently don’t have a “generic” non-fiction section, so, fuck off.]

[Although while I was there, FUN STORY: I was searching the history and biography section, and this family comes up and asks one of the clerks where they can find the biography of Alexander Hamilton. Yeah, the one that Lin-Manuel Miranda read that inspired the hit Broadway show. And the clerk apparently forgot that while yeah, the biographies are [[or SHOULD BE]] sorted alphabetically by last name of the subject, Alexander Hamilton is kindof a big deal right now, thanks to that same Broadway musical, and it’s probably on an end-cap somewhere.

GUYS. A biography of a FOUNDING FATHER is a BROADWAY HIP HOP HIT. I love everything about this, and I’m uber-jealous of anyone who has seen it. I WANT TO SEE THIS SO BADLY BUT I’M NOT IN NEW YORK.

Anyway, long story short, I found the book before she did because I have a tumblr and I’m a theatre nerd and apparently she didn’t know that Hamilton is only the biggest original musical on Broadway since, what? The Book of Mormon? Which I also haven’t seen?]

[Part of me is dying to know what Addison de Witt would think of Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Knowing Addison de Witt like I think I know Addison de Witt, I think Addison de Witt would be horrified at how strongly Hamilton makes him feel feelings.

“Finally, after all these years of slogging through reprehensible retreads of family fare designed to prey on our nostalgia — all glitz and glitter, with cloying melodies in keys that will burn out a soprano’s voice faster than the blowing out of a match — The Great Broadway has been a morass of shiny traps for tourists without discerning tastes.  A disheartening lack of substance has plagued our fair city and, for those like myself who live within this world we call ‘theatre,’ we have inhabited a veritable wasteland for far too long.  But no longer shall we dwell in the darkness; with Hamilton, we return to the light.”

Mr. De Witt will, however, frown upon the #Ham4Ham free performances.

“As much as I applaud the spark with which Hamilton has ignited the citizens’ desire to ‘take in’ a Broadway show, I feel the — ‘Ham for Ham’ [[ed. Mr. De Witt’s face is contorted in pain at having to write that]] performances are beneath his talent. They are merely an opiate for the fevered masses, and while I am one of those so enamored of Mr. Miranda and his charisma, I wonder whether he realizes that these free performances are eroding the intrinsic value of his mainstage show.”

So in case you haven’t figured it out by now, apparently this is going to be one of those reviews where I ramble about almost anything else that isn’t the book this is supposed to be about because SPOILER ALERT, I read this two months ago and it was rather … forgettable? Sorry, Mr. Kuhn.

Addison de Witt wouldn’t review The Intern’s Handbook.

“Violence as a metaphor for life experience has become unbearably cliché and beneath the conceit of using unpaid interns as assassins. Overly wrought and underdone.”

Okay, I’m done now. I promise.

(I also promise to watch All About Eve at some point this week.)

OKAY, SO THIS BOOK.

This book stars John Lago, an intern. Except he’s not really an intern – he’s an Intern: a member of an elite assassination squad. This shadowy organization picks up orphans from bad childhoods and trains them to be masters of espionage. When they get hired to take out  someone, they send in one of the Interns, because in a large corporate structure where no one trusts anyone on the hierarchy, no one can even remember what the intern looks like, let alone accuse the intern of anything.

This is the tale of John’s Last Job Before Retiring (at the tender age of almost 30 – cry me a river, John Lago). One of the partners of Bendini, Lambert & Locke ** is suspected of selling out protected witnesses to the highest bidder, and it’s John’s job to get close to the partners and figure out which one it is.

To get out of the intern basement, John cozies up to a paralegal in Bendini’s office, named Alice. When John learns that Alice is actually a federal agent undercover, investigating the same guy, John has a decision to make: can he finish the job and keep Alice out of it, or will he have to kill her too?

There’s also a subplot about John’s upbringing and who his parents are, and overall, the plot was kind of meh. The violence was okay, and I did really like the parts where the author explores the conceit of this novel as a handbook for new Interns: a How-To Manual, if you will. This was a fine lunch break book, but I won’t be breaking the bank to buy the sequel.

The asterisks: ** : John Lago makes a deal in the beginning of the book about throwing references to his favorite movies throughout the Handbook, because apparently he’s a big movie buff. If that’s true, then I really have a lot of catching up to do, because I think the only reference I got that wasn’t clearly spelled out was that Lago (or Mr. Kuhn, whoever) clearly stole the name of the firm where John interns from  — well, The Firm.

