The 007th Chapter: SeaFire


#1

[If you are affected by the issues raised in this edition of the 007th Chapter, a confidential helpline is available. Please ring 0044 207 493 7953. They could do with a good laugh. Won’t get it here].

An attention-guzzling British public figure, whose name phonetically delivers as Noisy Pest, or Dismal Prat or BumBum Teat, contrives events to make himself look utterly butterly to the easily deceived, but underneath he’s crazed and dictatorial and it’ll all end in dollops of war, the cheeky rapscallion. Hugo Drax? Gustav Graves? Maxwell Tarn? Tony Blair? Owen Jones? Kenneth Spoon? Donald Trump? (No, I said British. We can do our own bumbum teats, ta v.m. Albeit they tend to be fictional, or better considered same).

Roger Moore.

Hm. Well that’s the end of that theory, obv.

SeaFire, then. Once described as “Moonraker through the medium of tedium” (the once being just then), it’s a book I know I’ve read in the same way I know I’ve been to Los Angeles but l can’t recall a single sodding thing about it. No, tell a lie, there are three things (but not about Los Angeles); the warmed-over plot of Fleming’s third novel (this time it’s Nazis! Plus multiple hotel rooms and early-90s ecological virtue signalling despite relentless violence), the title and the girl.

That title…

When did mid-word capitalisation (MidWord capitalisation?) become an Actual Thing? Or ActualThing? Style’s called “medial capitals” apparently, and seems to derive from computer coding, so something JohnGardner might have KnownAbout, given “previous”. The memory associated with the use in SeaFire is that I thought it was a typo and, nurturing the frustrated bias that was building (unimpeded) against these books, I waved by any opportunity for fair contemplation and took it as nailed-on evidence of the lack of care being paid to the annual listless spewing of yet more Bond. Not even a resplendent megapixel arc of projectile vomit any more, but a sad dribble of oily bile, slumped exhausted against the bowl and dryheaving bitter content. Much like this tomfoolery of mine. If they couldn’t even type the MelonFarming title properly, what hope the rest of it? It’s not ThunderBall, is it? Nor MoonRaker. Not even BrokenClaw. I achieved solace, tolerance even (don’t suggest “acceptance”) via the soothingly RockSolid knowledge that not even the most loathsome cretin would molest “Goldeneye”.

What I don’t recall… no, correct that, what I do recall is not recalling seeing this meretricious phenomenon prior to SeaFire, thereby coming to the snap conclusion that when it went viral as an upsetting stylistic choice, it was evidence of the book having been immensely influential. Must have been off my chump. OffChump. It’s a late-in-run Gardner and therefore possessed by few and of long-term interest to yet fewer. However, it might be a pre-sunset flourish of signature Gardner soothsaying: this time it’s not smart cards nor data storage nor Russian coups, it’s the imminent collapse of Western syntax as I knew it. BurnWitch.

As for the girl… the girlfriend.

There’s no particular reason for KenSpoon not to have a LongTerm GoodChum with whom he SolvesCrimes (contradicts much prior evidence that it would be a woman, but that’s a GardnerTwist), and it’s healthier that the target for his windcheater-clad, sandwich-masticating affections is not his best friend’s young daughter. There is, however, a particular reason for James Bond not to have a long-term girlfriend, and that’s because he’s James Bond and is terrible at relating with, and to, women.

Not the leering priapic sponsored sex dolly of the (first twenty) films that can barely move for FlungAt jiggle-wiggle, which can apparently only be portrayed by a white man, but the relentlessly frustrated embittered failure of the Fleming books, which apparently can only be portrayed by a white man. Even though John NEVER SAW THE FILMS (given those emitted during his tenure, that’s not so much peevish posturing, more admirable judgment), his Bond women are far, far closer to the Eon norm of initial mild challenge but eventually succumbing to Bond and/or death. Such resistance as his “power women” present is richly characterised by the wearing of a suit, although as Gardner characters they can consider themselves overdeveloped in comparison to the rest of his assembly of the anonymous. That Mr Benson’s exculpatory assertion, when trying his very, very best to defend his GrimPorn, that Fleming would have been writing such stuff if alive at the time, doesn’t hold with the nature of what the man ectually did write, which, as stated by many, was the nature of the man himself: frustrated adolescent braggart childish athlete ectually terrified of yer actual ladies and their ways. There are few successes for Bond in Fleming; the author got in the way. Little enough succumb now, never mind Bensonesque succumb off.

