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  1. The 007th Chapter: Licence Renewed – King of the Castle

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart (yep, this one should have come before For Special Services, you get a cigar…)

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    In my youth (that’s not a location update) I set a “quiz” for my College. Brain-mashers like “Abbreviations excluded, name the only U.S state written using one line of typewriter keys” (Alaska; no-one knew (no-one cared)) and “Name the only country written using one line of typewriter keys”. Peru, but some “body” said Eire (fair point), another that “it’s Republic of Peru, actually, I know thart, actually, because I gap-yeared tharh, actually, licking yurts, communing with my spirituality, yah, and photocopying for my uncle at KPMG Lima.” There was such a fight. I encouraged it. Ectually.

    I also had a round on “James Bond”. This was 1993 (hence “typewriter”), with 007 as relevant and welcome as anything else dead for four years that sane folks hoped would never return, like Eastern European communism, that Dr Who children’s programme or the Ayatollah Khomeini (give him time). Select questions went:

     

    1. Which two Bond films to date do not feature a helicopter? (Child-like optimism to say “to date”, but child-like I was (rather than current lifestyle choice of childish), and brilliant. Precocious, smackable little weasel)

    2. Why is A View to a Kill unique amongst the Bond films? (Keep it clean. In early 2015, this answer still holds)

    3. Which author has written the most James Bond novels?

     

    There were others, such as Q’s I.Q. to the nearest five points (it’s five; trick question), something something watches something (it really doesn’t matter) and Anne Fleming’s inside leg measurement (loads of people knew it; some reputation, that) but I’ve forgotten the rest.

     

    Question 1? Yes, you, with the mittens…

    OK, sorry, you of the hirsute palms – correct, have a choc-drop: Dr No and The Man with the Golden Gun. 2015 brings the Blu-Ray case for the latter depicting a helicopter bothering Uncle Roger’s hairpiece (careful – it bites), suggesting that whoever designed it didn’t watch the film (blamelessly). Every Bond film since has one or more helicopters, not least GoldenEye’s mercy flight from the menacing “singing”.  You’ll have to read on for the answer to question 2, but there’s a clue with number 3: John Gardner. By 1993, there were 13 Gardner novels. Fleming only managed 12, the loser. I include the novelisation of Licence to Kill: it has “novel” in it (a clue), and “novelisation of Licence to Kill” has “volcano testicle” in it (a bonus). Debateable whether they’re James Bond or “James Bond”, Gardner’s 16 are the most 007 shoved at us by any one author, the largest single power bloc, so one (absurd) view asserts them as the template for written Bond. Might is right, if you’re not with us, you’re against us and all that jazz. This is how democracy works. If you have the most guns. Clatteringly overdescribed ones, usually.

     

    From memory, booze-raddled though mine is following twenty-odd years of underachievement, rancour and sloth, no-one got the answer, despite Mr Gardner pumping away annually at “James Bond”. For those retaining interest in the exhausted concept of 007, there was little else available at the time, but no-one in the Junior Common Room knew and, as with Alaska, no-one in the Junior Common Room cared. It was the year of Never Send Flowers, so possibly good judgment. A surprise, though, for a College one assumed to “read books”; there were at least five available, and it did spew out Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, Richard Dawkins and me. Had it been (cover your ears, dearest) St Catherine’s or the oar-headed roiders of Oriel, where they use books for bench-pressing, and eating, one could understand it, with sympathy for the wretchedness of their fate.

     

    Time’s winged chariot having now spun off into a drainage ditch, I’ve concluded that the collegiate knowledge mustered three categories. Firstly, ignorance of James Bond. Minimal representation, but some students were weird. Secondly, 007 was beneath them, so other students were weirder. Thirdly, the Gardner books weren’t accepted even by those who liked Bond. One understands; several contemporaries were very bright chapesses whose reading was limited to the more clicky-clicky-Geiger depths of the periodic table and now earn millions making weapons in sordid places (Maryland). However, each specie of the attitude is sniffy. Could the views be limited to our oasis of academe and underwashed bedding? Was our (law-of-averages justifiable) superiority shielding us from reality, that “outside” in a world of supermarkets, petrol stations and “jobs”, in Dross-Head Land, these books were redefining James Bond for everyone else?