Look, the book was fine. It wasn’t great; it wasn’t transcendent or anything. It was a lunch break book: something to pass the time until you returned to your desk. If you like reading to pass time and Barnes & Noble has it in stock, it won’t hurt to pick it up? But maybe try your local library before plunking down actual Hamiltons for it.

Grade for The Intern’s Handbook: 2 stars
Grade for Addison DeWitt Reviews Hamilton: ∞ stars(because we all come into this world with our little egos equipped with individual horns. if we don’t blow them — who will?)

 

Fiction: “Diamonds Are Forever” by Ian Fleming

diamonds are foreverOh god – it’s finally happened.  I’ve procrastinated on reviewing a book so long, I can’t remember what it’s about. And I can’t even watch the movie to remind me, because I know it’s not going to be anything near to how the book is. Also, I’m writing this review longhand during my breaks at work, to type it up later, and my copy of the book is currently residing on my kitchen table, so I’m doubly screwed. This will be fun.

Note From the Future:
I actually did a not-too-shabby job remembering the plot. I’m super proud of me, you guys.

Diamonds Are Forever is James Bond’s fourth outing in the 007 series, and this time, he’s investigating diamond smugglers. MI-6 knows of a smuggling pipeline, but they don’t know the termin…uses? Terminii? Oh shit, what’s the plural of terminus? The beginning and the end; MI-6 doesn’t know the beginning or the end of the pipeline. They do know that the pipeline stops off at a jeweler’s in London before heading over to the US, and M assigns Bond the job.

Now, M realizes that Bond is most likely going to get mixed up with some American gangsters, and according to M, American gangsters are the worst type of people to get mixed up with. M gives Bond explicit instructions on how to deal with these American gangster types, and the advice pretty much boils down to “keep your fucking mouth shut, James, don’t be a fucking jackass,” and I’m pretty sure we all know how well Bond is going to listen to M.

Basically, James Bond’s relationship with M could be described thusly:

M: hoe don’t do it
Bond: [does it]
M: oh my god

Before his first day on the job is over, Bond has: made contact with Tiffany Case (oh, Ian Fleming — at least this name has a backstory to it); told her his real name (dammit James); and implied that he’s interested in moving up the ladder, all of which are against M’s explicit instructions. (dammit James!) The next day, he’s smuggling some diamonds across the Atlantic (how, you ask? Why, stuck in some golf balls, what else?), and being told by the Vice President of Diamond Smuggling (you all know how this works – it’s too late in the game for me to look anything important up, so fake names they’re gonna be) how to collect his pay for the job: Bond has to drive from New York City to Sarasota Springs on Sunday, and bet $1,000 on a specific horse in a specific race. As a scheme goes, it’s all rather clever – Bond will get his money, but not from one avenue of the gangster ring, and ostensibly on the up-and-up. Well; however “up-and-up” betting on the ponies can be considered.

So since Bond doesn’t have to be in Sarasota until Sunday and it’s Friday in this timeline, he heads out to grab dinner with Tiffany Case, because she’s a girl and he’s James Bond and it’s not a mission unless he gets to sleep with a woman. And let me tell you, as tragic backstories go? Eve Harrington doesn’t have anything on Tiffany Case. Tiffany Case’s story even has the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end. I also don’t really want to get into it because it opens up a whole can of misogynistic worms, and let’s just say that Ian Fleming really wants us to believe in the healing power of James Bond’s boner.

Note From the Future:
I get into it later.

As Bond’s going to meet Tiffany, he finds he is being shadowed by a shadowy figure of shadows. In fact the figure grabs him!:

‘All right, Limey. Take it easy unless you want lead for lunch,’ and [Bond] felt something press into his back just above the kidneys.

What was there familiar about that voice? The Law? The Gang? Bond glanced down to see what was holding his right arm. It was a steel hook. [p. 63]

At first, I think it’s Buster Bluth. But then, at the same time Bond recognizes him, I remember what happened in Live and Let Die and I realize – it’s Felix Leiter! I love Felix! I’ve loved him since Goldfinger (the movie) and I’ll love him until I die. I mean, Moneypenny’s great and all, but she never survived a shark attack and now has to go around with a hook for a hand.