It might be going too far to suggest that Fleming’s Bond is a tale of an enraged, weak man who cannot connect with women other than on physical basis (although re-read through that filter, the books tap a rich vein of (presumably) unintended humour in watching the miserable fool flounder so). “Fleming wrote Bond as a white man.” Indeed. However, there’s always a block, a barrier, to Bond succeeding. Practically every Fleming woman is ultimately out of his grasp, if not his blood-soaked clutches, and those that are strike one as the least interesting of the sorority. It’s knowing revisionism to suggest this is the result of the unappealing nature of Bond’s character, and that’s presumably not what was intended as written, however one now reads it. What we’re served is always (always) Bond’s inability, practically a disability, not being his own fault – it wouldn’t be, would it? - but more often than not something’s amiss with the young lady herself, and beyond the surface level of their being physically mucked-up in some way. Fleming hardwires them to mean there will be no prospect of success, another cruel taunt from an author possessed of no enviable personal qualities beyond his financial success.

As exercises in frustration – Bond’s attempts to escape his livelihood despite himself, Bond’s guilt in acquiring consumer goods, the discomfort of luxury, the author’s envy of his creation, the schoolboyish rejection and resentment of authority, the harsh teacher/lecturer and unruly pupil relationship between most villains and Bond – that bleak, never-resolved atmosphere of thwarted yearning that is the core of Fleming’s Bonds, largely absent from the norm-driven continuations, is no stronger when considering Fleming’s depiction of Bond’s relationship with women, so regularly possessed of that quality suffered in dreams when reaching and reaching and reaching and… bollocks, it’s Monday.

The marginally happier reading of this locked-in habit of the Fleming Bond stories, at least for narrative purposes, is that the thrill is in the chase, never the capture. What this says about a) the fun in pinching Lord Rothermere’s wife but then b) the misery of finding one’s self ectually married to the vinegary old measle and c) deciding to name loads of alluring female characters after one’s lady friends but not one’s own Mrs, I leave to the amateur psychologists.

[An amateur psychologist writes: it says dungloads. What a terribly damaged, grimbrained and venal emotional cripple he must have been].

Observe ye the catalogue of premeditated failure. The relationship with Vesper Lynd is doomed because she’s a dead traitor. Tendency to get in the way, both idiosyncrasies. The one with Solitaire is similarly wretched, although this time it’s because she’s a psychic witch; not a type evidently suited to sofa-bound box set marathons, not least because she’d predict all the mid-season twists, the voodoo moo. Gala Brand is far more interested in someone else and the first potentially credible relationship, with Tiffany Case, fails completely when domesticity inflicts itself. That’s a BIG CLUE to what’s going on here, with Fleming, underenthused about institutions from an early age, finding himself trapped in one. Tatiana’s a Russian spy, so that’s not lasting, Honeychile is a dim savage who kills men in nasty ways and then there’s a brace of lesbians. Many of them have histories of vicious abuse. As Tinder profiles* go, these are challenging. That’s probably the point. Better perpetually unobtainable than permanently obtained.

(*I have no idea what these are but given that the modern news agenda is edited by those who have an interest in such things, I am deemed to be obliged to know otherwise my life is obsolete).

It would be foolish to ignore that it assists the ostensible appeal of the lead character that there’s fresh fluff every mission, and that all adds to the longevity and marketability of James Bond. What strikes as interesting is that – a couple of notable exceptions aside – there’s little in the films to suggest that Bond’s relationship with his lady chum will be anything other than a ripping success once they’ve reached dry land and the projectionist’s gone home; the Fleming books go the other way, in inverse proportion. Weird. Wassface at the end of Quantum of Solace, all hollowed out by vengeance, walking off to do noble ecological works after Bond sexually assaults her, is not very Eon, but solidly Fleming.

