Tour de Bond: Moonraker (1955)

Like Live and Let Die, this week’s book is also very much a product of its time. The difference is that in the case of Moonraker, I find that to be a positive, rather than a negative. The central action is concerned with the early nuclear race — when nations were building their nuclear arsenals, often by cherry-picking the former rocket program of The Third Reich. The enemy of the previous war had become the needed resource to defend against the enemy of the next.

Moonraker begins oddly — not an assignment for the government, but as a personal favor for M. M asks Bond to look into a multi-millionaire member of his private club, Sir Hugo Drax, whom he suspects of cheating at cards. That opening, heady with old-boy-ism and the strata of class, leads to a wider investigation of Drax’s efforts to build Britain’s first nuclear missile, The Moonraker. The Moonraker is, essentially, an updated V-2 rocket — and Bond quickly discovers that most of the scientists working on the project are Germans.

Going undercover at the missile complex on the South Coast of England, Bond encounters Gala Brand, a Special Branch operative who I find to be one of Fleming’s more interesting female leads. She’s presented as a three-dimensional character — an independent, dedicated policewoman who questions Bond’s usefulness on the case. She never gets romantically involved with Bond, either — by the end of the novel, she reveals that she has a fiancĂ©e, and leaves Bond alone.

Drax as a villain ends up being a Frankenstein’s Monster of everything viewed as a threat in England in the 50s — a Nazi, backed by the Soviets. He posed as a British soldier suffering from amnesia in order to build a new identity, and planned to use the Moonraker rocket (armed with an atomic device provided by the Russians) to destroy London. (This plot was later partially adapted, not in the ridiculous James-Bond-Meets-Star-Wars version of Moonraker in the late 70s, but in TWO different Pierce Brosnan films — GoldenEye (006 as the son of Lienz Cossacks, getting revenge on England) and Die Another Day where, incredibly, a North Korean Colonel is posing as a British billionaire).

It’s this mix of World War II and the Cold War that I find so attractive about Moonraker — it occupies that transition between two distinct eras, which I find fascinating (its the same reason why like the film Ronin, for example, occupying the border between the end of the Cold War and the War on Terror). The uncertainty that accompanies those transitions are ripe for intrigue, which Fleming exploits quite well in this case.

Next week, a look at Diamonds are Forever (1955).

The Greatest Space-Fantasy of All Time!

Part of it, I’m sure, is that I’m now in my 40s.

Part of it is reminiscences like James Maliszewski’s recent run of entries on his blog, “Grognardia” (start from that date, and go forward from there, he’s done a few), or the always-excellent Space:1970 blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff that I *lived for* from roughly Age 8 until my teenage years (when things like music and girls distracted me).

The fire was lit, certainly, by Star Trek re-runs in the early-to-mid 70s. But, like most geeks of my age, the conflagration took off in 1977, with Star Wars, and nothing after that was ever the same.

So yeah — I’ve been thinking a lot about that time, especially the years from 1977 through 1980 — when the first film was all that there was, when the horizon was endless, and the galaxy hadn’t been defined down to the last name and backstory given to every minor walk-on in a scene. Thinking about my imaginative diet at the time — the thing that consumed me, from reading to watching to drawing to playing.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m not really a Science Fiction fan.

I’m a fan of SPACE FANTASY.

That actually used to be a branding description for Star Wars — the Marvel comics used to occasionally have a bannerhead that proclaimed “The Greatest Space-Fantasy of All Time!” That terminology eventually faded from view, of course, as Lucas retroactively tried to convince us all that what he was *really* doing all along was a Campbellian Hero-Myth Exploration. Very Serious, you see. Not just a tribute to the far-flung Flash Gordon serials of his youth, when he couldn’t get the License from King Features. No sir.

I love Space Fantasy. I want giant space-cruisers. I want soaring spacefighters wheeling and roaring unscientifically. I want jungle-planets, desert-planets, ice-planets. I want floating cities. I want knights and knaves and princesses and kings and queens and wizards and monsters… But I want them with lasers.

I want GRAND EPIC HEROISM AND SCALE, not speculation on possibility.

So, dear reader — feed the monkey on my back. I’ve got plenty of filmed entertainment to choose from, but what I’m lacking is stuff to read. What are some of your favorite Space Fantasies?