Thursday, January 12, 2017

The James Bond Dossier


The James Bond Dossier, by Kingsley Amis
July, 1966  Signet Books

Published in hardcover in 1965, The James Bond Dossier was one of the first studies of the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming, following O.F. Snelling’s 007 James Bond: A Report by one year. Unlike Snelling, Dossier author Kinglsey Amis was not only friends with Ian Fleming, but also benefited from having all of Fleming’s published Bond novels at his disposal; Snelling’s book went to press just as penultimate volume You Only Live Twice was being published.

This is a cogent, humorous, and engaging overview of Fleming’s Bond novels; Amis’s enthusiasm for them carries through the page. While he’s never critical of the books (he admits at the outset that he’s a huge fan), Amis does occasionally poke fun at things, but in a way that would even make the most ardent Fleming defender chuckle. In many ways, The James Bond Dossier is more entertaining than the Bond books themselves; Amis’s wit and keen eye bring out so many details that multiple readings would no doubt be rewarding.

In a brief preface Amis states that his original intention was to write an article about Bond, but in the end decided to produce a short book on the subject. This is to every Bond fan’s benefit, but be forewarned that the Dossier has become collectible on the second-hand market (it’s long out of print, sadly). A little researching will no doubt turn up an affordable copy; I got this Signet edition, which follows the design of Signet’s Bond paperbacks of the early ‘60s, at a nice price. The book could also be read while reading the novels themselves; Amis occasionally gives away big details, but most people are familiar with everything thanks to the film versions (which are no doubt seen a lot more than the original novels are read); thus, no concerns about “spoilers.”

“The Man Who Is Only A Silhouette” is the first chapter, and gives a brief rundown on Bond and his literary ancestors. Warning for American readers: Amis refers quite often to British character Bulldog Drummond and his exploits. It’s clear that, at the time of this book, Drummond must’ve been more popular to the average reader in England than perhaps Bond himself was; throughout Amis will make references to this or that moment in Drummond’s history with little embellishment or explanation, as if assuming his readers know what the hell he’s talking about.

The first three chapters go over Bond, from personal details to his life as a secret agent, and on this latter point Amis makes the argument that Bond is not and has never been a “spy,” given that his assignments usually entail everything but spying. Amis argues that Bond would more accurately be described as a secret agent. Amis also looks into the supposed superpowers of Bond, arguing that, within the context and world of the novels themselves, his abilities are not so unbelievable – it would be common sense, for example, to accept that a top British agent would also be a top marksman. Bear in mind that throughout Amis solely refers to the literary Bond, with only a few mentions of his film counterpart; Amis was no fan of the films nor star Sean Connery, at one point even mentioning “Sean Connery’s total wrongness for the part” of Bond.

In these opening three chapters (“Sit Down, 007” and “Going Slowly To Pieces” being the titles of chapters two and three), Amis defends the “wish fulfillment” of the Bond novels, mocking critics who bemoan the pulpy nature of the series. “No adult ought to feel adult all the time,” Amis asserts, in just one of the book’s many quotable lines. Amis also makes the valid point that we readers want to be Bond, not invite him over for dinner or have drinks with him – the fact that Bond himself is almost a cipher is beside the point. He is the man all other men aspire to be. This includes Bond’s herculean smoking and drinking habits; despite being written long before the anti-smoking movement held sway, the Dossier admits that Bond’s 60-cigarettes-a-day habit might be pushing things a bit, but hell, Bond goes through a lot and deserves his indulgences.

Amis also defends Bond’s views on women in the fourth chapter, “No Woman Had Ever Held This Man” (the chapter titles cribbed from Fleming, obviously). Every Bond reader is familiar with Bond’s attitudes on women, as shown for example in Casino Royale. Amis excerpts four such examples from this novel, then defends them within the context of the book itself – Bond’s mood at the time, etc. Even Bond’s “the bitch is dead” line from the end of the book is defended as justifiable, given the revelation of Vesper’s traitorous duplicity. It goes without saying that this chapter would raise the hackles of the modern (or at least progressivised) reader. But Amis is never funnier than when he’s defending Fleming’s more “outdated” views, like Bond’s one-woman-a-novel track record:

Bond’s success with women is totally explicable within the terms of the novels. Women take to him because he likes them and knows how to be kind to them. He has, of course, further advantages. Other things being equal, women prefer handsome men to ugly and brave men to cowardly. There seems nothing to be done about that. Any number of us, however, could afford to take a couple of leaves out of Bond’s book. Unlike many heroes of more ambitious fiction, Bond is good-tempered and not moody. Women appreciate that in a man. And as Tatiana [in From Russia, With Love] notices at once, Bond looks very clean.