Judy Havelock doesn’t seem interested in this Bond weasel and he takes advantage of her grief-released fleeting excitement, the grotty scoundrel. Mary-Ann Russell is probably closest to the film norm of being mildly chiding but eventually up for some squidgy nurkle, and no-one bothers much with her despite being so “norm”. Liz Krest is a domestically-abused murderer, Lisl Baum’s the plaything of a vicious gangster upon whose good side Bond just happens to be on that occasion and Domino is owned, by Kevin McClory. Vivienne Michel thinks the spy loves her: he doesn’t, although he behaves in much the same way as those who have previously “loved” her, all her prior abusive experiences rolled into one utter bastard rather than being shared out amongst several. An efficient approach, but not one to praise. That’s not love, love. None of these set solid foundations for domestic bliss. Tracy Bond (…Noisy Pest) is just Tiffany Case with a rich dad and more pills. Kissy is of an alien culture (about which we have been whacked around the noddle for a hundred pages or so before she swims into view) and Mary Goodnight… Mary Goodnight’s a simpleton but plays a significant part in the overall scheme by completing the arc with that final line of The Man with the Golden Gun, which puts the tin lid on what’s been going on throughout. Ultimately, that stuff about the view palling is the optimum sign-off for the Bond series, and is confirmatory of the bitterness and attitude to relationships throughout. If you’re of the persuasion to look for themes and arcs and suchlike in Bond (never let anyone tell you that’s not the approach of a winner) then contemplate a last-line twist in the tale that was there all along.


#2

Accordingly, it’s a smidge unlikely that James Bond, whose peculiar, sad lifestyle seems curiously red-line claimed as exclusively depictable by a Caucasian male - OK, all yours, if you insist (are you sure that’s wise?) - would find himself attached to a lady in any way other than by groin. Yet, come the emission of SeaFire, we have presented unto us the following as the behaviour of The Same Man*:

“He had never been much of a theater (sic) or movie (vomit)-goer. She was passionate about both art forms, and while on the training courses for the inception of the new Double-O Section, they would sit and watch classic films on video during many of the evenings. This led to a game, often played over dinner – asking each other questions about both well-known and obscure films: quoting lines for identification, describing scenes which had to be matched to the films from which they came.”

(*not The Same Man).

Christ. They sound unbearable. Smug, banal evil. Ooh, movie (puke) trivia, Ten years further on, these would be the sort of preening scum that would play quote games online; twenty years on and it would be Twitter. I can get that sort of behaviour, underfantastic neutered domestic self-satisfaction when I look in the mirror, and I’m played exclusively by a black man. “Bond and Flicka”, the sort of “people” who need their wasted lives smeared out of them. How I loathe and despise them all. Have a war, thin ‘em out. At weekends, Kenneth Spoon cosplays as James Bond (an obscure character from the 1950s). An insight into their emetic little existences and one wants to desecrate all of their orifices with the rough end of a pineapple and an unwashed whisk.

I accept – and gleefully – the accusation that this may be an extreme reaction to a paragraph in a relatively obscure book but, surely, anyone with even the most sub-atomic femtoknowledge of James Bond can’t read that particular passage of this – it has the ball-whacking temerity to assert - “latest 007 superadventure” and think that’s even in the same Bailiwick as “right”. This is (or was at some point meant to be) James Bond, swimmer of reefs, sorta outdoorsy chap, drinker of drinks and gambler of gambles, all running about and getting into daft scrapes with a bolus of broadly-drawn ethnic stereotypes, not this pompous, soft-life suburbanised ordinary prick. “Latest 007 misadventure” I could buy (but wouldn’t have). (OK, that’s a lie). What has happened to one’s favourite racist, homophobic misogynist, bitter and introverted psychopath? Characteristics that must only be portrayed by white males, as is regularly suggested: no-one else can apply, although why they would ever want to remains underaddressed. After all, Fleming’s Miss Moneypenny is evidently white, has to be white and the whole point of the character, such as it is, is that she is white and… oh.

If Mr Gardner is giving us a parallel universe insight into how things would have played out had that Tracy Bond woman survived, it’s compelling evidence that her having the life shot out of her was a GoodThing.

It’s such a distraction of an insight into a Life Not Bond that I can’t recall much if anything else of this book, save that along the line there’s an oil spill or something, and NAZIS! Um… because. This time, though, they’re Eco-Nazis (sorry: EcoNazis), and that’s… um… because. There is, surely, a Bond book about environmental causes hiding nefarious schemes (and it’s Dr No); likewise, a contemporary Bond book tackling the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe would find itself plentiful material upon which to dwell. Both strike one as valid concepts. Mashing them together, though, and very loosely mashed at that, within what was probably an appalling deadline and a doubtless heavily restricted word-count, skims over how the two are credibly connected. Still, 1994’s BondProduct exists: apparently enough.

