Fiction: “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming (again)

Casino RoyaleOkay, so – last December, I read an article in the Washington Post entitled, “Shaken not slurred: James Bond had a ‘severe chronic alcohol problem,’ public health experts say.”

My first response was, “no shit.”

(Look, I have a lot of feelings about James Bond. Hashtag #IhavealotoffeelingaboutJamesBondokay. But I do not let those feelings cloud the fact that seriously, Bond should not be alive in a whole lot of ways, least of all his penchant for alcohol abuse.)

But as I kept reading the article, I ended up having questions. For instance:

[In] two dozen movies over the past six decades, Bond — James Bond — was seen sipping on alcohol precisely 109 times, according to a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Public health experts at the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed Bond films from 1962 to 2015 to better understand his patterns of alcohol use.

Apparently, they only analyzed the movies? So, okay … but again, when they say something like

In one film, “Quantum of Solace,” Bond consumed at least six Vespers, his concoction consisting of gin, vodka and a blend of wines called Kina Lillet. That amount of alcohol, according to the researchers, would have raised Bond’s blood alcohol level to an estimated 0.36 grams per deciliter — almost high enough to cause a coma, heart failure or even death.

FIRST OF ALL, I have only sat through Quantum of Solace once. I remember there was a plane that went down in the desert, and then something blew up, and also an opera happened, but I totally believe that Bond drank six Vespers, because Quantum took place almost immediately after Casino Royale, in which VESPER LYND DIED, and Bond actually really liked Vesper? So he’s SAD GUYS, and he’s a drinker ANYWAY, so OF COURSE he’d go a little overboard. But second-of-all (because I cannot remember Quantum), were those over the course of the movie? Or was it six drinks in the span of a scene? I HAVE QUESTIONS

And basically, what I decided to do, was reread all the Bond books I’ve read so far – which yes, I have now read Casino Royale three times since the inception of this blog – and keep count of all the drinks Bond has.

But THEN, I’m starting to write this review and actually found THE STUDY online and had some of my questions answered!

When Bond was seen drinking (the glass or bottle reaching his lips), this was deemed an “observed alcohol use event”. If the alcohol brand or bottle label was not visible, we assessed the beverage as being alcohol on the balance of probabilities. We classified other events as “alcohol use assumed” if actual drinking was not observed but alcohol was on the table in front of Bond and it was likely he had consumed some in that setting. In contrast, we did not assume that alcohol was consumed by Bond if alcohol was present but he was in a dangerous situation (e.g., when his drink could be spiked).

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Okay so wait.

Basically what this means is, if it looks like Bond is drinking a clear liquid at a restaurant, they assume that the liquid is alcohol when the label isn’t visible?

And any time Bond drinks, it counts as a full event?

So, the scene in Casino Royale, where Bond orders the Vesper, then leaves the poker table to go to the bar to pick up the drink, and he has a single sip, pronounces it excellent, then gives the drink to Vesper so he can return to the table – that one single sip counts as a full event?!

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And look, when you read Ian Fleming’s novels? He was meticulous about explaining everything, right down to what Bond eats and drinks in each day. For example:

In Chapter 8 (which I noted as Day Two of the Casino Royale caper), Bond and Vesper have the following for dinner:

  • A carafe of vodka (to share)
  • A bottle Blanc de Blanc Brut ’43 Champagne (to share)
  • Caviar
  • Tournedos
  • Bearnaise sauce
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Avocado pear w/French dressing

When you’re eating at the same time as drinking, your buzz is dulled! So either way, it’s not as bad as the study makes it out to be! And you KNOW that dinner took a full two hours to finish!

After having read Casino Royale again, taking notes during each chapter of what food and drink passes through Bond’s lips, and then trying to watch Casino Royale again to take the same kind of notes (it was late, I was falling asleep, there was a cat in my lap who wasn’t interested), I can only determine that THE STUDY WAS FLAWED.

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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.

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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.)

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

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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: “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: “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??

Fiction: “Live and Let Die” by Ian Fleming

Before I dug into The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I was suffering from a bout of Book ADD. At one point, I was reading four books at once. There was Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (a mystery set in ancient Rome). I am still trying to get through Victorian London by Liza Picard, but good lord, that book is ginormous and full of information. I had also read the first chapter in Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein, because eventually, someday, I will rewrite that pilot script that’s been languishing on my hard drive for months.

And as if that weren’t enough, I was also rereading Dr. No by Ian Fleming. I had mentioned that title back when I read Casino Royale, and a year later, I was ready to dig into it again. Because there’s this scene that grabbed me, much like that thing grabs Bond, and —

But anyway, I was listing it as a “Currently Reading” book on my Goodreads page, and what Goodreads does that is very helpful to a series reader like myself is it lists the number in the series that the book is. (I apologize for that sentence. But I am so hopped up on cold medicine [goofballs] that I can’t go back and fix it.) So when it said that Dr. No was the seventh book in the James Bond series, and not the second that I thought it was, well. First I said “What the fuck?,” and then I followed it up with a hearty GODDAMN PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION.

Although, in Public School Education’s defense, my high school couldn’t have taught us about the Cold War, seeing as how we barely got to the Industrial Revolution.

