petermorwood: (Default)
[personal profile] petermorwood
I've been re-reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels – period pieces all, with a protagonist very different from the debonair gentleman spy of the movies. Sean Connery came closest in Dr No, when he told a villain that he knew the man's gun was empty – "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six" – then shot him. Twice. The second was a carefully-placed execution round, and though Bond’s double-O license to kill certainly includes execution of traitors and double agents (as in the beginning of the recent Casino Royale, though in my view the Dr No one seems more brutal), a shooting in cold blood, however justified, always has a nastier feel than any amount of action gunplay. M in Goldeneye described Bond as a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur," but the Bond of the books is even less appealing; he's a chain-smoking, alcoholic, xenophobic, culturally illiterate snob. Unusual material for a hero and cultural icon, but there you go.

Why Fleming? It's because I recently discovered an on-line version of his essay, How to Write a Thriller, and was curious to see how his rules applied to the finished product. The essay is too frequently edited, or copied from an edited source, but this one seems complete, and I saved it at once for inclusion in my computer folder "Tools of the Trade"– but, though it wouldn't be proper to edit the original, I couldn't keep from adding footnotes, thus becoming part of a long tradition. Kingsley Amis (in The James Bond Dossier, a thoroughly entertaining lit-crit of the novels) mentioned that even then (1965) catching Fleming out in mistakes was something of an amateur sport.

The notorious business of The Wrong Holster is one of the best-known. Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert (and, obviously, fan of the books) wrote to Fleming about improving what he saw as 007's rather inadequate guns. It was Boothroyd, later Tuckerized as "Major Boothroyd, the Armourer," who famously dismissed Bond’s .25 Beretta 418 as a "lady’s gun." It really is a pipsqueak weapon, though more than enough for execution and contact-range covert killing. He suggested that Bond be given a .38 Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, a snub-nosed revolver of the type associated with screen detectives and private eyes, and that it be carried in a "Lightning" Berns-Martin Triple Draw Holster. (Steve McQueen in Bullitt wears something very similar.)

Fleming fumbled the catch a bit. He equipped Bond with this holster all right (I think he liked the sound of its elaborate name) but instead of the revolver, put the iconic Walther PPK automatic in it. This pairing would never work: the holster is purpose-designed for a revolver, held in place by a curved spring around the cylinder. Automatics don't have cylinders, and the Walther is a distinctly flat example. Worse, when used as a shoulder-holster, the "Lightning" is worn upside-down. Result: the Walther would fall out every time. Oops. (Of course there are apologists who suggest that the Armourer meant a custom-built holster for the Walther. I suggest that Fleming got it wrong.)

Oddly enough, though Boothroyd did indeed recommend the Walther, it was as a weapon for the Bad Guys! I'm surprised Fleming didn’t take him up on it, because I can't think of any instance in the Bond novels when Germans or Germany are mentioned favourably; the people and the country are always seen as a threat to England (but not, apparently, to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.) Since this tic even spills over into Fleming's non-fiction work, Thrilling Cities, giving Bond a German gun seems out of character.

Amis gives very favourable mention to another commentary I'd like to read, though I've no idea how to get hold of a copy. The Gunnery of James Bond, by Bob Glass, appeared in "Snakes Alive," the journal of the Belfast Medical School (Trinity 1963), and though I went to Queen's University I had no association with the medical side. I'll track it down some day, because Glass's writing, according to Amis, is full of "energy and obvious enjoyment," and he corrects Fleming not through malice but because he's another enthusiastic fan.
"Few men" (writes Amis of Fleming) "could be so often wrong and yet seem so thoroughly, effortlessly, copiously, multifariously, triumphantly right."
Sounds like Kingsley was a bit of a fan, too.

Date: 2008-03-18 08:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's why I loved Connery's Bond. He was suave, but he also had a dark side. Roger Moore seemed more an over-the-top Lothario for its own sake, rather than because it would help with the mission.

I've not picked up one of the Fleming books in ages. I'll have to, soon. Thanks!