    No.

     

    A benefit of the internet is that one can visit Dross-Head Land from the comfort of one’s over-upholstered body without having to scuttle terrified through places that stink of malt vinegar, breadcrumbs, intellectual undernourishment, despair and fighting i.e. anywhere outwith a six-foot radius of me. The things one learns of one’s fellow man – and, if Mrs Jim is out and I remember to delete the browsing history, one’s fellow woman – give the lie to the web facilitating a desire for commonality and wonders of mutual discovery. The stuff I see, read (…and type) makes me barricade m’door and hide under m’desk, trembling and lacrimose. O brave new world! That it has such people in it! Nuke ‘em. The zombie plague has started, my loves, and we’re all infected. Still, it establishes easily-manipulated assertions as norms and I can say with all the authority afforded by typing rot whilst spit-flecked-of-face, that twenty-n years on, those three categories above persist.

    The people who don’t know about James Bond still don’t know about James Bond. “And they post on Bond websites!” you observe, giving satire a try. You’re so, sobrave. “And they’re producing Bond films!” you persist, now an overtired child whose shrieked ministrations are for ignoring. “Yeah, and they do PR for Ian Fleming Publications and ignore John Gardner whenever they announce their latest celebrity author”, you not unreasonably chug. What I meant was that folks who don’t let Bond into their lives, still don’t. Bloody civilians. I don’t have positive proof of this negative, and it’s a circumstantial conclusion by absence of evidence, but as we’ve run wars and hanged people on less, the rationale must also apply to matters notionally more trivial.

     

    The “persons” aware of Bond but contemptuous of it, also still hover, pouncing enraged upon something they don’t like; such energy in unnecessary pursuit, but no worse than any bloodsport. Regardez svp the website of any newspaper when it produces PR-fed fillspace “news” that Mr Craig has been caught doing his acting, and the comments beneath. The choicest poppet today is “Kathryn”, participating in the electric kumbaya with “They should film the Sabastian Faulks one, not this”, which holds all humanity in contempt, not just Bond. The simple woodland folk are still around, and they’re learning to type. Ish.  Wondrous fragments of stardust, forged in the fire of an intergalactic cataclysm (or, if you must, made by a Bipolar Everlasting Space Pixie…somehow) and liberated from picking fleas from each other’s piss-matted fur, they use the fluke of their existence to opine on fiscal stability, national cultural articulation and disembowelling paedos.

    Most troubling, in the context of whatever this guff’s for – and “troubling” in the sense of “not” – are folks who “should” know / know of these books but don’t regard them as echt 007. Bond fansites must, in principle, be a control group and yet there’s little advocacy for, or discussion of, the Gardners, at least amongst the saner brethren and not those threatening to unleash mercifully never-to-be-written monographs about the connection between COLD and the Old Testament because neither has the word “cockgobbler” in it (probably true; haven’t looked. Can’t put it past Leviticus, though). Unfair to judge the Gardners by such extreme fringes, although convenient to assert that if they attract lunatics like that then they must be avoided, but is it equally unfair the view that the Gardners aren’t up to snuff somehow?

     

    For some time, these books were out of print, but this is no longer so and yet, still…  underloved? Why? Timeshifting to the 1980s jars, but the films get a free pass on the point, so dismissing the books wholly on that basis seems a pretext rather than watertight reasoning. What more could be done to convince even Bond fans that Gardner wrote “valid” Bond? His books often say “James Bond” in big letters on the covers and…

    …ah.

