Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bond Book Bits: Bond By The Bowlful

More James Bond short stories, more problems.


relevant, sort of
While still smaller and more intimate compared to a full length Bond novel, this story packs in a surprising amount of fast paced globe-trotting. There’s a bit of a trade-off though. For all of its action and double crosses, “Risico” is another simpler, more straightforward tale. Bond goes to Italy to deal with a drug problem so dangerous M (how great is Judi Dench as M by the way) fears for his safety. Bond also bros out with some sailors in between his usual women watching. Some other stand out sections include a chase scene that’s mostly Bond complaining about sweating on his suit and a nearly fourth wall-breaking scene where Bond pretends to be a writer of spy novels. That’s meta. Many plot points of this story were used for the movie version of For Your Eyes Only.

“For Your Eyes Only”

There’s a reason why the whole collection is named after this story. After a casually racist but very exciting and cinematic opening where a couple is killed in Jamaica, Bond tasked with taking down the people responsible. Before he starts though there are some quiet moments of introspection as M, who was very close to the dead couple, questions his own objectivity and judgment while waxing philosophically about the sad burden of leading groups like MI6. Meanwhile, Bond goes off on a nostalgic tangent of his own thinking about how old push mowers sounded cooler than the fancy new riding kind.

After that, it’s off to kill the swarthy, communist, Cuban perpetrators and their former Nazi allies. While coldly meditating on the morality of murder once again, Bond runs into Judy, the beautiful daughter of the murdered couple who has now fashioned herself as a vengeful, bow-wielding, forest warrior like some Jennifer Lawrence character. Bond can’t have that though, so after putting her in her place he proceeds to finish the mission mostly by himself and presumably hook up with her later, like how James Bond tends to do. Jokes aside though, seeing how Judy has suffered due to the crimes of these men allows Bond to rationalize a brutal job he was starting to regret. See, some thinking to go along with the action. What more could you want from a Bond story?

Much like how Fleming’s own military background informs much of Bond fiction, his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, where he wrote most of these books, seems to be the inspiration for many of the stories tropical locations. Jamaica itself plays a particularly large role in the first part of this story but oddly not in its 1981 movie adaptation For Your Eyes Only.


This ridiculously named story is the first tale in “Octopussy and The Living Daylights,” the final Bond book, actually published two years after Fleming’s death in 1964. Unfortunately, it also seems to confirm suspicions that by the end of his life Fleming had completely stopped caring about James Bond. See also The Man with the Golden Gun. There’s a sort of interesting story here about Major Dexter Smythe, a suicidal, pathetic, guilty, disgraced WWII hero that Bond has to capture. However, whatever cool bits there are get buried underneath boring, confusing prose and frequent flashbacks. At least there is some great, violent nonsense involving, appropriately enough, an octopus. Why does octopus imagery keep popping up in spy fiction? Is it because tentacles symbolize the wide reach and control countries wish to maintain through espionage? Who knows? The film version of Octopussy is actually sort of a sequel to this story and features the daughter of Major Smythe, a jewel smuggler named… Octopussy.

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