So, I relented and gave Gardner another chance. After the frankly disturbing end to the previous Bond novel, For Special Services, I was tempted to waSo, I relented and gave Gardner another chance. After the frankly disturbing end to the previous Bond novel, For Special Services, I was tempted to walk away but for pennies plus postage for an almost-new copy of Icebreaker at least I'm not really bumping his sales directly. The Gardner run has to end eventually (he did write 14 of these things) and another (read: hopefully better) author will take the reins – or maybe he's improving with time?
And, maybe, just maybe he is ... It starts with a good start, some solid functional scene setting and then straight into the action. Bond finds himself drawn into the ongoing operation Icebreaker. Given very little briefing by M he's on the Finnish/Russian border with a Russian, an American and an Israeli. It starts to sound like the beginning of a joke, but the jokes come later once Gardner gets going – really the idea of small group of Finnish Nazis rising again to try and take on the world seems laughable – although at least there's no goose-stepping. The number of double-crosses and double-double-crosses is insane, and while it's not overly confusing you do soon start to assume that everybody is going to change sides at least once during the book. The language is typically wooden, jumping between dialogue and third-person mid conversation, in a way that just feels stupidly clumsy.
But while it's far from a great book, it's not a bad Gardner Bond. There are definite signs of improvement here. I feel like we've turned an important corner. Most of the misogyny appears to have gone, although again Gardner seems to spoil that win somewhat by making Bond suddenly some kind of male incompetent, unable to decide which woman he loves/trusts implicitly or which woman he no longer loves/trusts implicitly. He completely loses any ability to form objective judgements of those he's working with – especially the various women – gone is the decisive Bond who trusts no one and instead he can't even be bothered to order simple background checks preferring instead to "uhm" and "ahh" his way through each character assessment. In fact, Bond appears to be the only spy in the game who isn't living up to his mistrust quota. The others seem to be acting out some pulp Mafia story rather than pretending to be professional spys. At the first opportunity Bond is over-sharing with the wrong woman when he should be getting his mistrustful spy on instead....more
"Inspector" was the dying word of a plane hijacker – a hijack that Bond, with the help of a couple of SAS soldiers, had just single-handedly foiled. C"Inspector" was the dying word of a plane hijacker – a hijack that Bond, with the help of a couple of SAS soldiers, had just single-handedly foiled. Could this be the return of Spectre – even without Blofeld – you know it!
The fact that Gardner was entrusted with fourteen Bond novels implies that somebody thought that he was worthy of taking on Fleming's mantle. What we get is a novel that, though better than the previous one, License Renewed, is neither Fleming, nor Fleming's Bond. On the plus side, the story is fun and Gardner tries his hardest to keep the identity of the new Blofeld a guessing game for the reader. The hugely irritating "gee-whizzes" of the previous novel are thankfully, mostly gone – the turbo-charged Saab is a little gadget heavy still.
But the book also has a number of significant flaws. Despite his best attempts to hide it, the identity of Blofeld was so obviously telegraphed that I was never in any doubt. While the story was fun, it does seem to owe more to the movies (especially the Roger Moore ones) than the Fleming novels. Blofeld's retreat had a butler character called Criton – which seemed to exist purely so Bond could say "admirable" – purlease! And the balance of the book felt wrong. There was far too much time spent at the ranch that I was beginning to worry that Bond would run out of pages before the real Spectre storyline even kicked off. Then, as soon as it starts, it runs out of steam almost immediately. The cavalry just arrives and it's all over.
But the worst of the novel is the icky relationship between Bond and the Bond-girl – Felix Leiter's daughter Cedar. Obviously as the daughter of his friend she is off limits, but that doesn't seem to stop him thinking about it (a lot) and perving over her when a bad guy rips her top. As if sensing this difficult line, Gardner has Bond strike a brief feminist stand in the middle of the novel when another baddie tells an off-colour joke. Though, as it's so totally out of character for either the novel or the known history of Bond, he backs off almost immediately and never returns to any discussion of feminism while seducing his host's wife or thinking about his best friend's daughter. The worst of the worst is reserved for the final chapter though. A chapter which should just have been completely cut and never mentioned again. Instead of which we are rewarded for finishing the novel with a description of Felix Leiter 'gifting' his own daughter to Bond to be "whatever you want her to be". Really? Even in 1982 did people do that?