I realise, of course, that it’s unwarranted to propose this book as a rehash of Moonraker: that had an unhinged fascist loon taking on the villain. Here, the Nazis will find themselves troubled not by someone just that mere inch more appealing than them, which I’ve always assumed was the joke, but “nice people” (ugh) whose lifestyle of date nights and Disney is at threat. Well, stuff that: bring on the Wagner and jackboots and dispose of that sedated, sedentary filth. I am aware that includes me and my children, but they’ve been annoying me lately.

Almost as much as this book.

Flicka-ing through its opening chapters, memory lane finds itself strewn with the rubble of what once was, demolished in a perplexing and unwarranted attack on the institution. This is both in the under-one’s-nose tone and the in-one’s-face content, with all that aggressively miserable rot about “Two Zeros” and “MicroGlobe One” and “Bedford Square” (…BumBum Teat). Book finds itself dedicated by Mr Gardner to a good friend who was “as much of a Bond fan as I am of his incredible talents”. That’s nice, although whether said friend would be open to reflecting on having such a non-Bond dedicated to him is unknown. If Mr Gardner’s sentence concluded with “…as much of a Bond fan as I am”, one would worry, but it would be a warning in plain sight, and there’s little left now to convincingly argue any case that Mr Gardner was still doing what Mr Fleming started, or cared to. Sitting astride a swinging demolition ball - quite coquettishly, must be the alluring cut of the action slacks - here comes John Gardner, smashing away at all that incidental world-building and replacing it with… yeah, whatever.

Americanisms, mostly.

Despite my copy being the GB First Edition (how sunken is my soul), there’s loads of them, which can’t do anything to dismiss the feeling of quick-buck (sorry: quick-pound) carelessness about the enterprise. That’s not how one spells the word “jewellery”, y’all, and as for “garbage bag”… BumBumTeat. “Flicka had a well-developed sense of humor”, despite an underdeveloped sense of how to spell the word. Applying foreshadowing retrospectively (and now my brain hurts) it is at least softening us up for the next author. What’s that? Ian Fleming was created as a white British male, so only a white British male can write James Bond? That’s… not true, is it? There does seem to be a skew towards telling us stuff about the USA and its interests and capacities, which is not immediately uninteresting but is material that’s hitching a ride out of Bondtown (insular, admittedly) and into, I dunno, Clancy Gulch or somewhere of equivalent turgid misery. “Since the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the American Forces had developed an almost novel fast reaction as far as probable terrorist activities were concerned”. Well, good for them. For a few years, anyway. I’ve aged better than that observation, and I’m a wreck.

In this first edition, Tarn International is occasionally referred to as “Tam” International. Book’s title is probably an ActualTypo after all. Look, if you can’t proof-read it properly, don’t expect anyone to review it properly in return. “Sir Maxwell Tarn was beloved by the British tabloids – self-made man from an indistinct background, billionaire, the giver of large charitable gifts, and good copy for the columnists”. Also beloved because they could just drag out the stuff they wrote about Sir Hugo Drax and just Find + Replace the name. Easy.

“Bond had always preferred Cambridge to Oxford.” Over the course of umpteen books, one has come to regard the characteristics of GardnerBond as contemptible, all moccasins and sandwiches and poetry and pompousness and paternalistic priggishness, and there’s nothing in that statement to change m’view, and it comes as no great surprise.

John Gardner went to Cambridge.

If you think this has been unduly sexist, superior, snobbish, ignorant, racist and aggressive, remember that those are attributes of James Bond and, on the basis of the strident argument that portraying such things are the sole domain of a category of folk in which I reside not, those things can’t have happened. So there.


#3

The 007th Chapter – SeaFire: Mr Cuthbert & Mr Archibald

We’re in a hotel room. Obviously. (How many of these pieces have started like that?).

The University Arms in Cambridge is one of Cambridge’s less meagre highlights, and fortunately for Bond and GenericWoman, it has a very good pay-per-view film selection (I know this: best not to enquire further). In early 1994, this exciting, exotic pair of international licensed killers could have distracted themselves from the giddy nightlife of Cambridge (there’s a Wimpy and a BoozeKing) and settled down with a plate of sandwiches to watch, absorb and then quote bits of Another Stakeout or Loaded Weapon 1 back at each other because… Christ, just shoot this lousy, boring pair now, Archibald.

