Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bond Book Bits: The Beginning

This should get some regular content going for a while. I was watching Live and Let Die aka “James Bond vs. Black People” the other day and between that and the upcoming Skyfall, I just started thinking a lot about James Bond. This led to me reading the James Bond short story collections “For Your Eyes Only” and “Octopussy and The Living Daylights” which has now led to me briefly discussing them on this blog “Love Me Some Lovecraft” style.

I decided to go with the short stories because

1. I’m lazy… when it comes to reading.

2. Many of them were based on scripts for a failed James Bond TV show and that seemed interesting.

3. The James Bond movies are so episodic anyway, reading a bunch of short stories in that universe seemed like a good fit.

So let’s get started.

“Quantum of Solace”

This Somerset Maugham homage is barely even about James Bond. Sure it has the late 50s casual, European racism and misogyny (much is made about the exotic beauty and submissiveness of Black and Japanese women respectively) but this is really about a bored spy unexpectedly learning how interesting and cruel something as simple and seemingly mundane as domestic issues and a collapsing marriage can be. The odd title refers to how as long as someone holds onto a bit of happiness any differences between people can be reconciled. However, once that bit is taken away all bets are off. It’s a weird and neat slice of rich old life that’s surprisingly careful not to overly demonize any of its many flawed characters. Outside of its focus on doomed relationships and the importance of its protagonists having a “quantum of solace,” this story shares nothing with the 2008 film and while I don’t want to be “that guy,” I also think this is way more interesting than that film.

“A View to a Kill”

Bond returns to his usual adventures all while being openly disinterested in his mission, drinking, secretly leering at girls, and insulting the French. There’s some business going on with hidden gypsies and motorcycle shoot-outs and our boy Bond is set to solve the mystery alone. Outside of a strange, reoccurring, fingernail motif, this is a pretty straightforward Bond tale. However, the way these stories avoid the dumb, gaudy fun of the 60s movies in favor of post-WWII, cold and cynical Bond made me realize just how much more faithful, and better, the new Daniel Craig movies are. The 1985 movie shares this title but once again nothing else. It also featured a 100-year-old Roger Moore flirting with girls he might as well have fathered.

“The Hildebrand Rarity”

This is another weird one that once again reaffirms how Craig has captured the detached, skeptical, quietly thoughtful and self-absorbed James Bond author Ian Fleming originally conceived. He even kind of has an arc in this. While being bored with his luxurious life and spending paragraphs and paragraphs describing nameless women as usual, Bond goes on a boat trip with a boorish American millionaire named Milton Krest. Krest also happens to enjoy stealing animals and bribing nature museums to fund his sham foundation all while beating his resentful wife with a stingray whip. Fish come up a lot in this one including the titular rarity. During one scene when many sea creatures are killed, Bond tries to protect them like little people and the murderous agent is slightly heartbroken when he fails. It’s sort of cute actually.

Although the CIA tends to be portrayed quite well in this series, one has to wonder if the classless, macho Krest represents Fleming’s view of other segments of the American population. Krest calls Bond “Jim,” talks about how the British make such good valets and butlers and is angry and confused when Bond refers to a ship as a “she.” The morality of killing is a constant theme. Killing innocent fish is wrong but not stingrays because they are bad. Similarly, the central murder mystery isn’t “who did it?’ but rather “is it really wrong to kill a jerk?” Also, “are creoles fiendish?” This was originally published in Playboy and parts of the story were woven into 1989’s License to Kill.

Three down, six to go.

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