     

    If they’re really Bond books, they should withstand a straightforward test, devised by Fleming himself. Horse’s mouth – and his baccy-shrivelled gums did render it equine – says he chose the name as unobtrusive, flat. Ironically, even if now an insanely valuable trademark, “James Bond” was picked as a utility. What makes a book a Bond is everything else, their scent and smoke and sweat. 007’s name is arguably the least important atom in its cosmos. If one purports to “write a Bond”, isn’t the name last to include, not first? Steam off the label “James Bond” and one should still be able to taste-test it by its atmosphere, its assault on the senses, its louche digressions and its baity Weltanschauung. Otherwise, all one reads is clapped-out character names desperately garnishing a “secret agent excitey-plotty” story, in the hope it’ll do. J’accuse… no; I would run out of fingers to point and end up pointing toes; that would be oh-so-Oriel.

    Accordingly, to bring the Gardners in from the cold, one should be able to transplant a “spy” name and still identify “Bond”. If this works, then Bonds they rightly are: time to garland them with more affection. If it doesn’t work, then… um… beyond cynical commerciality, the ninety-one million Flemings sold and a massively successful film series having nothing to do with it, what really was the point in calling them James Bond? “Redefining 007 for a new generation” perhaps, but query whether the new generation wanted it. Is “redefining” a thing? The OED definition of “cat” reads:  small domesticated carnivorous mammal with soft fur, a short snout, and retractile claws (their underlining). I shall redefine it for a new generation as: A type of flirty carrot. For the same new generation I shall redefine myself as a Dutch white supremacist stevedore in natty dungarees. Not sure it’s “cat”. Not sure it’s “me”. Not sure it’s “Bond”. Preamble to the copy I’m holding says “Gardner gives us the Bond we all want…” so it’s all very confusing: either 007’s being redefined… or he isn’t.

    Hm.

     

    Up to the 007th Chapter, some concern about how this name game will go. “Change” has occurred. Even (even!) the underpowered GoldenEye challenges Bond, timidly questioning whether 007 is relevant, concluding with the brilliantly insightful “Yes he is, shut up, lots of explosions, buy this BMW” – but Licence Renewed bottles it, with reformed “Bond” from get-go. 1964’s James Bond, resident of Semi-Rapeshire (prettiest village: Bourbon-by-the-Pint), is rediscovered in 1981 as not having resisted social / medical advances, nor having been in a coma (self-induced or otherwise) face-down on a wine-red floor for seventeen years. Those ideas probably aremore unlikely than finding him influenced by progress, yet either alternative route could have diverted into reading his struggle to come to terms with the hi-tech gee whizz modernity of a third-of-a-century ago – and also prevented Austin Powers being made. A double-scoop of lost opportunity.

    If we accept that Bond has “changed”, and early chapters of exposition punch into us that he has, then concordantly there must have been a position from which he did. (Do keep up, Neo). This raises what his prior attitudes were (and the period generating them), resulting in an immediately undermining conclusion that he must have operated in the 1950s and 1960s for the changes to be worth describing… At. Such. Length. If he’s a new character, there’s no point stating how he once thought, because it’s irrelevant. If he’s the old character… well, is he? Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed, and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end – no, I don’t get it either – the issue of Bond’s age. He seems elderly, shuffling around a “country cottage” in worsted “slacks” whilst wearing “soft leather sandals” (…the Bond we all want). Just as it’s illogical to take him from the sixties and present him in 1981 as not having developed, it is equally illogical to lift-and-plonk and suggest little time has passed during which the same progress inflicted itself much more slowly upon everybody else. If there was purer follow-through, he would be in his late 50s and likely to harbour the views he always did… or worse. Have-Cakey-do-Eatey-but-Cakey-still-Existy sorta blighter, this Licence Renewed, denying as desperately as any disc jockey that the 1970s occurred.