As can be seen, Amis here too defends the “fantasy” nature of Bond’s appeal to women; this element, apparently criticized by reviewers at the time as more of that “wish fulfillment,” is proven to be no big deal; Bond becomes intimate with one woman a novel, and given that Fleming wrote one novel a year, this is easily believable – it isn’t like we’re talking about the three or more women Bond conjugates with per movie. Amis also points out that Bond, despite his “sexist” attitude, is seldom ever mean to women (other than, he specifies, ugly villainesses Irma Bundt and Rosa Klebb; but they deserved it!). In general, Bond treats women with kindness and respect.

The wonderfully-titled fifth chapter, “Beautiful Firm Breasts,” is all about the “Bond-girl,” as Amis refers to Fleming’s central female characters. “Bond-girl shows a strong tendency to make her debut naked or half-naked,” Amis writes, and “Her most frequently mentioned feature is her fine, firm, faultless, splendid, etc, breasts.” (“I find this inoffensive, too,” he adds.) We have a rundown of the Bond-girl archetype, including Fleming’s apparent favored hair and eye colors, as well as the recurring motif that, despite her beauty and curves, Bond-girl usually has some impediment – Honeychile Rider (from Doctor No) with her broken nose, Domino Vitali (from Thunderball) with her one leg shorter than the other, etc. “Honeychile Rider is the most appealing incarnation of Bond-girl,” Amis asserts, and I agree with him. Despite talk of the magnificent curves and looks, Amis also details how Bond-girl has her own heroic makeup, and how she brings more to her respective novel than just being Bond’s latest good time. He also mentions how Kissy Suzuki in You Only Lives Twice actually saves Bond’s life.

Chapter six, “A Glint of Red,” focuses on Bond’s enemies. Amis again proves his keen eye with the observation on the “peculiar unpleasantness” of the mandatory Bond-villain confrontation in each novel, as in each case there is a father vs son dynamic at play. Amis nominates Doctor No as the “most archetypal Bond villain,” not to mention “the most fun” (and I agree on both counts). But Doctor No isn’t Amis’s favorite, as he finds him a bit too pulpy; Amis himself prefers Hugo Drax, from Moonraker. Amis likes how Drax can go from insane to casual in a heartbeat.

“Damnably Clear Gray Eyes,” chapter five, is dedicated to M, Bond’s cantankerous boss. Make no mistake, Kinglsey Amis hates M. Indeed, it would appear Amis wrote the later Bond continuation novel Colonel Sun (1968) precisely so he could abuse M in the opening chapters. We get a rundown of how poorly M treats Bond, usually sending him off into horrible situations with hardly enough information. Again and again M has Bond risk his life, usually not even giving him a “thank you” for his troubles. The observation that M’s world is like a family is compelling, particularly Amis’s notion that Miss Monneypenny and the other girls in the office are like Bond’s “sisters,” thus Bond’s relationship with them can never go beyond harmless repartee. Amis wraps up the chapter with a laugh-out-loud observation that, given the frequency of M’s ignorance, the reader must gradually come to the conclusion that “no thought is taking place behind those damnably clear eyes.”

“Warm Dry Handshakes” follows, this time looking at Bond’s allies in each novel. Amis finds Darko Kerim of From Russia, With Love the “most appealing” of them all. You Only Live Twice’s Dikko Henderson is also okay, “but goes on and on.” Better yet is the following chapter, “We May Be Slow, But…”, in which Amis defends the colonialist attitudes of Fleming, particularly his frequent use of foreigners as villains: “Some forms of prejudice may be sinister, but not these.” While “unenlightened,” it’s “perfectly harmless to lump people together by nationality.” My favorite observation is that, in Fleming’s world, Americans are only “semi-foreigners, very nearly as good as ourselves.” Otherwise this entire chapter would send today’s PC advocates into fits of rage, meaning of course it’s a blast of a read.

