Tour de Bond: Octopussy & The Living Daylights (1966), and Post-Fleming

The last official release of the Bond canon was released posthumously in 1966. Originally a short story collection featuring only the two titled stories (which had been originally published in Playboy and Argosy magazines), later expanded in 1967 to include “Property of a Lady” (written for The Ivory Hammer, the annual publication of Sotheby’s Auction House), and then again in 2002 to include “007 in New York” (which had appeared in the NY Herald Tribune in 1963). Readers interested in a one-stop shop for all Bond short stories should check out the movie-tie-in release Quantum of Solace, which combines this book with the earlier For Eyes Only, to feature all of Flemings short stories in one book.

The stories in Octopussy & The Living Daylights are a decidedly mixed lot. The first, “Octopussy” is another of Fleming’s experiments — a story largely told in flashback, in which Bond barely appears. “The Living Daylights”, however, is one of my favorites — a perfect slice-of-tradecraft vignette along the same lines as “From a View to a Kill” in For Your Eyes Only. Bond is sent to Berlin to cover British agent 272’s escape from the city, and upon discovering that the KGB assassin tasked to stop the agent is a woman, Bond opts not to kill — but instead shoots the gun from her hands, scaring “the living daylights out of her”, and possibly incurring the wrath of M. This story was used almost entirely in the film of the same name, with only minor changes.

“Property of a Lady” is similar in many ways to “Casino Royale”, in which Bond is foiling the finances of the KGB with his interference. In this case, the KGB is using the Sotheby’s auction for a FabergĂ© clock (not an egg, as in the film) as a method boost the sales price to serve as payment for a double-agent in the Secret Service. A nice mix of Fleming’s researched detail (the auction and location are 100% realistic, given that this was written *for* Sotheby’s) and his ability to craft tension even without the use of action set-pieces. Another story that I enjoy a great deal.

The last, “007 in New York” was written largely as an apology to New York City readers, due to Fleming’s less-than-flattering portrayals of the city in earlier novels. Nominally, Bond is in the city to warn an MI6 employee that her new boyfriend is a KGB agent, but the short story is mostly Bond thinking about NYC (and, bizarrely, providing his recipe for scrambled eggs) — hence Fleming’s original title, “Reflections in a Carey Cadillac.” Not exactly a stellar addition to the canon — although the eggs are pretty good.

This brings us to the end of the Tour de Bond — I’ve covered all of the Fleming canon, but I felt that I should make at least some mention of the Bond novels that appeared after his death, during the various periods when his estate has allowed others to write for the series.

Fleming died at the height of Bond-mania, in the mid-60s, so it makes sense that originally, his literary estate put forth a plan to continue the series — the idea was that the new Bond novels would appear under a “house name” — Robert Markham, with various writers fulfilling the duties under that banner. Sadly, only one novel was produced under this plan — Colonel Sun, written by Kingsley Amis in 1968. I love this book — I feel that it stands well with the other Bond books, and in fact could be argued to be better than some of the lesser Fleming efforts. For whatever reason, however, Glidrose Productions (now known as Ian Fleming Publications) abandoned the plan, and no further “Markham” Bonds were produced. (One further book, Per Fine Ounce by Geoffrey Jenkins, was commissioned by Glidrose, but never published, and may or may not be sitting in their records somewhere.)

New Bond novels began again in the 1980s, when Glidrose relaunched the franchise with License Renewed by John Gardner. Gardner went on to write 15 original Bond novels (and one film novelization) in the 15 years between 1981 and 1996. The novels are nowhere near Fleming’s quality — and too much of an effort is made to “modernize” Bond, resulting in later books which end up reading like Tom Clancy pastiche. There are some good ideas in these books, but the execution doesn’t do the character or the franchise any justice — but despite that, John Gardner actually ended up writing more Bond novels than Ian Fleming did.

In 1997, Ian Fleming Publications turned the franchise over to Raymond Benson, whose James Bond Bedside Companion was considered the pinnacle of analysis of Fleming’s original work, and who had worked as a game designer on the JAMES BOND 007 roleplaying game from Victory Games (writing one of the adventures, You Only Live Twice 2: Back of Beyond). Benson had not done any fiction work, so his appointment was met with some disbelief — and yet he proved capable of crafting great pastiches in Fleming’s style. He chose to ignore Gardner’s novels as far as continuity was concerned, and kicked off his tenure by bringing Bond back to the pages of Playboy, with the short story Blast from the Past, before the publication of his first novel, Zero Minus Ten.

In the end, Benson wrote 6 novels, 3 novelizations of Bond films, and 3 short stories (which were finally reprinted in 2010 in compilation editions of Benson’s work) before ending his tenure in 2002. The curtain closed on the Bond novel franchise again.

In 2008, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming, a special “event” novel was published — Devil May Care, a James Bond novel written by Sebastian Faulks, credited on the cover as “writing as Ian Fleming”. It ignored all of the post-Fleming Bonds, and featured an aging Bond in the late 1960s. It became Penguin UK’s fastest-selling hardback novel of the year, and they even ran a contest for a band to provide a theme tune for it (won by Sal, a band from South Wales — video here.)… Sadly, the novel itself wasn’t very good. Bond is almost entirely passive, being led from event to event — a dissatisfactory return by any measure.

More Bond is on the horizon, though…. Buoyed by the success of the rebooted, more realistic Bond as seen in the films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Ian Fleming Publications have announced a new series of Bond novels, written by thriller author Jeffrey Deaver, starting in June 2011 with a novel whose title is currently being kept secret. Interviews with Deaver have indicated that Bond will be re-imagined as a younger man, an Iraq War veteran who has only recently received his Double-0 designation. I’ve got my fingers crossed. The reboot idea worked for the Daniel Craig films, and it will be good to see new Bond books released. Deaver’s thrillers (his most famous being The Bone Collector) are pretty good, so I’m staying optimistic.

Whatever the result, the character has become a modern legend, and even if a particular interpretation or effort doesn’t pan out, we can be sure (as they say in the films), that

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN.

4 Replies to “Tour de Bond: Octopussy & The Living Daylights (1966), and Post-Fleming”

  1. Gareth-Michael,

    I specifically visited this page to both read the final entry in the Tour and to ask whether you’d read “Devil May Care”. I should have known that you’d wrap the Tour in convincing fashion with a brief look at non-canon Bond.

    Kudos on the entire Tour,

    Dave

  2. Thanks for these entries – I found them really interesting, and I think sometimes soon I might pick up some of the books and try reading them again – I think the only one I’ve actually read before is Goldfinger, and I was young enough to be puzzled that I wasn’t seeing all of the spy gadgets that I’d gotten used to in the movies.

  3. Thanks for this series. I have really enjoyed reading each and every entry, even if my exposure to the Bond novels has only been through reading Goldfinger and Doctor No. I would be fascinated to see a similar series devoted to the JAMES BOND 007 roleplaying game, still arguably the best espionage RPG to date.

  4. Thanks for reading.

    Yeah, the RPG is the best. Sadly, though, most of the supplemental stuff was a waste of time: license-dictated adaptations of existing films — until towards the end of the license, when they finally figured out/got permission to do original material (the VILLAINS boxed set and the two original adventures, and even those had to be presented as “sequels”).

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