     

    Other stuff leaving Licence Renewed – if taken seriously – frowned at before enjoyed: Bond is in the “Special Section”, a special person then, and his workout regime involves “leg raising” (? So does m’dog’s); are we having our collective leg pulled? His only joys are a new car (…) and a cottage (not that sort, but he has “changed”, so who the hell knows?). He disregards books with gun-splayed girls on their covers – b-bm, tish! – but knows a lot about women’s fashion, even including a (soon-statutory) Janet Reger reference in badinage – terrible-inage – with Moneypenny, who limps in archly from a Bond film rather than from Fleming’s fleeting cameos. If this isn’t all a joke – and the 007th Chapter doesn’t convince it isn’t – then I’m not sure a game of “replace ‘James Bond’ with another grunted name and see if it still works” will yield happy findings. Let’s not pre-judge the outcome, though. Need a substitute name… Robert Markham? Bit knowing. Long, too; homages usually come in monosyllables. What’s in a name? That which we call James Bond, by any other name would still hate Krauts. You know the sort of thing, used to see this in the back of books…

     

    Come in 007 – your time is up! Make way for Special Agent [insert name here*] in John E. Gardner’s up-to-the-minute techno-thriller “Meltdown”! 

     

     

    *I’m thinking “Ken Spoon”.

     

    Have you read all the nerve-shredding Ken Spoon thrillers? Crammed with threats the World faces as it hurtles towards the 1990s!

     

    Unsafe nuclear reactors, faked terrorism and leather sandals!

     

    Space-based weapons, chicken pie and monoteated women! 

     

    The rise of neo-Nazism, total narrative confusion… and traitors! 

     

    Computer crime! And probably something else! Is this the one in Banbury? 

     

    Um …vampire bats…erm…mini-guillotines (they’re ev-er-y-where!)… and traitors! 

     

    Post-Cold War witch-hunts, the Rover Vitesse… and traitors! 

     

    Death cult suicide-bombers destabilising financial markets, incredible violence… and traitors! 

     

    Faked terrorism. Real people under threat! Hello Sailor! And…more traitors than chapters! 

     

    Shark-attack victims gnawed a second time because this can happen…no, really it can! And traitors!

     

    Was it Native Americans hijacking submarines? Must be a traitor somewhere. Look in the mini-bar! 

     

    Neo-Nazis again; possibly Russians, or Iraqis. Or all of them. Dunno. Real people! Traitors!  

     

    …the Channel Tunnel? No idea. Real people! Traitors? Is there anyone actually left to betray? 

     

    …Actors. Yeah, those bastards! And real people! And…Disney? [JEG – WTF?] 

     

    It’s those ker-wazy neo-Nazis again, the scamps. D’oh! Eco- Nazis! That’s really a thing! Yes. It. Is..

     

    Traitors, space weapons and sod all happening for most of it, oh isn’t GoldenEye so very Gardner? 

     

    Mad American traitor militia death cult traitor neo-Nazi traitor faked terrorism is anyone still reading these? What-the-hell-throw-it-all-in! With lashings of steaming hot traitor, for novelty.

     

    If you’re a fan of sitting in hotel bedrooms whilst looking at maps, Janet Reger underwear, crimson fireballs, curious sex, convenient treachery hauling the story from a corner, blizzards of characters, minutely-described hardware and piledriven alliteration, you’ll love the unstoppable Ken Spoon!”

     

    Alternatively… Mack WheelClint MouseDon Toss… 

    If they’re really “continuing” Bond, the name matters less than the sneering, the decay, the cripple-baiting, the sexism, the failed relationships, the daft food, the smells, the out-of-reach living for Bs / Cs, the frustration, the melancholy, the guilt of privilege, the desperation, the taking-the-hero-seriously-and-never-knowingly-ridiculing-him-to-undermine-the-illusion-because he’s-already-ridiculous-and-you-don’t-need-to-point-it-out-you-know, the heightened sensual thrills and all those sodding fish. Alternatively, if having more dignity than being forced to impersonate Ian Fleming, and one suspects Mr Gardner did, you devise your own indelible Bond characteristics. If you can’t spot any once the names have been changed, then all they are, all they will ever be, is Ken Spoon. Or…

     

    Jock Bland. Jude Scrape. Reid Butt. Seth Pin… 

    There’s more sex, sadism and snobbery in this pish than in the chapter inspected. Someone had to include it. If you missed that crunchingly obvious point, fret not: your dream of Cambridge is still a goer, but Oriel might still be beyond you unless you can row, drink and are made of “tree”.