“Elegant Scene” details the luxury settings and opulent foods of the Bond novels, though here Amis sees no snobbery, and only occasionaly the “copywriting” vibe critics often complained about in Fleming’s work. This chapter also features one of the few mentions of the Bond movies; Amis states that, as of the time of his writing, only the first three films had been released, Goldfinger being the most recent. He calls the movies a “send-up” of Bond, which I think is a bit unfair; anyone who has seen the first two films will know they aren’t send-ups at all. They play it straight and stay true to Fleming’s novels. It’s only with Goldfinger that the movies began moving toward camp. Regardless, Amis ends the chapter with another notable observation: that, even though Ian Fleming might’ve laughed when he came up with his stories, he “didn’t laugh in his writing. I approve.”

On to “The Shertel-Sachsenberg System,” which looks at Fleming’s love of shoehorning technical terms and equipment into his narrative; here too we are reminded of the occasional copywriter vibe. Amis asserts that these technical details make Bond’s fantasy world more believable; we might not know what the hell a “Shertel-Sachsenberg System” is, but if Fleming writes that it’s the best there is we’ll take him at his word. In this chapter Amis coins the phrase “the Fleming effect,” which he defines as Fleming’s “imaginative use of information.” Amis names Thunderball as being filled with the Fleming effect. For the effect to work properly, Amis stipulates that it “has to be geared into the action,” otherwise it comes off as bland info-dumping.  The chapter also discusses the increasingly fantastical nature of the villains’s plots, with another humorous observation: “Blofeld’s schemes...were never conceived in a fit of caution.”

“Y*B**NNA Mat!” (the title taken from an apparently-unprintable Russian oath in From Russia, With Love) discusses how “Putting Fleming to right has become a minor contemporary sport.” This chapter I didn’t find very compelling; it goes and on about various mistakes in Fleming’s novels, with Amis at one point detailing his own theory on how Fleming goofed up with the entire SMERSH concept, claiming that such an organization wouldn’t be doing any of the stuff Fleming has it doing. The chapter “Upas-Tree” follows suit, Amis stating that “Every writer of action stories sooner or later finds himself with an implausability on his hands.” Here Amis defends the “conventions” of the Bond novels (ie the Bond-villain confrontation, the appearance of Bond-girl, etc) as a catering to an accepted form.

The fourteenth and final chapter, “The Beautiful Red And Black Fish,” is one of the longest in the book and is comprised of a solid defense of Fleming’s style. This too was an interesting read, implying that in his day Fleming’s work was apparently considered subpar, at least when compared to other espionage fiction, in particular Deighton’s work. However today Fleming’s Bond novels come off as downright literary, to the point that you figure the haughty style might be off-putting to someone coming to the books from the movies. Here Amis reveals that the majority of his text was written just before Fleming died; Amis knew that, even though the critics of his day dismissed Ian Fleming, history would remember him and his work – not to mention his style, which Amis also knew no other author would be able to duplicate. “He leaves no heirs.”

Amis includes three brief appendices: “Science Fiction” details the use of gadgets in the novels, and only here did it occur to me that, in Fleming’s world, it was the villains who most often used them – Mr. Big’s desk-gun in Live And Let Die, Rosa Klebb’s poison-blade shoes in From Russia, With Love, etc. “Literature And Escape” doesn’t have much to do with Bond at all, and is more so about how one can seek escape in the world of fiction. The final appendix, “Sadism,” speculates on if Fleming himself got off on writing about violence (Amis having earlier made it clear that Bond himself doesn’t get off on being tortured!), and contains lenghty excerpts from the work of Mickey Spillane, an author whom Amis states really did get sadistic in his work. We also get brief rundowns on all of the Bond novels, with locales, villains, Bond-girls, and highlights listed for each.

In sum, The James Bond Dossier is required reading for the Bond fan, and I’d say it should be mandatory reading for anyone hired to write a Bond continuation novel, at least one that’s set within the timeframe of Fleming’s original novels. Amis throughout naturally captures the pre-PC mindset that has disappeared from today’s mainstream thriller writers but should be a necessity for any author trying to duplicate the vibe of Fleming’s work; most of the new Bond novelists, in particular Sebastian Faulks and Anthony Horowitz, have taken great pains to remove themselves from the politically-incorrect world of the Fleming originals. However, I’m wondering if Faulks did read this one, as Amis uses the phrase “devil may care” throughout, and that’s the title of Faulks’s Bond novel. (Amis also uses the phrase “carte blanche” at one point, a phrase which Jeffrey Deaver used for the title of his own Bond novel.)