Date: 2008-03-18 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The books are very different to the movies; different mindset and different sensibilities. Never mind being politically incorrect now, I have a feeling that for quite a bit of the reading public they were politically incorrect then as well. They're also very British; whether that's a compliment or not, I leave to other readers...

Date: 2008-03-18 09:00 pm (UTC)
ext_58972: Mad! (Default)
From: [identity profile]
*Clears throat*

Have you run across a copy of my Bond/Lovecraft mashup novel, guv? 'Coz if not, if you're going to be at P-Con ...

Date: 2008-03-18 09:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Bond meets Lovecraft...? Um, no, I haven't. But if you're going to be at P-Con... :-)

Date: 2008-03-18 09:34 pm (UTC)
ext_58972: Mad! (Default)
From: [identity profile]
OK ...

(I was targetting the Broccoli franchise as well as the original novels, but I suffered for my art :)

Date: 2008-03-19 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I still think his Len Deighton/Lovecraft cross over that precedes it was better, but still a rattling good read

Date: 2008-03-18 09:07 pm (UTC)
uitlander: (Default)
From: [personal profile] uitlander
Have you caught any of the Radio 4 John Buchan adaptations? They've been doing some of the Richard Hannay novels (mainly on Saturday afternoons) - crammed full of very clichéd 'Jonny Foreigners', but rather good fun.
Edited Date: 2008-03-18 09:08 pm (UTC)

Date: 2008-03-18 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I wasn't even aware of them! Thanks much - something to listen out for, assuming the Beeb don't end the series now that I know about it...

Date: 2008-03-18 09:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
...the Bond of the books is even less appealing; he's a chain-smoking, alcoholic, xenophobic, culturally illiterate snob. Unusual material for a hero and cultural icon, but there you go.

Not that unusual, I don't think. Or maybe I should say, not that surprising. Many people are some/many/all of those things, and many more people would like to be able to be as crass as they like without consequences other than feeling pleased with themselves and getting to have sex with pretty women. Thus, Mr Bond appeals to an awful lot of people in a wish-fulfilment sort of way (admittedly, for some, a wish-fulfilment-that-I'm-not-even-going-to-admit-to-wishing-but-secretly-I-do way).

Date: 2008-03-18 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Good point; in fact Fleming has Bond refer to himself (can't remember in which book) as a "blunt instrument in the hands of the Government." That Governmental imprimatur lets him be pretty blunt at times. Someone else described the book-Bond as "a thug with a veneer of culture just thick enough to let him pass as a gentleman."

It's a long way from the tux-wearing shaken-not-stirred seen-in-all-smart places character of the films.

Date: 2008-03-18 09:36 pm (UTC)
ext_58972: Mad! (Default)
From: [identity profile]
ISTR Fleming explicitly mentions in one of the books that 'M' has serious misgivings about how long Bond is good for the job -- he's drinking half a bottle of Scotch and smoking 20-40 a day to keep the demons at bay.

And Fleming should have known. He was a bottle-of-gin man himself by the late 1940s.

Date: 2008-03-18 09:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
...chain-smoking, alcoholic, xenophobic, culturally illiterate...

I dunno, I think you're seeing Bond through a haze of distant time or something. I don't think the drinking and smoking had dropped that much in Bond's time compared to Chandler's or Hammett's time. But...sanity check...when were the Bond books set? Late 1940s and through the 50s? I haven't reread them in a while, and I know my memories are somewhat polluted by the movies.

Which leaves xenophobic and culturally illiterate, and you might be right on those. But I'm not sure. Cultural literacy in particular is something very subject to argument -- just whast is the cannon? And I'm pretty thoroughly ignorant of pop culture myself -- popular bands, movies, and such mostly slide right by me without attracting my notice. Can you be more specific about what you mean by these to as applied to Fleming's Bond?

Date: 2008-03-18 11:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Bond knew he would probably die on a mission, so he decided to live for the moment and drink/smoke/whatever as much as he could.

