The Post-Fleming Bond Novels
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By Mark Greenberg, (c) 2001


Twenty years ago the literary world of James Bond was revived in a new adventure called Licence Renewed, written by popular English novelist John Gardner. It was an appropriate title, as Ian Fleming's 1950s creation was re-introduced to the computer age. While the world around Bond had changed dramatically, old James had not. Aside from smoking low-tar cigarettes, and some gray flecks at the temples, James Bond showed no signs of aging like other mortals. And thank goodness for that!
      In many ways Licence Renewed is Gardner's best Bond adventure, combining both literary and cinematic elements. There is a wacko villain called Anton Murik, who has his own castle (cool!), the requisite Bond squeeze (sorry ladies!) named Lavender Peacock, and a not-very-nice henchman called Caber. Throw them into a timely plot involving a nuclear meltdown and Bond fans were rejoicing with the return of 007.
      John Gardner seemed an inspired choice to take over where Ian Fleming left off. Ironic too, as he had enjoyed success in the '60s with a series of anti-Bond adventures featuring reluctant hero Boysie Oakes (one movie was made, The Liquidator, starring Rod Taylor as Oakes, and featuring a Shirley Bassey title song!). Licence Renewed was a fun and exciting adventure, deftly handled by Gardner, that seemed to re-kindle an interest in the Bond books. A new 007 for the 1980s was an exciting prospect.
     The sequel, For Special Services, was interesting in that it featured the return of Blofeld (with a catch!) and SPECTRE, as well as teaming Bond with Felix Leiter's daughter, Cedar. This time Gardner introduced some interesting twists to the familiar formula that worked reasonably well. But the third novel, Icebreaker, in spite of a villain called Count Konrad von Gloda, and some interesting locales, had a supporting cast right out of an old Agatha Christie: were never quite sure who's good and who's bad, in a distracting attempt to keep the reader guessing. And the title is just plain dull.
     From here on in John Gardner's Bond series depreciates. Although claimed to be a "Number 1 Bestseller!", the rest of the novels never appeared on any bestseller lists I saw. Rarely were they reviewed in major publications, and, basically, nobody knew about them - except Bond fans! In my local bookstores, the paperbacks never appeared in the "New Releases" section; you always had to go straight to "fiction" to find 3 or 4 copies. Raymond Benson, a Bond fan who somehow inherited Gardner's mantle, has fared no better with his new series, which began with Zero Minus Ten in 1997.
     This comes as no surprise, though, as each successive novel remains a pedestrian Bond adventure at best. Every now and then a good one is written: Licence Renewed, For Special Services, Win, Lose or DieBrokenclaw and Doubleshot are quite good. But of 18 novels (not including the movie tie-ins), most start out very promising, but end up very disappointing. Case in point: The Facts of Death. Benson starts with a bang, having British soldiers gassed in Cyprus; but when we later encounter James Bond in a sperm bank, the series hits an all-time low.   


     And if you can list the villains and heroines by name from memory, then you are exceptional. Sure there are some good ones, like Gardner's Murik, Brokenclaw, and David Dragonpol. And Benson can be complimented for Guy Thackeray. For the most part, however, they are stereotypical, underwritten and forgettable characters.
     In High Time to Kill, Raymond Benson created a new organization with a new villain for 007 to battle, in the same vein as Fleming's Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE. But the creation is little more than a carbon copy. The villain, Le Gerant (Le Chiffre, anyone?) is given stereotypical villain trademarks (he's blind, but can "see" you!), that makes me think more of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers than Auric Goldfinger, or Sir Hugo Drax. The organization, called - rather blandly - the Union, seems an  amalgamation of previous such bad-guy clubs, not very original or creative at all.
     The women fare much worse. Both Gardner and Benson attempt to make them independent, sometimes on par with Bond, but the result is just plain embarrassing. The interaction between 007 and his leading ladies is completely unbelievable. Both authors' female characters flirt with Bond a soon as they meet him, and utter such inane and unbelievable come-ons that make his conquests the stuff of soft-core porn movies.
     If you've read Ian Fleming's novels, you find that most, if not all, of the women possess a mysterious quality that Bond rarely touches. They don't utter the foolish, supposedly sexy come-ons Gardner and Benson - their adolescent fantasies running rampant - saddle their characters with. If she sleeps with Bond, it's usually after some persistence by Bond, and usually on her terms. There are times he doesn't bed her until the very end of the book; and in the case of Gala Brand in Moonraker, not at all.
     A distinct lack of imagination has undermined the potential of the literary James Bond. The few good novels have been overshadowed by a majority of mediocre stories. Many of the titles, themselves, reflect an absence of creativity: first came Moonraker, then Icebreaker (hey - that rhymes!); Nobody Lives Forever was followed by Death Is Forever (but I thought Diamonds Are Forever?); there was A View to a Kill, then Licence to Kill, then High Time to Kill (they'll have to call the next one No One Left to Kill!). Do we dare mention No Deals, Mr. Bond?
     It's too bad the publishers of the Bond novels didn't continue with their original plan, developed back in the 60s, for different top authors to pen Bond adventures under the pseudonym 'Robert Markham'. Of course Kingsley Amis was the first author to write a Bond book this way, the excellent Colonel Sun. It's unfortunate that this plan came to an abrupt halt. James Bond was a literary creation and became a literary sensation, but has become little more than an anual "pulp" novel for hardcore Bond fans.

This website was created and designed by Mark Greenberg
Copyright 2001-2004, All Rights Reserved.
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