Tour de Bond: Live and Let Die (1954)

I’ll be honest with you up front about this: Live and Let Die is one of three Bond novels that I just don’t like (the other two being Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me). The main reason for my dislike in this case is the casual racism of the book.

I usually have a fairly high tolerance for this sort of thing — I recognize that books are the products of their times, and a book written by an upper-class Englishman in the early 1950s is not going to have a particularly enlightened view regarding other races. Hell, I absolutely *love* the Fu Manchu novels of Sax Rohmer, and those have had a bad reputation for racism for decades now (in their presentation of the “yellow peril” — although I’d strongly argue that the books aren’t remotely as racist as their reputation suggests.) In fact, in many ways, Fleming is working a bit of a Fu Manchu pastiche with Live and Let Die — A “black peril,” if you will. The villain, Mr. Big, is a mastermind in the Fu Manchu tradition, and the omnipresent threat that ANY member of the race met in the story could be a member of the villain’s network is certainly plucked from the Rohmer novels.

So why does it bother me more in Live and Let Die? Not sure. Perhaps it’s that I’m more familiar with African Americans than I am with Manchurian Chinese — making portrayals of them as a mysterious “other” much more jarring to me. Perhaps, as an American raised in the post-Civil-Rights era, it strikes me as horrifying to have a chapter in this novel given the title “Nigger Heaven” (even if I know intellectually that the title is a reference to the 1926 novel set in the Harlem Renaissance). I can forgive references to “negresses”, since that was a perfectly acceptable word choice for an Englishman of his time… but I find it far harder to stomach references to them being “feral.” For all of these reasons, I find the book not just dated, but… ugly.

As a side note, I find it interesting that the three books I mention as my least favorite of the Bonds all take place largely within the United States. Maybe I want more exotic locations in my Bonds. Although, certainly, to Fleming (and to his UK readers) the US certainly qualified. Fleming’s view of the US certainly wasn’t flattering — his descriptions of the South as Bond heads from Harlem to Florida certainly echo my impressions from the time I spent living in Atlanta: The sense of decay that lingers through the oppressive heat, for example, matching the sense of a declining (and at times equally-oppressive) culture.

There are some good points to the novel — Fleming’s pacing is still in evidence here. Not perhaps as tense as Casino Royale, but it moves even faster, because he now takes the reader’s familiarity with Bond as a given, and just throws us into the tale. The book also features one of the more iconic bits of Fleming mayhem — Mr. Big’s henchman “The Robber” feeds Felix Leiter to a shark — when Felix is dumped at the safe house, barely alive and missing an arm and a leg, he has a note pinned to him that says “He Disagreed With Something That Ate Him.”

Moving on, then. Next week: Moonraker (1955).

Friday Music

Here we go again with another Mix Tape of Teh Interwebs. I need to get back in the habit of posting these earlier in the day.

Autumn finally started creeping in to Kansas — this morning was barely into the 50s. I’m ecstatic, since Fall is my favorite season (one of only ones where I can breathe without difficulty, that’s a big part of it). So, I figured that I to start with this: 10,000 Maniacs – “Like The Weather.”

While I’m in an 80s mood, I figured that I’d post a couple of my favorite tracks from Men Without Hats. Seriously — if “Safety Dance” is all that you know, track down a copy of Rhythm of Youth and give a listen to the other tracks on the album. I wore out two cassette copies and a CD — no joke. Both of these are from that album: Men Without Hats – “I Got The Message”, and Men Without Hats – “Antarctica.”

Back to the present (future) — the lead-off track from the new album from the Austin-based metal band, The Sword. Warp Riders is a sci-fi concept album — which I’m not ashamed to say is what got me to listen. There seems to be an upswing in those recently (Janelle Monae, etc.), and as a geek I heartily approve. Anyway, here is a smoking bit of instrumental mood-setting: The Sword – “Acheron/Unleashing The Orb.”

Cling is an new trip-hop duo from Epping in the UK. I am very, very happy that this isn’t a genre that didn’t die out with the turn of the millennium. I’m a big fan of mixing big beats, ambient synths and smoky female vocals. Cling – “Beyond Your Dreams.”

I’m not sure that mass marketing works on me like it’s supposed to. Here’s another track that I discovered via a television commercial. It didn’t make me want the product that it was selling (Diet Coke, in this case), but made me want to track down the song. Some of you may also know this from the soundtrack to 500 Days of Summer (which I haven’t seen). The Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition.”

If any of you missed this earlier in the week, I’m going to link to it here. It’s not an mp3, but you can buy the mp3 from iTunes. It’s a collaboration between Ben Folds, Nick Hornby and Pomplamousse, and I love it a LOT. Folds/Hornby & Pomplamousse- “The Things That You Think.”


FAR WEST site up and running…

I finally bit the bullet (see what I did there? Har har.) and launched the website for Adamant Entertainment’s new transmedia series, FAR WEST. No content yet beyond the teaser image, but that will be coming soon.

For those who came in late, FAR WEST is a steampunk mash-up of spaghetti westerns and chinese wuxia, presented in fiction, a webseries, art, mobile applications, and a tabletop RPG which will be available in PDF for FREE (and in other formats as well). I’ve been developing this sucker since May of 2007, off and on. I’m very excited to see even this small step made public — it makes the work I’ve been doing seem more concrete now.

Keep an eye out for the official launch announcement, coming soon — and in the meantime, there’s a discussion about FAR WEST over at RPGnet, for those so inclined.