Culturally ... in "You Only Live Twice" (novel) he states that he didn't have much academic success. Contrast this with the movie, where he tells Moneypenny he had a First in Oriental Studies (or whatever) from Oxbridge and you can see the massive chasm between the 2 versions of Bond.

Date: 2008-03-18 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The Bond books are more-or-less contemporary with their period of writing, which makes them 1953-65.

There's an interesting "Departmental Health Report" on Bond at the beginning of Thunderball:
Despite many previous warnings, (this officer) admits to smoking sixty cigarettes a day. These are of a Balkan mixture with a higher nicotine content than the cheaper varieties. When not engaged upon strenuous duty, the officer's average daily consumption of alcohol is in the region of half a bottle of spirits between sixty and seventy proof.
And so on, with much technical jargon. After reading the books, both the figures for cigarettes and for alcohol are on the low side: there's one instance where he's lighting his seventieth cig of the day, and the chucking-down of mostly hard liquor is a frequent punctuation to scene-setting and/or dialogue exchange. Even though heavy consumption of both is a trait of "tough" heroes - Spade and Marlowe are both smoker/drinker types - Fleming has Bond do it to excess.

Xenophobia... I suppose it's not surprising given the period, and Fleming's own upper-middle-class ex-military background. Amis states that throughout all of Bond's adventures, no Englishman does anything bad; those who appear English, like Goldfinger and Sir Hugo Drax, turn out to be foreigners after all (in Drax's case he's really Graf von Drache, from Fleming's least favourite nation.) I haven't found any Scots or Welsh villains, but Red Grant is half Irish (Northern Irish at that, which would make him nominally half-British, though not of course half-English) while the other half is, once again, Fleming's preferred bugaboo, German. Oddly enough, Bond himself isn't English either; he's half-Scottish, half-Swiss (that's French-Swiss, not German-Swiss...)

As regards culture (with a nod toward education) Bond was at Eton, but was expelled for hanky-panky with one of the maids; he left his second school, Fettes College in Edinburgh, at only 17 and entered "a branch of the Ministry of Defence" (a coy term for MI-5). The Bond of the books certainly didn't have any sort of degree (which should have restricted his advancement in the Service, though the War helped a lot.) The Bond of the movies had at least one, I think (in Japanese?) and certainly seemed to have studied or at least read about whatever subject was under discussion at the time, whether gold, diamonds, or any number of increasingly-esoteric topics. The Bond of the books would probably have dismissed him as "an intellectual, possibly with homosexual tendencies" (as he did the Home Office confidential advisor in The Property of a Lady) with all those Bond-girls being no more than a protective smokescreen.

Once again I defer to Amis, who lists the rather paltry contents of Bond's bookshelf, suggesting that the movie Bond must spend a lot of time in the Library. He goes on to praise Fleming for "not loading (Bond) with learning or arty accomplishment" as so many other thriller writers did with their heroes; I think that he went a bit too far, making Bond almost perversely disinterested in anything not directly concerned with the current mission, but that's just IMO.

Date: 2008-03-18 11:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sounds like Kingsley was a bit of a fan, too.

I take it you've never heard of the first Bond Franchise novel, Colonel Sun ( The Villain of Die Another Day was named after the title character.

Robert Markham is a pseudonym for Fleming's friend, the father of Martin Amis.

Date: 2008-03-19 12:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There's a copy of Colonel Sun on the shelf with all the others :-)

It's the only non-Fleming Bond novel I've got; Gardner and Benson didn't do anything for me, though Sebastian Faulks's upcoming Devil May Care might work, since it's set in the "proper" book-Bond era of the 1960s. The Fleming estate say that they're very pleased with it, so I'm interested to see if he's maintained more Fleming flavour than just the period setting.

Date: 2008-03-19 01:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I stand corrected :)

The Gardner and Benson ones were terribly disappointing - not even decent books, never mind Bond thrillers.

So, what's the URL for this "How to Write a Thriller" essay?