“…he saw that the pair looked like escapees from a cartoon.” Presumably not a Raphael cartoon but the sort of thing this “man”, “Bond”, obsessed as he is with light entertainment and Disney and such, would use as a descriptive reference. Is he thirteen years old? One feels compelled to ask. “Each was dressed in a smart, beautifully tailored suit – one gray serge…” grey, you sloppy plebs – “…the other in a dark material…” It’s a bin bag. Sorry, garbage bag. “…while the ties were identical, bearing the striped colours of a very famous British public school.” Hold on: it’s all names up to now – Gucci, Armani, Turnbull & Asser – but the school is coyly referenced? Mealy-mouthed word-count filling. If it’s Eton, say Eton. Since this couple is presented as gender deviants (they’re obviously women, given the less-than-subtle clues John’s thumping at the reader), it’s probably Charterhouse.

“…for they spoke in that rather affected English sometimes referred to as ‘Oxford’ “. Well, you can knob right off at that. John Gardner went to Cambridge but evidently wasn’t educated there. Although, being fair to the poor old poppet, no-one could be. Still, as we would say in our charming, albeit rather affected, Oxford expression: piss off, sonny.

“Both had dark hair, cut very short in a style once favoured by the Beatles…”, give it a rest, John, “…and the hair coloring seemed at odds with their pink, almost feminine, complexions.” Women, eh? Bless ‘em. The word “coloring” is at odds with English.

“I really think it’s time we got moving…” Fair enough, it is page 62 after all and only annoying things have happened so far. Also, best get out of there before these ruthless jet-set agents start telling you why they’d only give one star to RoboCop 3 (TV edit). “And what happens then?’ Bond tried to sound causal, as he desperately thought of some way of immediate escape that would pose no threat to Flicka.” Just tell her the engagement’s off, mate; then go back to being James Bloody Bond. Or are we not at that bit yet? She’s so doomed, whoever she is. “You’re very quick, Mr Bond.” Unlike this chapter. Two pages in and they’re all still bickering about leaving the hotel room and getting into a car rather than doing either of those things. Appreciating that the proof-reader’s been let go in the budget cuts, but so have the extended outdoor scenes.

“Oh, come on, Mr Bond, don’t be tiresome. Just move.” Yeah. Two-and-a-half pages and we’re still in the hotel room. “When people like Cuthbert and Archie came in pairs they were usually psychotics…” When people like Bond and Thingy came in pairs they were usually buying Star Wars Lego. “Pretend you’re on a nice little lovers’ walk to Grantchester…” Jeffrey Archer has a house there. Whatever one thinks of the continuation authors, contemplate for a moment that it could have been much, much worse. “…please don’t make us do anything we’d regret.” Well, you’re in this.

“Bond had no doubt that any attempted escape would result in fast, sudden death.” A blessed release, surely?

It takes half a page to walk downstairs and, within that half page, a paragraph of six lines to tell us that the four “characters” got into a car. SeaFire? PadOut.

“Yet nothing happened.” Mm-hm. “The only moment that caused any tension in the car was when they had to pull over as, with a shriek of sirens, two fire engines, a pair of ambulances and a police car hurtled past.” They seem to be appearing in a better book: can’t we follow them instead? No. This moment foreshadows the staged, faked deaths of Tarn and his wife in a car accident and is quite clever and would only be spotted were you to read the book again. Were you to read the book again, though, you’d be deservedly locked up. Some of the people responsible for quality control don’t appear to have read the book at all.

On the basis of personal experience, I’d have said a greater moment of tension in the car is down to it being a Rover 800 and therefore likely to fall apart imminently. The other tension is between Bond and WoMan, because he enjoyed Robin Hood: Men in Tights and she thought it was dismal cack. I should like her more, but there’s not much there to like. Apparently, alongside her “humor”, whatever that is, she has “fast wit, as well as a body to live or die for” – a body, then – and is “fit, healthy and tuned for the toughest action in the field or the softest pleasures of a connubial bed.” That last clause is so GardnerClumsy it sings.