In 1965 Kinglsey Amis published another Bond study: The Book Of Bond: or Every Man His Own Bond, released under the pseudonym William “Bill” Tanner (ie, the name of M’s chief of staff in the novels). I also have this one, but haven’t read it – it’s even more collectible than The James Bond Dossier. By all accounts it’s is more jokey than the Dossier, but no doubt still compelling and certainly worth a read.

More notably, Amis was the first author contracted to continue Fleming’s legacy: Colonel Sun as mentioned was published in 1968, when Gildrose (owners of the Bond books) briefly attempted to start a new line of novels under the house name “Robert Markham.” That’s another one I have but haven’t read, though I do recall flipping through a library copy many years ago. While well-regarded by Bond fans today, it appears that Colonel Sun didn’t do very well at the time (Fleming’s widow hated it, by the way), and was the only “Markham” book ever published. But at least Amis wrote a Bond novel of his own, and if The James Bond Dossier proves anything, it’s that Kingsley Amis was the man for the job.

13 comments:

John said...

This one was hard to find on the spinner racks in our area back in the day for some reason (maybe because it sold so well), but us kids coveted a copy between us. We were all Bond, Flint, and UNCLE fanatics!

Stephen Mertz said...

An excellent review. A side note on Fleming's literary (!) influences. Bulldog Drummond is often cited but the stylistic connection is sparse. The author and character were rough and unreadable by any contemporary standard. Fleming's primary influences are the British thriller writers Sax Rohmer and Peter Cheyney. Cheyney (who during the 1940s was the highest paid thriller writer in England) is completely forgotten, while Rohmer is still read and for good reason. His influence on Fleming is enormous from titles to plots. Ian Fleming remains relevant not only because of his iconic creation ofBond but also because he was the best writer of that bunch.

Brian Drake said...

The Drummond books are available in ebook form right now; I've tried, but can't get into them. The hero puts an add in the paper (in the first book) asking for somebody to hire him for an adventure, for heaven's sake.

I'm surprised The Saint doesn't get more credit for being a Fleming inspiration. There's certainly more Bond in Simon Templar than there ever was in Bulldog Drummond. Of course the very valid reason for Simon not being mentioned in connection with Fleming is that, probably, there was no inspiration there at all.

Drew Salzen said...

Great review of an excellent book that could virtually be taken as a primer for writing spy novels in that era. Fleming's use of technical terms and brand names was what set him apart, and the key here is the use of the term 'aspirational': in the context of the era, Bond was the manly chap that gentlemen would wish to be, for many reasons. A lot of people don't get that now, but mostly I think because they can't put themselves inside any era other than their own, or any mindset other than their own, and don't realise times and attitudes change, and they, too, will seem old and outdated one day. We are all of our time, whether we wish to be or not.

The Drummond references were extremely relevant at the time, more so than the Saint mentioned above, for the simple reason that Templar was a private operator, and Drummond found himself inside the secret service, although not the fully employed operative that was Bond's lot. More importantly in the context of the times, Drummond was still immensely popular and in print, so was an obvious point of comparison in the UK. It's hard to imagine now how popular Drummond was, as the books have not lasted well, and are - to me - execrable. Nonetheless, although Sapper had been dead for nigh on thirty years and Gerald Fairlie (who took over the series) had stopped writing them by then, they were still popular enough for Drummond to be revived in a couple of British movies that recast him as Bond-lite (and badly - they fail on most levels apart from some great cameo performances from British character actors).

In truth, as I banged on about previously, a better model for Fleming's style was the inter-war writer Dornford Yates, whose Chandos spy novels had much of the flavour of Fleming's prose (and Fleming was a fan). However, Yates died in 1960, his sales on the wane, and was out of print by the time the Amis book was written, already a forgotten man and considered dated in style - which may be why Fleming, at the time, was unfavourably compared to Deighton, whose more 'cool' style was of the times. Both men were excellent stylists, and I like them both for different reasons. Critics never understand that about readers.

Odd fact - apparently Umberto Eco's first book was a Bond dossier for the Italian market, though I've never seen this, only read about it.

Incidentally, congratulations of fatherhood, Joe.

Rich Horton said...