     

     Sid Crisps…

     

     

    The 007th Chapter – Licence Renewed: King of the Castle

     

    “During the furious drive north…” Obviously it was; he’s going “north”, all cobbles, vowel-abuse and emaciated wolves, and he’s in a SAAB. I’d be livid. Even “Robert Markham”, in his degenerate Communist sympathising (per A. Fleming), gave 007 a Bentley. Mr Deaver, in re-redefining Bond for an even newer generation as a tedious eunuch puppy, allowed him a Continental, one of those globby ones prized by footballers, prostitutes and binmen. “Bond had plenty of time to puzzle over Murik’s win with China Blue”. Sat in a lay-by, waiting for the RAC to arrive.

     

    …Vaughn Clap. Grant Turd. Craig Blond…

     

    Bond suspects crooked racing practice of a chap who lives in a chateau castle in the context of wider investigation of the same fella. I can’t recall how it’s resolved, if it is, but it’s familiar. Admittedly, we’ve already been told of the Murik / Franco relationship so the leap from questionable equestrianism – questrianism? – to apocalypse isn’t as jarring as in A View to a Kill but the nods Mr Gardner pays the films (despite protesteth too much) appear to be nodded right back, on occasion.

     

    …Chad Shelf. Heath Clump. Floyd Bulb… 

     

    “Bond went flat-out on the motorway sections…” In a SAAB. Forty mph, then. Forty-five, downhill. Wind-in-your-greying-at-the-temples-hair fun but only because the doors don’t fit.  Might as well use a milk float. That he has to refuel twice on a 350-mile drive suggests this superannuated donkey-cart isn’t economical. It’s weighed down with such “gee-whizz” accoutrements as “steel-reinforced ram bumpers” (in a collision, my money’s on the ram), “heavy-duty tyres” (it’s a tractor) and “cruise control”. Gee, and – no, shush, don’t giggle, be nice, it’s only fair, it really is – Whizz. SAABs are indeed rarer than Bentleys now, but that’s not a happy situation either way.

     

    …Giles Bum. Joss End. Keith Minge. Moo Cow…

     

    He’s driven through the night to the Central Hotel for a breakfast described as if delivered mashed up in one bowl, and then “…slept like a baby”. I know what that’smeant to mean, but experience of assisting for a few scrunch-eyed seconds in generating offspring also leads me to view this as “screaming, spitting, puking, defecating and behaving in an under-educated fashion”. Yet to be convinced this is not how Ken Spoon would sleep. With thanks to Cambridge University for allowing me to quote its website.

     

    …Ray Cack. Mitch Rapp. Scott Podge. Tim Cross…

     

    That question 2 from 1993… moribund non-event A View to a Kill might be deservedly alone in the series for many reasons – Bond cooks, Bond snowboards, Bond smears himself in custard and impregnates a manatee (deleted scene) – far too open a question really, but what I was after was that 007 doesn’t spend time in a hotel. Shacked up with a Miss World in a diesel iceberg (pause, for bitter reflection…); yes; shacked up with John Steed in a di-Vine chat-Eau; certainly. Shacked up soaping down his great-niece whilst peeped at by an even older man via the medium of “robot dog”; regrettably. Hotel – no. Dr No – hotel. From Russia with Love – hotel, playing his theme as muzak, overloudly. Thunderball, Moonraker, Octopussy and more: hotels. In Quantum of Solace he even blows one up and Skyfall presents Clumsypenny as room service. All have hotels, save 1985’s sclerotic curiosity. For You Only Live Twice I’d say where he’s shot is a Naughty Girls hotel and Henderson lives in a Naughty Boys one. Reason I commenced with the quiz anecdote was because I thought that Rights Preserved Licence Renewed was the only Gardner sans hotel… and yet, no.