Date: 2008-03-19 02:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Because of the apostrophe-S in 'Fleming's", this won't show as a complete working hotlink - just cut-and-paste the URL.'s+Essays

I'm afraid this is one of the edited versions of the essay - the full one, beginning with the words "The craft of writing sophisticated thrillers is almost dead..." and about three times this size, has disappeared, or been pulled. One reason why I hit Ctrl-S as soon as I found it...

Date: 2008-03-19 02:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks - it's good reading. Never knew about the Von Papen assassination attempt - I'll be sure to use that in something. :)

Date: 2008-03-19 01:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
a chain-smoking, alcoholic, xenophobic, culturally illiterate snob. Unusual material for a hero and cultural icon, but there you go.

Well... Flashman? Or Marid Audran, for that matter (but SF has always been more prepared to accept unsavoury characters as heroes).

I devoured the Bond books as a teenager, along with Spade, Marlowe and Hammer (thanks, dad), and I never saw him as a hero to emulate, and even at that age the villains struck me as rather flat. But the pace, the darkness, the horrific insight into the mind of someone who wasn't quite normal (In Her Majesty's Secret Service being a notable exception) and the thrill of it all! Wow!

I've occasionally wondered if they would work as well for me as an adult - the Biggles books definitely didn't, whereas the Moomin books were even better - but there are so many books to read there's little time to reread.

By the way, you wouldn't happen to have the URL of that essay somewhere?

Date: 2008-03-19 02:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Because of the apostrophe-S in 'Fleming's", this won't show as a complete working hotlink - just cut-and-paste the URL.'s+Essays

I'm afraid this is one of the edited versions of the essay - the full one, beginning with the words "The craft of writing sophisticated thrillers is almost dead..." and about three times this size, has disappeared, or been pulled. One reason why I hit Ctrl-S as soon as I found it...

There y'are!

Date: 2008-03-19 03:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I guess pressures of work have let up a bit, then?

Re: There y'are!

Date: 2008-03-19 07:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Just a pause for breath is all, and to show I ATEN'T DEAD.

Check here ( for other stuff.

Re: There y'are!

Date: 2008-03-19 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Good, give our love to Diane when she surfaces from whatever's been keeping her so quiet as well.

Date: 2008-03-19 10:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm glad to hear you're still alive. Even if your grammar is occasionally scary for a professional wroter lol

Date: 2008-03-21 10:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The xenophobia is the really unappealing part; the chain-smoking and alcoholism I could buy, in a killer. Reminds me of Babe Ruth's overeating, and Frank Lloyd Wright's bad family life, and D.W. Griffith's racism, and so on. Isn't this kind of thing just a violation of this odd cultural insistance that we have that people who accomplish something great ought to be perfect? Like the uproar that occurred when Bill Maher said the 9/11 terrorists were courageous.

Date: 2008-03-22 02:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A bit off topic, but I was afraid it would get lost, if I replied to a post made a few month back.

I know some books published through is available through ingram, for example Martha Wells book The Element of Fire. I know ingram usually stocks all sorts of print on demand titles, but for some reason the lulu edition of Greylady doesn't even seem to be in their database. Do you know if Lulu notifies wholesellers when authors make out of print titles available, or if it's up to the author? The reason I'm asking is beacuse it would make it much more accessible, and it would become easier for bookstores to stock the title.

Date: 2008-03-22 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The short answer is, no, Lulu doesn’t automatically notify wholesalers.

Who gets notified about what depends on what distribution package the author purchases from Lulu. The basic one notifies nobody. The author has to do all the marketing and distribution him / herself. When you buy a package that includes an ISBN, you get some notification, but it’s very basic. The more elaborate the package, the more "extras" come with it.

Date: 2008-03-23 11:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yea I was wondering about that, since I though every book had to have an ISBN. That's the case in Sweden at least, but then all those laws were written before POD became a reality, so not really sure POD publications fits into it all.

And without an ISBN no wholeseller of course. =/ Thanks for letting me know. I'll just have to order through Lulu then.

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