Excellent review! I should find a copy of THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER -- curious that I haven't read it, as I am a big fan of Kingsley Amis' work in general -- I've read all but a couple of his novels. This includes COLONEL SUN, which I found pretty enjoyable, but not quite "Bond". Truly, Fleming left no heirs. (I read through the entire Fleming corpus some while ago, expecting little, and I was surprised and pleased by how good the books are, and how well Fleming writes.)

Gary R. Peterson said...

If there's ever a call for a Cliff's Notes on THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER, you wrote it! This was excellent and has me wanting to read 'em all. But I'm a little wary of Amis. I started his 1966 spy novel THE ANTI-DEATH LEAGUE and couldn't press through more than a hundred pages. It was impenetrable and just going nowhere (the literary equivalent of Richard Lester's experimental film THE BEDSITTING ROOM), which I suffered through around the same time). I already have a copy of COLONEL SUN (an early printing still credited to Robert Markham) and plan to read it after closing out the Fleming canon.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

John -- That's interesting to hear the Dossier was hard to find even back in the day. It's surprising Amis's The Book of Bond didn't also receive a paperback edition in the US. At least I don't think it did.

Stephen -- I've never read Sax Rohmer but have always meant to. I can see what you mean about his influence on Fleming. I don't think Amis mentions him or Cheyney.

Brian -- I've also never read any Bulldog Drummond. That's funny that he takes an ad out in the paper in the first volume. As for the Saint, he also goes unmentioned in Amis's book (I think), but O.F. Snelling refers to him in "007: A Report." And of course there's the oft-repeated story that Fleming shortlisted Roger Moore as a potential Bond in Dr. No.

Drew -- I enjoyed your writeup, and thanks for the congratulations! The doc says the baby could be arriving any day now, hence my sporadic appearances in the comments sections -- I set these reviews to post a few weeks in advance so I have a steady stream of content. I do know the Ecco book you refer to and would love to read it, but it is incredibly rare and pricey...only received a limited English printing in the UK, I believe. I have read Ecco's essay "Themes in Fleming" or whatever it's called, which was taken from that book. I also have "Bond and Beyond," by Bennett and Woolacott, a 1988 literary criticism book that goes deep into "intertextual" studies of Fleming's novels, as well as the continuation novels up to that time. Seems to be a very deep book, and I bet mileage would vary so far as reading it went. Haven't made the plunge yet myself, but flipping through it I see that the authors make reference to Ecco's essay. Oh, and those "Bond-lite" Drummond movies are really all I do know about the character; I know they have nothing in common with the source material, but I did enjoy "Deadlier than the Male," save for the annoying "comedy relief" character that was Drummond's nephew. And thanks for the notes on Donford Yates, with whom I'm unfamiliar -- he's another author I don't believe Amis mentions in the Dossier.

Rich -- I'm looking forward to reading Colonel Sun. It appears Amis tried to wrap up the dangling plot threads Fleming didn't live long enough to complete...ie The Man With The Golden Gun opens with Bond trying to kill M (the only part of the novel I remember all these years later -- I read it in 1986), with nothing much else said about it later. Amis has the plot of Colonel Sun focusing on Bond's efforts to save M, which I imagine was his way of having Bond repay the debt from the opening of TMWTGG. The best fleming pastiche is probably "Alligator," a 1961 Harvard Lampoon spoof novelette by "I*N Fl*m*ng" which reads almost exactly like Fleming -- I also have the authors's super-scarce followup "Toadstool," which was published in a Harvard Lampoon parody of Playboy Magazine in 1967. That one's never been reprinted ("Alligator" can be found as a cheap eBook), and appears to pick up after TMWTGG, with B*nd (as he's referred to) retired to the life of a monk before he's called back into duty to stop the depraved villain Toadstool. I intend to read both of these sometime and will review both at the same time.

Gary -- I have Anti-Death League but have never read it; thanks for the warning. And that Markham paperback edition is the one to get...it's too bad there were no more Markhams. I would've loved to see where a string of contract authors would've taken Bond in the '60s and '70s. It would've been further than the current continuation authors have gone, I'm sure, as they likely would've had more leeway back then.

Joe Kenney said...

