is one of the better non-Fleming novels: exciting, violent, excellently written, and with a version of 007 closer to the original than any of the follow-up books. The latter shouldn't be much of a surprise, since Colonel Sun
was written only a few years after Fleming's death, and Amis was one of the first people in the British literary scene to take the Bond novels seriously. This book was written in a substantially different era than the later Gardner and Benson tales, one where Fleming's shadow and influence were much more immediate. Colonel Sun
in some cases seems purposely written in opposition to the Eon film series, which had just made their first leap into outrageous science fiction (and away from a Fleming story) with You Only Live Twice
. Colonel Sun
is primarily a realistic and often violent tale with an lack of gadgetry. Amis even writes a dismissal of high-tech gadgets at the conclusion when Bond thinks about how useless all of Q Branch's additions to his clothing actually were.
Amis is definitely the most skilled writer on the technical level to undertake a Bond story in Fleming's wake, and it shows. Although a member of the literary establishment because of his novel Lucky Jim
, Amis still makes his story essentially a thriller, and a fairly good one at that. His descriptions have some of the exotic thrill of Fleming's, and I can hardly fault his style; nothing seems forced or clumsy, which is a complaint I sometimes have about Gardner and frequently have about Benson. (I haven't yet decided about Higson, although so far I'm positive.) Colonel Sun
moves at a better pace than most of the latter-day Bonds and it held my interest most of the way, despite a slow late middle section. The novel gets off to a running start with the daring scene at Quarterdeck and the abduction of M--a nice sequel to the shocker opening of The Man with the Golden Gun
. Amis shows immediately that he isn't afraid to smash Bond around and really put the screws to him (or the metal skewers, heh heh). The book keeps up the pace for a good while before it starts to falter as Bond and Co. near the island of Vrakonisi. After the exciting underwater assault on the boat, the novel starts to slow down and get a touch dull. When Sun finally lays his mitts on Bond at the end, it's back to the thrill factor for the climax. Amis again lays down the hurt, and it's exciting. My only problem with the finale is that Colonel Sun is one incredibly talkative bad guy when he builds up to the torture. We expect the villain to give speeches in a 007 novel--it's a classic part of the formula. But Sun seems not to stop, and Bond's vituperative demands that he "get on with it" were ones with which I was readily agreeing. It is one nasty torture though, and thank you Kingsley for not going into too much detail on it. Appreciate it.
One significant difference between Colonel Sun
and Fleming's books is the amount of time Amis dedicates to political discussions and allegiances. Although Fleming casts his stories against the backdrop of the Cold War and frequently pitted 007 against the Soviets, his novels have little interest in the "whys" of the conflict. James Bond doesn't fight against communists, he fights against the Russians. He works for the forces of good, his opponents for evil, and that is that. It's an unexcused fantasy setting: an organization like SMERSH seems more comfortable in a pulp adventure than in real world espionage. On the other hand, Amis's version of James Bond's world places political affiliations on the front lines. The scene between Ariadne and the Russian general just gets too mired in political philosophy speech-making, and for me it slowed the pace down. Such additions might have made Colonel Sun
timely and realistic when it was published, but I find it much more dated than Fleming's fantasy environment.
Another strange thing that Amis does is include a chapter about George Ionides, the sailor who serves as an unwitting decoy for Bond and Niko Litsas. It doesn't add much to story. The text could have just made mention of it when Bond and Litsas sneak onto Vrakonisi in a new boat, much the same way he mentioned the decoys in the car in Doctor No
. It doesn't help the pace at all in the slowest section of the novel.
The characterizations are also a strong part of the book. I've already mentioned how well Bond is done. Litsas is an excellent ally (although, again, lots of political chat) with his own vengeance quest reasons for getting involved, and Ariadne is a vibrant, action-oriented Bond girl very much in keeping with the times. Colonel Sun is a bit reminiscent of Doctor No, but aside from his lengthy chatter pre-torture, he's a deviously successful villain and comes to a good end.Colonel Sun
definitely ranks among my favorites of the post-Fleming Bond novels, and it's unfortunate that Kingsley didn't have the opportunity to publish any further 007 adventures.
Edited by Double-O Eleven, 16 September 2006 - 04:13 AM.