“Occasionally Bond glanced towards Flicka, and several times their eyes met in cold comfort, reflecting that they were both at a complete loss as to how they could evade their two weird captors.” Speak Klingon, that usually works for your sort. Or pretend you’re Doctor Who or something, I don’t care. I really don’t. Considering Bond has already broken the wrist of one of these women, and on the basis that they are no physical match for Bond and whatever-she’s-called, John’s overworking (and overdescription) of how adept these gunpersons are is a) not really very convincing and b) counterproductive signalling that they are just gurrrls. All this chitter-chatter about the threat they present, and that they could be “SAS or American Delta Force” (mmm, butch) is presumably meant to amplify the shock of the twist revelation of their true identities which came about fifteen pages ago anyway. Additionally, Bond is now (I think) head of some bit of some other bit of some acronym of some abbreviation of the Secret Service, the history of which conveniently filled many earlier pages, and he’s evidently not up to the task. Perhaps that’s the point being made, slyly. Perhaps it’s just sloppy plot convenience, what-the-hell-it’ll-do.

“Now it became difficult to follow directions as they twisted and turned through a series of lanes and secondary lanes with few signposts.” It’s its own review.

“Finally, the headlights picked out what looked like a large Victorian house….It could have come from the Brontes or Dickens: Wuthering Heights or Bleak House.” OK, but Wuthering Heights is the work of one Bronte, not all of them, and is ancient (that’s… part of the point). Bleak House… maybe, but probably not given the story. Pointless and distractingly inaccurate literary reference… definitely. Cambridge education… obviously. Given the calibre of reference to which we are otherwise exposed, might as well have likened it to Castle Greyskull.

There’s one line of “chill night air” to remind us of oxygen, and then it’s back into the stifling indoor world of John Gardner’s “James Bond”. Half a page or so getting to a room where Siskel and Ebert find themselves handcuffed to a radiator and “…left with a single candle burning in the center of the room”. The where? “Bond wondered what misery the place had seen in the shape of young girls sent away from home for the first time…” James Bond, thrown out of Eton for maid-molesting, should really care about this? Nah. “It was obviously the conduit for hot water to flow into the radiator, but a professional plumber would have problems getting it unscrewed.” An amateur reader is having problems getting it read. The radiator benefits from more character description than many in the Gardner series, and Bond is going to spend the next page – a whole page, mark you – trying to release himself from it. SeaFire? WordCount.

“We must be well away from any other houses,’ he said, panting with the exertion of working on the pipe.” Fnarr. Well, GirlFriend is out of reach and he’s having to make do. Oh, for the softest pleasures of a connubial bed.

“Minutes turned into hours, and time had absolutely no meaning.” I’m reading SeaFire.

“There was nothing he could do about getting Flicka free as she was shackled to the main section of the old radiator.” A fictional character of my previous acquaintance might have seen this as an opportunity, given that he possessed something of a penchant for mild S&M, can’t recall his name now. Instead, this Ken Spoon bloke resorts instead to “Pulling himself along the wall,” which sounds revolting.

“Get in the car, you depraved, perverted little monster and do as the chief says.’” Mrs Jim is currently appearing in SeaFire. “This time the voice was that of Maurice Goodwin.” Maurice Goodwin, eh? Maurice Goodwin. Not the Maurice Goodwin? Oh yes: Maurice Goodwin. Well, well, well. Maurice Goodwin. Hey everyone, Maurice Goodwin’s turned up! At last, the plot can really start moving now that Goodwin, M. is here! Maurice, Maurice, Maurice. Ah, Maurice Goodwin. Who the chuff’s Maurice Goodwin? [Turns back several pages to where Maurice Goodwin is introduced]. Still no idea.

“Bond pulled himself right up to the window…” oh, put it away, “and saw both the Rovers were outside, motors running, the first one about to pull away.” The second, about to rot apart. “Moments later the cars moved off, their tail lights growing dim as they headed down the drive.” …as they developed a serious electrical fault, the parts for which would take a fortnight to get here, bruv, going to cost yer.

“He waited for a good three to four minutes.” No, no, no, we’ve had enough waiting around; this is a bad three to four minutes. I feel chained to this bloody radiator too. This book has taken me hostage and isn’t even bothering to fiddle with me properly. SeaFire? DullFritzl. “What the hell’s happening?” Not a clue.

“In the hall, by the foot of the stairs, he saw something small, hunched and black, which, at first, he thought was a cat or, worse still, a large rat.” Or me. It is, in “fact”, a telephone. ‘Scuse me for being Mr Picklington, but cat/telephone confusion? Rat/telephone confusion? Credibly paced narrative and not just a tired, so tired, contractual obligation/SeaFire confusion?