Speaking of which, this brings me to something I failed to go into in my actual review. What Amis gets across in the Dossier is that, at one time, the Fleming Bonds were considered dangerous or at least a bad influence on younger readers. Amis's book is not only a defense of the books, but also a rundown of what was considered dangerous. This is what brings me to my long-winded diatribes against the molly-coddled thrillers of today, usually churned out by authors who have no understanding of the previous era. Or, they may actually have an understanding, but would rather "take the piss" out of the era, as the Brits would say...for example, again, Anthony Horowitz, who specifically said he wanted to mock Bond's "outdated views" in "Trigger Mortis," ie his "misogyny" and "chauvinism" and whatnot, having Bond constantly one-upped by a female agent and even shamed by an openly gay secret agent (in a novel set in the mid-'50s!!).

So what ticks me off is the Fleming publishers clearly want their cake and to eat it, too. Their new line of Bond novels, set in the era of the Fleming originals, are clearly products of the modern era -- as Drew notes, we are all products of our era, like it or not. And yet, the publishers have the opportunity to make Bond "dangerous" again -- by embracing all the bad virtues of the original character. Rather than trying to soften Bond's edges, the Fleming publishers could likely reach a broader market by going back to the hard-edged Bond of the old days -- my assumption is this alone would capture the interest of people who otherwise would have no interest in reading a Bond novel.

I understand of course that this would be impossible in today's progressivised era. I read a review of Trigger Mortis in the left-leaning Guardian, and the (likely) liberal reviewer claimed that yes, Bond had been progressivised in Horowitz's hands, but at the same time the Bond of Fleming's day "can no longer exist," or something to that effect. Well, I say he could. I'm sick of reading modern reviews of Fleming or the classic Bond film franchise that open with apologies for the "misogyny" and "racism" of the book/film under review. The majority of online reviews for Fleming's "Live and Let Die" ALL make reference to the "racism" of the book, and good luck finding a review of a Connery-era Bond that doesn't go on about the "chauvinism" and "misogyny."

It makes one wonder why these people even read the novels or watch the old films in the first place. Don't they understand that Bond was considered dangerous even in his own day?? Do modern reviewers really think that in 1964 guys actually slapped girls on the fanny and told them "Go away -- man talk?" (Re Connery in Goldfinger.)

Anyway, I digress. The fact of the matter is, Bond likely died with Fleming, so far as the books go, as only Fleming was free to make him as cruel/brutish/etc as possible, and only Fleming was free to experiment with the series itself -- imagine a modern continuation author turning in something like The Spy Who Loved Me! (Actually let's not imagine that.)

Sorry to run on at such length.

Peter Collinson said...

Thanks for all the passionate info. Don't worry about running on when you have so much to actually say.

Have you sampled the comic book adventures of Bond written by Warren Ellis? He's written two complete stories, the first of which has been collected as a graphic novel. The stories are decent, but the characters, dialogue and action are grand, and Bond is an unreconstructed dangerous male. Very much worth reading.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks a lot for the comment, Peter. I'm not familiar with Warren Ellis's Bond but will look into it. Thanks for the recommendation!

Drew Salzen said...

I'd not heard of the Ellis Bond, but I do like Ellis (who I believe lives just down the A13 from from me in Essex, in sunny Southend On Sea) so it'll be worth checking out.

Joe, I completely agree with you about Bond and the way liberal values have tried to emasculate him , missing the point that being dangerous and outside the mores of the time was part of the original appeal! I have a real peeve about people who judge the past by the standards of the present with no desire to take account of changes. That rewrites history, and that's a rocky and dangerous road to start down for any civilised society. I'll be frank: if I had to label my views I'd say I was an anarcho-syndicalist (though I recognise most people would not want to make some of the efforts this requires to make a community, so I know it's an impossible dream). In essence, I believe in freedom and I also believe that freedom brings the responsibility to know when to rein yourself in and compromise and work with others to build a concensus society that is fair and just. So in theory that'd put me in line with what a lot of liberals these day espouse... Except that they act like the fascists they say they despise, and won't debate but instead shout down anyone who disagrees with insulting epithets. They're like kids who put their fingers in their ears and shout 'la-la-not-listening' when they don't get their own way on everything. I think they're dangerous as they want to steamroller their agendas and don't realise that by so doing they are actually killing the good things in what they want by being the opposite of free and 'liberal' in its truest sense.

Or, to put it another way, they really are dumb fucks who couldn't actually think their way out of a paper bag. Sadly.