ANYWAY. It turns out that Live and Let Die is the second Bond novel, which I did not know. It’s also, apparently, the only Ian Fleming novel I do not own. So I had to wait a couple of weeks for an inter-library loan to come through (how does the somewhat-major metropolitan city of Portland, Maine’s library NOT have a copy of Live and Let Die of their very own?!) and then I read it in about four days.

Now, I know that back when I talked about Casino Royale, I said that I was a huge Bond fan. But if you read that entry carefully, you hopefully noticed that I didn’t talk much about the Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan incarnations of the spy. And that’s because I am a picky Bond fan. Or, quite possibly, a poser. Because these are the Bond movies I’ve watched:

  • Goldfinger
  • Dr. No
  • From Russia With Love
  • Thunderball
  • Never Say Never Again (the awful remake of Thunderball starring a practically ancient, be-toupeed Sean Connery and Kim Basinger)
  • Casino Royale (the spoof with Peter Sellers and David Niven)
  • Casino Royale (the real one with Daniel Craig)
  • Quantum of Solace

So yeah … I know just enough to be dangerous, really.

I steered clear of the Roger Moore Bond movies because they have the reputation of being horribly campy. And yeah, Goldfinger isn’t exactly Ibsen, but at least there isn’t a crappy pun at the end of every scene. So going into this book, all I knew about the plot was that Jane Seymour played Solitaire in the movie. And after reading the book, I hit up the plot synopsis on imdb.com, and it turns out that a bit of the plot survived — but not much.

Bond is called to New York to assist the CIA with investigating a smuggling ring, run by a Mr. Big. (No, I’m not making that up.) In the movie, Big is smuggling heroin. In the book, he’s smuggling lost pirate treasure. Uh, book for the win? Smuggled pirate treasure ALWAYS trumps heroin. Bond meets up with his CIA pal Felix Leiter, and they barge into Big’s operation in Harlem and they get beaten up a bit (Bond gets his pinkie finger broken), but apart from that, they escape kind of unscathed. Bond meets Solitaire, who is Mr. Big’s consort and fiancee. She calls Bond the next morning, asking to escape with him. And even though he thinks it could be a trap, he lets her come with him to St. Petersburg, as his end destination is Jamaica.

When they get to St. Petersburg, Bond and Leiter investigate the Robber, a partner of Mr. Big. Then Solitaire gets kidnapped by Mr. Big, and Leiter gets eaten by a shark. Or, rather, gnawed on by a shark. He’s still alive! But barely, and minus a leg. And I still gasped in horror, because I loved Felix Leiter in Goldfinger! Leiter’s awesome!

So that leaves Bond alone on the way to Jamaica, where he teams up with Strangways and Quarrel, both of whom reappear in Dr. No. And there’s this epic scuba dive to the island headquarters of Mr. Big, and of course Bond gets captured, because you can’t have a Bond movie where he’s able to take care of the situation without getting caught. And he and Solitaire escape a fate worse than death: being dragged behind a schooner as shark bait.

Comparing this novel to Casino Royale, the misogyny wasn’t as prevalent — maybe because Solitaire was barely in it, and unlike Vesper, she didn’t betray Bond. One thing that I noticed — and again, this is a sign of the times in which the novel was written — the villains are all African-American, and Fleming uses the descriptor “Negroes.” A lot. Again, written in a pre-Civil Rights era, but still … the lazy racism was noticeable.

Also, there is a small section in the beginning of the book about Voodoo. Solitaire is a telepath, and Mr. Big controls his minions by using Voodoo tactics. And now I just thought of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Ben Stein trying to discuss Voodoo economics. “Something ‘doo’ economics. Voodoo Economics.” ANYWAY. As someone who has read half of the Anita Blake series and has written half of a story concerning zombies, I appreciated the diversion into the roots of Voodoo and Baron Samedi. The good news is that it doesn’t envelope the entire plot.

I talked during the review for Casino Royale about Bond’s humanity. And I think that, in this novel, he … well, doesn’t lose some, but almost makes a more conscious decision to act as a weapon and not as a man. When he’s facing what could be his fate, tied to Solitaire and about to be dragged behind a boat for sharks and barracudas to feast upon, he contemplates his action:

If they were still alive when the first shark’s fin showed on the surface behind them, Bond had coldly decided to drown Solitaire. Drown her by twisting her body under his and holding her there. Then he would try to drown himself by twisting her dead body back over his to keep him under. [204]

I mean, yes, he’s rationalizing it by believing that drowning is a more merciful death than being eaten by sharks. I get that; but the writing makes it sound so much worse.

All in all, I liked the book — there’s a moment where, on his way to the island hideout, Bond gets attacked by something, and it’s such a total surprise that I sat up on the couch, all tense with anticipation and worry — but I don’t think I’ll read it again. Maybe if I decide I want to be thorough and read all the books again (speaking of — stay tuned in June for a massive re-read of the Harry Potter series), I’ll pick it up again. But I don’t think I’ll buy it — unless it’s less than ten dollars, and only to complete the Fleming collection.

… and now my iTunes library decides to have some fun with me and play the theme song to Goldfinger. Sydney, my ever-present laptop: I frickin’ love you. Don’t ever change.

Grade for Live and Let Die: 2 stars