“He lifted the receiver, expecting nothing and almost jumped with fright as he heard the dialing tone.” Why lift the receiver at all, if expecting nothing? “Dialling” has a double-l and this double-o is very, very old and is scared of telephones, the transistor radio, the electric kettle and looks back with fondness at the time when a man with a flag would walk in front of the car to let people know it was coming or, since it’s a SAAB 9000, give them opportunity to hide/brace themselves for a bloody good laugh.

“Automatically he dialed the contact number.” If t’were automatic, he wouldn’t need to. Automaticaly couldn’t spel, though.

“Brother James,’ he said, hearing the rasp of his dry throat and realizing that he was out of breath.” Well, he’s just walked downstairs, the poor old soul. As for being out of breath, all that business with the pipe and then pulling himself about: not surprising. As for “realized”: not happy. Also: not surprizing. I know “they” have been trying for years to get an American equivalent of the Bond series going, with varying degrees of success. Well, here’s your American Bond, everyone. Shows how right “they” are: it’s not worth persisting with, is it?

“It was the voice of Bill Tanner, M’s former Chief of Staff who was now officially the Secretary of MicroGlobeOne.” Jobs for the boys, eh? Can’t decide whether this is a promotion or demotion and although I could look back a few pages into the long, long description of WhateverItIs, you can’t make me and I shan’t. This messing around with the infrastructure of Bond didn’t last as a legacy, did it? There are (possibly) vestiges of MicroGlobeOne in what that Professor Moriarty was up to in SPECTRE, and that wasn’t a plot point noted for being interesting, explicable or consequential on any discernible level. Still, getting to the end, might as well say and do any old thing now. It’s not as if anyone’s ectually aware of it happening. Even having read it.

“I haven’t got a clue.” True, true. “It’s somewhere the other side of Stansted Airport.” On the other side of? That’s the attraction of Bond: bursts of action and romance in glamourous locations. James Bond is currently somewhere on the other side of fond memory. “You’ve seen the bodies?’ / ‘Burned out of recognition, but it couldn’t have been anyone else.” But if burned out of recognition… it could have been? SeaFire? NonSense.

“Behind him, Bond could hear Flicka calling out from upstairs.” She wants you to put the bins out, or fetch her pills or put up some shelves, some such domestic torment. Get out, while you can. Just leave her there. She’ll see the joke. She’s got a great sense of “humor”. “In the creaking darkness of the old building her voice echoed shrill, leaving behind it the wail of a banshee.” Tells you how it’s going to be, mate. Here’s your opportunity: run. Save yourself. She’s only going to die anyway.

Run, he does not.

James Bond, he is not.

On occasion with these Gardners, this contrived device of picking a chapter and being beastly about it, on the emaciated pretext that it might explore some core component of “James Bond”. has led me to read more of the remainder of the book. Sometimes, this has led to a greater appreciation / reduction of initial dislike and wariness (Brokenclaw) whereas with others, the preconceptions of distant memories become solidified as fact (The Man from Barbarossa). Either way, something has struck to at least encourage further browsing. SeaFire?

NotHere.

I’m not sure I can FaceIt. It’s so meandering, so laboured and so, so spent. A sadness, perhaps, as one of the tricks of memory is to suggest that there were still some ideas along its course but botched - and slapdash - execution prohibits them crystallising into moments of substance. Even now, as I flick through the rest of it, I’m not even tempted by the thrill of such a name as Vera Motley - which is superb - nor the opportunity for FilthThought in the sentence “Cedar Leiter was Felix’s daughter who had followed in her father’s footsteps”, despite it confirming much about Bond and his Texan chum, but that might be because the innuendo is flattened by “Much to her father’s concern, she had even worked with Bond on a case some years ago,” which contradicts how Leiter pimps her out at the end of that mission. Maybe I should ignore that, but I know it’ll be less of an effort to ignore the rest of the book. So that’s what’s going to happen. GameOver.

JamesBond BuggeredOff YearsAgo. GolDeneye’s next, so that means JacquesStewart will be contemplating a John Gardner novelisation of a Peerce Brosnnnnnn…nnn film. MustHe?


#4

This piece stirred up memories, most of which have been missing-in-action for the past couple of decades. How did I, how did we at the time digest this thing? I remember being on the verge of giving up on Bond after this - and yet I evidently kept on board for Goldeneye and Cold. Is this proof that we do not learn from experience at all?