But back to Bond - the problem with Horowitz, who is immensely successful and actually does have real skill as a wordsmith and with his ability to plot, is that he wants so badly to be the uber-author of the liberal media top rank that he will happily play fast and loose with history. Any reading of memoirs and histories of espionage in the post-WWII up to the sixties era will reveal that there were a hell of a lot of homosexual men in espionage, but they were all covert about it because to break cover would have ended them up in prison/swapped for a Soviet spy as they had been blackmailed/dropped and eliminated for being a liability. And there's a reason the biggest female presence in Bond back at base is Miss Moneypenny - its because that's as far as nearly all women got in what was basically a boys club. In bending this to fit a modern agenda, Horowitz pulls off the neat trick of being praised for being completely unrealistic when other writers are reviled for such revisionism in other areas!

Of course, Horowitz and his admirers would say that's sour grapes as he's immensely successful and my own career isn't. Certainly, I would have liked to have been more successful, but I think I realised a while back why that just wasn't going to happen to me in these times.

Sorry, I've been going on a bit, too!

Joe Kenney said...

Drew, thanks so much for the comment, I really enjoyed reading it. And I couldn't agree more with your second (and third!) paragraphs. It's exactly that hypocrisy which has led me personally from being somewhat on the left to more so on the right (that plus I'm 42 now, so it's just a natural progression...and also I live in Texas!). Not only that, but the bizarre lack among the hardcore leftists to even grasp their own hypocrisy is what really blows my mind. As former leftie David Mamet supposedly said, "in order for genuine liberals to continue their illogical belief systems, they have to pretend not to know a lot of things."

But unless my culture-gauging apparati isn't faulty, I have a suspicion the West is about to move a little back toward the right, and I don't just mean because of Brexit/Trump/etc. If anything I think the "fascist liberal" stuff you so accurately describe above is only serving to make the left eat itself -- we're talking a total meltdown for all to see. Grab your popcorn!

And thanks for that explanation on Horowitz's motives, which explains a lot. I guess lust for fame and fortune trumps all, in the long run. You've probably seen that Horowitz has already been contracted to write another Bond continuation novel, so it's clearly worked for him. Ironically I've read that Fleming's widow Ann fought against Kingsley Amis writing "Colonel Sun" specifically because she was afraid Amis would instill his leftist beliefs into Bond's world. While Amis had supposedly moved more to the right by the time he wrote CS, it's my understanding the book not only has Bond working with a Soviet agent, but also winning some sort of Soviet award or medal at the finale. So maybe Mrs. Fleming's concerns had some merit! However he really didn't display much of a political bias in the Dossier, at least that I could see, other than his total hatred of authority-figure M.

As for the modern day, it would take a writer determined to "live in the past" to truly bring the '60s Bond back to life on the page. And as I wrote above (I think), publishers of today probably wouldn't even allow it, anyway. They want Bond to be tamed and untamed at the same time -- again, the hypocrisy.

In this regard I think the cash-in Bonds of the '60s would be the closest to Fleming, at least in spirit if not in style or literary flourish. The '60s installments of Nick Carter: Killmaster (especially those by Manning Lee Stokes), J.E. MacDonnell's Mark Hood, Andrew York's (aka Christopher Nicole) Jonas Wilde, the Jason Love books of James Leasor, etc. While being their own thing, I'd say they're all closer in vibe to the original Bond than the books churned out by today's continuation authors.

Thanks again for the comment!

Drew Salzen said...

I think I'd agree with all of that, Joe, and would also add that I have ten years more disillusionment and amazement at the self-destructive capacity of any 'left' than you, which may be why I give up on these schmucks...

But back to the important stuff - yes, indeed, the only way to get the alternative to an unreconstructed Bond these days is to go back to those other sixties spies - I would add James Mayo's Charles Hood to your list (Mayo worked with Fleming in intelligence, and I make his travelogue sections more vibrant than Fleming, but IF beats him hands down on action), and also Desmond Skirrow's John Brock, who lasted three novels (It Won't Get You Anywhere, I Was Following This Girl, and I'm Trying To Give It Up)from 66-68, and is one of the best spy/thriller reads from that period for me - I really like his first person narrative voice. Adam Diment is also worth a read, with the proviso that he was as switched on and hep as his creation, Phillip McAlpine, who is kind of like Bond played by prime-time David Hemmings.