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Member Since 06 Dec 2006
Offline Last Active May 16 2016 08:11 PM

Topics I've Started

[review] License Renewed - Silly but fun book

13 May 2016 - 12:32 AM


The James Bond Continuation Novels are, like many of those stories, something of a red-headed stepchild to the franchise. For James Bond purists, there's actually two groups with those who love the books and those who love the movies with a decent-but-not-huge overlap. Neither group has much regard for the James Bond continuation novels which were done by Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, and a series of others thereafter. I, on the other hand, love the James Bond Continuation Novels.

Especially John Gardner.

John Gardner isn't as good an author as Ian Fleming, I don't think it's a particularly controversial to say. He tended to rely on stock villains like Nazi Remnants, the family of deceased enemies, and SMERSH despite moving Bond into the Eighties. His books very much read like original adventures of the genteel Roger Moore Bond, if a little more serious, than Fleming's urbane thug. John Gardner's Bond could also be played by Pierce Bronsen or Lazenby but is far and removed from Dalton, Craig, and Connery.

They're also a lot of fun.

No, seriously, the Gardner books are exactly the kind of book you want to pick up if you want to shut off your mind and enjoy some literary candy. This is exemplified in the first novel of his mammoth sixteen book series which actually means he wrote more James Bond books than Ian Fleming himself. It's a tragedy John Gardner died in 2007 as I very much would have liked to have contacted him to let him know how much I enjoyed his work.

The premise of License Renewed is as over-the-top as a Bond novel reviving the literary series should be. Anton Murik, a Scottish Earl/fashion design/nuclear physicist (!), is working with international terrorist Franco as part of a grand scheme to take control of eight nuclear power plants in order to blackmail the world for billions. To make this plan even more over-the-top than it already is, Anton isn't planning to use the fortune this generates to live like Croesus but to build his own nuclear power plant to show the scientific establishment he's the smartest physicist there is.


That is ridiculous.

But it works!

At least for me.

James Bond, meanwhile, has been out of the assassination game for ten years. This is meant to show the sliding time-scale from when the last novel was printed (actually twelve years with Colonel Sun) while ignoring Bond would now be in his sixties. Much like Spiderman, James Bond is magically in his thirties forever and cheerfully returns to service in the British government.

M wants Bond to investigate Anton Murik due to the less-than-effective Master of Disguise Franco's frequent visits to his castle in the Scottish highlands. Anton Murik has a beautiful mistress and even more beautiful ward (who resembles a young Lauren Bacall), the latter of whom is named Lavender Peacock but goes by the name Dilly. Gardner handwaves the fact MI5 rather than MI6 should be investigating Murik as a British citizen but this is really the least of the elements I'm worried about.

Bond persuades Anton Murik to believe he's a professional assassin after displaying some strong morals in returning a highly expensive necklace and then our villain helpfully reveals his entire plan to our hero. Bond turns down an opportunity to sleep with Anton's mistress, which confuses me but I suspect is due to Gardner believing it would be inappropriate for Bond to have sex with both mother as well as fosterchild. You know, despite Bond being Bond. There's a big huge Scottish wrestler as Murik's henchmen, a subplot involving bastardry, and other hijinks before Bond saves the day.

I love this book for the same reasons I love A View to a Kill (which, notably, took several of its plot elements from License Renewed). It's ridiculous silly fun and enjoyable from start to finish.


[review] My Colonel Sun after reading it for the third time

11 May 2016 - 06:14 PM



When Ian Fleming died, his publishers wished to continue producing Bond novels. I'm not sure of the exact copyright issues but they commissioned a new novel which would secure their control of the literary portion of the franchise for decades to come. Crass commercial move or not, they chose someone who had a genuine love of the franchise as well as tremendous skill.

Ian's widow, Ann, was less than pleased with their choice of author. Kingsley Amis was a huge Bond fan, no one could doubt it, with a number of books written on the franchise. No, the problem Ann Fleming had with him was his politics. Err, not to put too fine a point on it, but Kingsley Amis was a communist. This is rather noticeable as the literary Bond was all about murdering SMERSH before he ever heard of SPECTRE. Either way, Kingsley Amis typed out a book which I think is probably one of the best Bond books.

But kinda racist.

The premise for the novel is the demented Colonel Sun, a Maoist Chinese operative with a pain obsession (because literary Bond villains are crazy like that), has kidnapped M. This is part of a larger plan to sew discord between the West and Soviet Union in order to benefit Red China. The book was written in 1968 so it was still four years before Richard Nixon went to China and utterly upended how everyone assumed the Cold War was going to.

Kingsley Amis' politics are on full display here, much as Ana feared, but are more amusing in retrospect than offensive. Kingsley has Bond willing to team up with the Soviets against the Red Chinese because the author clearly believes the Maoists will be the enemy in the future. You know, instead of America and China becoming friendly rivals while the USSR's relationship sours even further.

In any case, Bond isn't going to let M's kidnapping slide so he heads off to Greece and hooks up with GRU operative Ariadne Alexandrou in order to stop Colonel Sun's nefarious plan. They visit some beautiful locations, have a romance, and get involved with some ex-WW2 resistance fighters who are less than pleased by Ariadne's communist sympathies. It's all extremely entertaining but the book is quite short at a mere 224 pages.

Ariadne is probably one of my favorite Bond girls and quite entertaining. Part of what makes her so appealing is the ash-blonde Greek is portrayed as a very well-rounded character. She's politically naive both in-story and out, believing in communism but clearly underestimating her superiors' darker side (one is actually a pedophile). She's also both a patriot as well as someone working for a foreign government. Lots of interesting contradictions which make her a character I would have liked to have seen more of.

Colonel Sun is an inscrutable oriental Yellow Peril villain who is basically military Fu Manchu. He's not the kind of character who could fly in today's climate and probably just barely worked in the 1960s. The best moment of the character is when he breaks down and admits he thought being a monster would make him feel stronger but instead just made him feel vile. It's a bit of humanization which Fleming never afforded his villains even if Bond isn't the kind of guy interested in showing mercy to his foes.

Greece is a perfect location for a Bond novel with the oceans, ruins, and local culture all being lovingly detailed. It comes alive off the page and I can't think of many places I've "visited" in books which have been as realistic. The fact it feels so authentic with just a comparatively small page count is also to the author's credit.

I've read Colonel Sun, listened to it on audiobook, and purchased the B&W comic book version so I must like it a great deal. Even so, I admit the book has flaws and can't help but suspect some readers might prefer the later movie-influenced pastiches to this one. Still, I'm going to give this a recommendation for all fans of spy fiction as well as the literary Bond.