By the time of SeaFire it was plainly obvious that nobody enjoyed the ride any more, not Gardner, not the readers, evidently not even (then) Glidrose/IFP. There was now nothing left of the original, not shades or scraps or traces of parts-per-million; this was something else entirely, maybe some ghostwritten pulp series like they used to flood airport newsagents. Only those tended to at least come up with some kind of substance, a semblance of a story. Here the substance seemed to be ‘007’ and if you took that out you’d have difficulty finding a reason to read this.

While the Gardners’ claim to being Bond continuations has been debated from the go, some of them at least managed to entertain in their own right, whether they were Bond or not. Or anti-Bonds, or meta-Bonds, or inverted satire/pastiche or choose-your-own-adventures. SeaFire shows that its place is near the tail end of a drawn out chore.

In the course of this series I tend to digg out my copy of the book in question and leaf through the odd chapter or two. But here I struggle, it seems so pointless of searching for redeeming qualities in this ill-fated novel where nothing rings halfway convincing or authentic even.


#5

The Man from Barbarossa was probably my least favorite Gardner novel, although its Nazi plot is strangely topical now. But SeaFire is Gardner’s weakest. Isn’t that the one where he revisits Bond getting married to Frederika? Definitely out of ideas. I remember what a lame movie it would make watching Bond sleep in a submarine cubby hole for twelve hours.

Never Send Flowers was the last Gardner novel I enjoyed, but it was still middle of the pack. Gardner’s novelization of GoldenEye wasn’t as good as that for Licence to Kill. I don’t remember GE’s novelization adding anything the movie didn’t already have.


#6

Pulling myself together to note how hilarious Jim’s SeaFire PissTake is.

Re-reading the excerpts, I’m struck by how slack Gardner’s prose was.

“Bond had no doubt that any attempted escape would result in fast, sudden death.”

Fast, sudden death? Tautology, anyone? And isn’t a fast, sudden death preferable to the alternative?

“Bond had no doubt” Bond knew…

“…end in failure” …would fail.

Let’s try rewriting the entire sentence. Can’t be any worse than what Gardner typed… “Bond knew that any attempt to escape would fail and likely result in a slow, painful death.”

Let’s turn to another paragraph which is a capsule of Gardner getting Bond wrong.

“He had never been much of a theater or movie-goer. She was passionate about both art forms, and while on the training courses for the inception of the new Double-O Section, they would sit and watch classic films on video during many of the evenings. This led to a game, often played over dinner – asking each other questions about both well-known and obscure films: quoting lines for identification, describing scenes which had to be matched to the films from which they came.”

“He had never been much of a theater or movie-goer." …He had never cared for the theater or cinema.

“…during many of the evenings.” …many evenings.

“This led to a game, often played over dinner – asking […]” … Over dinner they would ask…

Anybody else want to have a go?


#7

It’s uber detached, gliddie, as if the author wishes to place as much distance as he can between himself and what he’s writing.

The Gardners I have are the US Putnam hardcovers, and - the first few and COLD FALL aside - they’re all the same 290-300 pages in length, which makes one think this may have been an edict. The Gardners have more words than the Flemings, but they say far less. The words don’t flesh out or enhance the characters or the set pieces. They’re just words. Text. 40 pages could be cut and nothing would be lost.

Also, “any attempted escape would be suicide”.


#8

Absolutely. Gardner lacked Fleming’s knack at knowing when to summarize. Compare how the two authors handle the M briefing scenes. Fleming is a model of efficiency. Whereas Gardner has far too much useless chit-chat.

Oddly this penchant for bloating seemed to have started circa 1980. Gardner’s 70’s thrillers “The Werewolf Trace” and “Golgotha” are fairly tight by his later standards… and, in my opinion, feel more like Bond novels* than anything Gardner later published with Bond. Makes me wonder how he kept getting it so consistently wrong.

*But not enough like Bond to have made it worth hiring him in the first place. I still wonder who the other five candidates were.

Brilliant!


#9

This book seems to be a veritable treasure trove of odds and sods to pick holes in. All very cleverly done and utterly hilarious.

For my part, read once and never again picked up.


#10

Too late for that advice.

If SeaFire was flawed it was because Mr. Gardner seemed to be trying too hard to please his readers by reverting back to the established formula, after straying so far with the likes of TMFB and NSF. COLD was no improvement, but I’ll wait to hear what revered Mr. Jim has to say first.