Anyway, Felix has left the CIA because the CIA doesn’t want Captain Hook in the field, but he doesn’t want to be benched, either. He’s now working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency (does Al Swearengen know about this?!), and he’s investing the … Jeweler Gangster People. (I’M NEVER LOOKING IT UP, GUYS). Felix knew exactly which horse Bond had to bet on, because that’s the horse and the race that’s always fixed. Felix wants to know if he and Bond can work together, and Bond agrees to a point. They drive up to Sarasota and bribe the already-bribed jockey, only this time he’s to not win the race.

Long story short (TOO LATE), because I’m falling asleep sitting up: Bond’s horse loses, so he doesn’t get the rest of the money the Jewelry Gang owes him. The Jewelry Gang orders him to fly out to Vegas and play five hands of blackjack at a certain table in a certain casino at a certain time. (Tiffany Case’s day job? Blackjack dealer.) Bond wins his money, and then against the orders of the Jewerly Gang, he goes and plays some roulette. He’s not surprised when he gets kidnapped the next day and taken to an actual ghost town, where the head honcho of the Jewelry Gang beats him to within an inch of his life. Tiffany Case sees Bond’s broken body, and decides she’s had enough, so she takes him to the train station (?) where they steal one of those pushcart thingees, and they’re trying to get back to Vegas but the Jewelry Gang Leader has a fancy old-timey train and he attempts to catch up to Bond and Case, but Bond manages to flip the switch on the rails and send the train flying into a crevasse. Bond and Case get on a ship back for London (after flying to New York – I don’t want you to think there’s a boat from Las Vegas to London) and they manage to escape a final attempt on their life while being on a boat, and Bond has successfully figured out where the diamonds go so he’s a bona fide hero.

I have no idea if this is what the movie’s like. I haven’t seen it, and it’s not on Netflix, so … we shall see.

Some quick things I wanted to point out, and then I’ve got to go to bed:

I wasn’t kidding about the misogyny in this book. I wouldn’t say it’s rampant, but there are points in here where the attitudes towards women were just horrifying. Tiffany Case is the daughter of a prostitute (I think – Tiffany’s mom may have become a prostitute after Tiffany was born) and when Tiffany was a young girl she watched her mom get gang-raped – I think? Or was … y’know, I guess I actually should look this up, because this seems like a crucial character point. Okay, according to Felix Leiter, Tiffany’s mom ran a brothel, but when she stopped paying the protection racket the gangs had cooked up, the gangs came in and ransacked the place and then each took a turn with Tiffany, who was only sixteen at the time. So when I say that Ian Fleming wants us to believe that Bond’s Boner heals all wounds, he really really wants us to believe that. I mean, did you really have to make your only female character have such a tragic background that Bond can “fix”? You couldn’t have picked any other tragedy that could have befallen her? You had to make the heroine a survivor of gang-rape, didn’t you, Ian Fleming?

I mean, the overall attitude is horrifying – and yes, I know, this was written in the 1950s, attitudes were different back then. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still find them offensive.

For instance, Felix is describing one of the members of the Jewelry Gang thusly:

“He’s been in trouble all over the South, what they call a ‘little habitch’ as opposed to a ‘big habitch’ – habitual criminal. Larceny, mugging, rape – nothing big.” [p. 90]

NOTHING BIG.  Jesus.

Even some of the descriptions of mundane events or thoughts get that attitude painted on them:

His mind full of lush dreams, the man on the motor-cycle bumped his way as fast as he could across the plain – away from the great thorn bush where the pipeline for the richest smuggling operation in the world started its devious route to where it would finally gush out on to soft bosoms, five thousand miles away. [p. 9]

Whenever I read a Bond novel, I try and discuss Bond’s humanity. In this outing, I feel that there was so much plot going on, Bond’s character development took a backseat in order to allow the plot to machinate forward. There is a lovely discussion between Bond and Case discuss their attitudes of marriage and children, and we see a glimpse of a Bond who might want to settle down – but not until long after his espionage days are over.  For Bond, the job comes first – and letting a woman into his life would be more dangerous than his day job.

Grade for Diamonds Are Forever: 2.5 stars

Fiction: “The Gun Seller” by Hugh Laurie

Gun SellerThe Gun Seller was one of the first novels I ever reviewed for this blog, way back when in the winter of – holy shit, 2009?! I’ve been doing this for five years? No one told me I’ve been doing this for five years.