It seems as if Gardner is getting there. Slowly. This is a better Bond than the previous outing, but ultimately Gardner still manages to blow the novel at the eleventh hour. Two books into a series of fourteen, I'm just not sure I can be bothered to keep going through the rest, he's not getting better fast enough. I guess I'll see......more
James Bond returns after ten years away in this light, but entertaining read, License Renewed. I say License Renewed because I got the American prinJames Bond returns after ten years away in this light, but entertaining read, License Renewed. I say License Renewed because I got the American printing, replete with freeways and all the expected mis-spellings, the original British version was called, correctly, Licence Renewed. Bond is called in to assist MI5 and Special Branch with an investigation into a known terrorist who's entered Great Britain. M puts Bond in, undercover, independent of them both, and before you know it tracing a terrorist has led Bond into a mad-scientist scheme that puts the world's nuclear power stations at risk of total meltdown.
The Americanisation of my copy seems somewhat apt though as the character of the novel is also somewhat out of kilter with its past. The Bond of John Gardner is much more modern, more confident, more reliant on gadgets – "gee-whizzes" as Gardner would have them (he claims in his introduction to have gone to some lengths to ensure the accuracy of all of Bonds gadgets) – and consequently much less fallible and much less believable (he is also a less cruel Bond which may suit some readers better). In fact, it seems like Gardner may have spent too much time studying the Bond movie canon and not enough on the novel. That said, I guess it's not all bad. Roger Moore (my least favourite Bond actor) was at the height of his Bond run at the time and Gardner's Bond looks positively Daniel Craig next to Moore in For Your Eyes Only which came out the same year.
The ten year gap is also odd. Rather than just ignoring it completely, Gardner deliberately explains this away as the British government's attempts to diminish the role of MI6 – M has only managed to keep Bond on in his old role by changing the name of the Double-O division to the Special Services division, leaving Bond as the only remaining 00 agent with a license to kill, but also leaving much less work than Bond really needs to fill his time. However, with this book coming out in 1981, and Colonel Sun having been published in 1968, that actually leaves a gap of 13 years. Gardner appears to be trying to place his book slap into the 80s, and ends up trying to drag the previous books from the 60s into the 70s. I don't understand why he bothered, and I don't understand why having bothered he didn't make the dates actually match up.
It's fun though, I raced through it pretty quickly and I definitely enjoyed myself while reading it. But, like Amis, he isn't Fleming, nor is this Fleming's Bond. In fact, Amis was a lot closer. Gardner did manage to write 14 Bond novels though, so hopefully he improves. I'm sure I'll find out....more
Bond is dead, long live Bond! With Ian Fleming no longer in a position to write Bond, the estate of Fleming approached Kingsley Amis to continue the sBond is dead, long live Bond! With Ian Fleming no longer in a position to write Bond, the estate of Fleming approached Kingsley Amis to continue the story with a new novel. Rumoured to have completed Fleming's last novel, The Man With the Golden Gun, Amis was maybe the natural choice.
And to be honest, it's pretty good. Much slower paced than a Fleming at his best, this novel never really seems to quite hit the level of excitement or anticipation that it was presumably aiming for. M has been kidnapped, and the attempt to kidnap Bond has failed. Bond must head to Greece to get to the bottom of the whole affair, rescue M, have some sexy Greek sex and foil an international plot to disrupt a secret Russian meeting.
The book is well written, the style Flemingesque, just not at his best......more
**spoiler alert** The last of the Blofeld trilogy and also the last Bond novel to be published in Fleming's lifetime. Bond's career is falling apart a**spoiler alert** The last of the Blofeld trilogy and also the last Bond novel to be published in Fleming's lifetime. Bond's career is falling apart after the murder of his wife in the previous novel. M revokes his 00 status and assigns him to the diplomatic branch, sending him on a seemingly impossible mission to Japan, to negotiate with the head of their secret service.
Much like the end of "From Russia With Love", where Bond is supposedly fatally poisoned. This novel also builds up to the already-revealed-on-the-cover missing, presumed dead, status of Bond at the end of this novel. Let's hope he escapes this one to......more