This is the part where I’d normally say something like “I’ve done a lot of growing up since this site’s inception,” or, “Looking back, I was quite the neophyte at this whole reviewing thing,” but let’s be real: in many cases, I am still the same person I was five years ago. I still routinely have to bribe myself with ice cream as a reward for cleaning the bathroom, I still have problems waking up in the morning, and I still have not learned a damned thing when it comes to being a reviewer of books. I still enter into every single one of these reviews the same way Indiana Jones follows the Ark of the Covenant into Cairo: I’m basically making this up as I go.

Back in 2009, when I read this book for the first time, I loved it. And then I spent nearly the entirety of that first review talking about how much I loved Hugh Laurie and used only a single paragraph (or maybe two, tops) to discuss the plot of the book. Then I lent my copy of the book to my at-the-time supervisor, as she also loved to read. And I never saw it again. (Thank god I never lent her my copy of Gilligan’s Wake; I would have cried.)

Flash-forward to earlier this year, when I found a copy at Bull Moose, my local store of awesome (primarily a music store, some branches now sell books). The only thing that would have been even more amazing than finding copy would have been if I had found my original copy, but sadly, it was not meant to be. (But imagine the movie that would be – a book who missed its owner so much it managed to find its way back to her … through her local bookstore.) But regardless, a copy of The Gun Seller had found its way back into my personal library.

I finally cracked it open about a month ago – because yes, I am again a month and three reviews behind. HAVE I MENTIONED I HAVE HAD NO GROWTH IN FIVE YEARS. This will be my attempt to do the book justice, as well as an introduction to this book for those of you who weren’t around this here site five years ago.

The narrator is Thomas Lang, an ex-British-military type, who has now joined the ranks of freelancedom. We meet Lang in the middle of a mission, ostensibly – he is trying to extricate himself from the hold of a particularly burly assassin. He manages to break free and prevent a murder from happening, but the next day gets called into the Ministry of Defense. See, there was a report that Lang was actually the assassin, hired to off one Alexander Woolf, an American tycoon.

Lang remembers being approached by a shadowy type in Amsterdam, who asked him to assassinate Woolf for a large sum of money. Lang also remembers turning the offer down flat. For our narrator is one who operates solely on the side of ‘good,’ and won’t take wetworks jobs, no matter how well in cigarettes and Scotch the job will keep him. Lang eventually figures out someone framed him – approached him in Amsterdam to make it look like he took the job, then when Lang tried to stop the attack on the very individual he was supposed to assassinate, it looked even worse. What really throws the whole situation into overdrive is that, at first sight, Lang fell in love with Woolf’s daughter, Sarah.

Lang tries to figure out who framed him and why, and stumbles into a plot that reaches as far across the Atlantic as New York City, and as far south as Casablanca. The framing of Lang, the assassination attempt on Woolf – they’ve all been put in place in a grandiose endeavor to sell a new weapon: the frontrunner of today’s drone.

(Keep in mind, this book was written in the late 1990s.)

He tries to get himself out of this plot, but instead, is forced to join a terrorist group in an effort to “save Sarah.”  (Spoiler alert: Sarah doesn’t really need saving. But when you cross James Bond with Philip Marlowe, you have to know the first femme you meet is going to end up on the fatale side of things.)

Here’s what I love about this book: Hugh Laurie has an amazing way with words. Amazing. I know in my first review of this book, I wrote about how I just wanted to be friends with Hugh Laurie, because he seemed like a really cool dude – someone you could hang in the pub and have a pint with. But now I want to be friends with Hugh Laurie because he is an amazing writer.

While I love that Hugh Laurie is currently touring the world with his Copper Bottom Band, I kind of want him to write a sequel to The Gun Seller. Because my earlier, five-years-ago point still stands: while I feel I learned a lot more about Thomas Lang this time around, and truly appreciated his ability to mask his innermost thoughts under an impressive veil of sarcasm, I really want to spend more time with him as a character; hang around in a pub and have a pint with Lang, not just Laurie.

Here are some examples of Thomas Lang’s personality:

But I’ve always prided myself on the froidness of my sang … [p. 44]

Another Diplomat was parked behind us, with whatever the collective noun for Carls is inside it. A neck of Carls, maybe. [p. 156]

(Lang is always figuring out creative ways to describe people. See my previous review and how he names one of his bodyguards (a.k.a., one of the Carls) Sunglasses and the other No Sunglasses.)

“Who pulls the trigger?”

Solomon had to wait for an answer.

In fact he had to wait for every answer, because I was on a skating-rink, skating, and he wasn’t. It took me roughly thirty seconds to complete a circuit and drop off a reply, so I had lots of scope to be irritating. Not that I need lots of scope, you understand. Give me just an eency-weency bit of scope, and I’ll madden you to death. [p. 228]

There’s a really interesting section around page 150 or so, where the Americans are working damned hard to convince Lang to join up with their team, and it speaks about democracy and what it is and what it’s really made up of, and I’d quote the whole thing here but it would be a lot of extra typing, and I feel I did that already last week at my real job where I transcribed a bunch of invoices into an Excel spreadsheet because, as far as I know, there’s no way to email a .pdf of an image to oneself and then parse the information into Excel without actually retyping it all.  (If there is, please, for the love of god, don’t tell me – I really don’t want to know at this point.) Basically you should read the book and enjoy that section, but I’ll give you at least one paragraph (I should clarify, this is from the perspective of the American character):

“The people don’t read books. The people don’t care a piece of blue shit about philosophy. All the people care about, all they want from their government, is a wage that keeps getting higher and higher. Year in, year out, they want that wage going up. It ever stops, they get themselves a new government. That’s what the people want. It’s all they’ve ever wanted. That, my friend, is democracy.” [p. 162]

Before I really get into Hugh Laurie and his Way With Words, let’s play the All About Alaina game for a second:

“Anything wrong with ringing my headmaster?” I said. “Or an ex-girlfriend?” I mean, that all seemed too dull, I supposed.

Woolf shook his head.

“Not at all,” he said. “I did all of that.”

That was a shock. A real shock. I still get hot flushes about having cheated in Chemistry O-Level and scoring an A when experienced teachers had anticipated an F. I know one day it’s going to come out. I just know it. [p. 83]

Seriously, I never cheated on an exam, but for some reason I have the guiltiest personality. For instance, I was at work and a coworker was looking for me while I was refilling my glass of water, and when my cubicle-mate told me, my first instinct was to say, “What did I do?” I can’t imagine the guilt Lang feels about a cheated exam.

Here’s one of the techniques one of the Americans uses in trying to convince Lang to help them sell their drone copter:

“If you are making a new mousetrap, then, as you say, you advertise it as a new mousetrap. If, on the other hand,” he held out his other hand, to show me what another hand looked like, “you are trying to sell a snake trap, then your first task is to demonstrate why snakes are bad things. Why they need to be trapped. Do you follow me? Then, much, much later, you come along with your product.” [p. 171]

THERE IS NO NEED FOR DEMONSTRATION. I DON’T CARE HOW MANY BUGS AND OTHER PARTS OF THE ECOSYSTEM SNAKES EAT, THEY ARE BAD AND THEY WILL ALWAYS BE BAD HOW MANY SNAKE TRAPS CAN I BUY EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NEVER SEEN A SNAKE OUTSIDE OF A ZOO

Finally, if you need some more proof that Hugh Laurie is a master wordsmith, I’d like to share the following three quotes:

There’s an undeniable pleasure in stepping into an open-top sports car driven by a beautiful woman. It feels like you’re climbing into a metaphor. [p. 133]

Okay, that one was just funny.

It was dark outside, cold and dark, and it was trying to rain in a feeble, oh-I-can’t-really-be-bothered-with-this sort of a way. [p. 217]

Admit it; you know exactly how it’s raining in that moment.

And finally:

People talk about nightfall, or night falling, or dusk falling, and it’s never seemed right to me. Perhaps they once meant befalling. As in night befalls. As in night happens. Perhaps they, whoever they were, thought of a falling sun. That might be it, except that that ought to give us dayfall. Day fell on Rupert the Bear. And we know, if we’ve ever read a book that day doesn’t fall or rise. It breaks. In books, day breaks, and night falls.

In life, night rises from the ground. The day hangs on for as long as it can, bright and eager, absolutely and positively the last guest to leave the party, while the ground darkens, oozing night around your ankles, swallowing for ever that dropped contact lens, making you miss that low catch in the gully on the last ball of the last over. [p. 279]

Grade for The Gun Seller: 5 stars

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?

‘James.’

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

OH WAIT I ALMOST FORGOT THE BEST PART:
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??