     

    …Lance Drip. Miles Shoes. Neil Downe. Max Teat… 

     

    Amongst reasons to read the Gardners, alongside testing the seals on one’s patience, his series tours the hotels of the World. TripAdvisor’s weaponised period. I suspect Nobody Lives Forever is a fictionalised account of a driving tour of Europe and memory suggests (shakily) that the “action” of Brokenclaw occurs wholly inside a trouser press. Fleming wasn’t averse – his last novel is all about a bleedin’ hotel – and doubtless 007 checked in somewhere in each of his, but one still sensed more fresh air, breaking out into the sunshine to go sightseeing, assault exotic fish, sniff the local daffs, mock the indigenous grockles and sneer at anyone with an underdeveloped head. There’s an atmosphere of “indoors” about the Gardners, exacerbated by the “hotels” thing. A variation is the “office-based shootout” in Scorpius. Fair enough – it may be that Mr Gardner’s interests lay not in tropical birdlife and salt-air snobbery on sweat-drenched Caribbean afternoons, finding greater solace in sachets of instant coffee, UHT pots and complimentary rosehip & boiled onion bath jollop.

     

    …Sean Wig…

     

    Given question 2 and the frequency of staying in Pinewood’s finest suites, is hotel-fixation fair as a specific criticism of James Bond: The Redefined Generation? Surely it’s as inspired by the Bond films in inverse proportion to Mr G’s repeated claims that his stuff really, really, really wasn’t? Come now, Jojo, what the chuff were those “Q’ute” scenes? Phallic, oiled and stripped weaponry and gee whizz special effects: Uncle Roger’s eyebrows would have shot off into the trophosphere, had both incidents not taken place indoors. There they are, even now, clinging to the ceiling like deflating balloons. It might not be relentless hotels specifically, more that Bond’s developed late-onset agoraphobia.

     

    …Doug Grrr. Rod Grunt. Drew Belch. Dave Pole… 

     

    As a first hotel of many, this fascinates in exposing what Mr Gardner might be up to. In 1981, the Central Hotel was a British Transport hotel. Gardner has 007 stay in a state-owned establishment. Now, if taking this seriously, is this right? Perhaps, and I’m beginning to believe it because it’s entertaining, magician John Gardner palms reader and publisher in broad daylight the card marked “I’m ripping Bond apart because it’s nonsense, can you spot it? Can’t you see ‘Meltdown’ was a deliberate choice?”: magnificent, and going a long way to establish a definite and distinctive tone for his Bond, playing it with an overly straight face but for huge laughs. Would James Bond stay in a socialist hostel? No – but Ken Spoon does! If one accepts this – this 007th Chapter bears further examples – then the cataracts through which I have mistakenly viewed the Gardners, tumble from mine eyes. The trepidation about working through Gardner is lessened because one’s now on alert for John mocking 007 and getting away with it. Soft leather sandals? A cottage? A SAAB? Hilarious. These aren’t continuations; they’re merciless spoofs, all the more cutting and unexpected by being official. Licence renewed, to rip the piss. Until he realises the joke can only last so long before it’s discovered and in about five books’ time, he tries shoehorning Bond into overcomplicated “spy” novels, proving that he doesn’t fit there either, which on reflection is just as good a joke. Around 1990 he abandons Bond completely and starts writing Captain Boldman books. That some might say Gardner made a mockery of 007 isn’t a negative; it’s a plus. Don’t take it so seriously. He won’t be.

     

    …Matt Pump. Jack Nine. Jack Hughes. J’accuse. Pierce Crap…

     

    Here’s a cracking example: bangs on about fine dining at the “Malmaison” restaurant and then Ken Spoon eats the blandest meal possible. Guffaw! Fleming’s James Bond would order tornedos of walrus drizzled with milky sap, like your mum used to be, and a pint of bourbon served in a platinum goblet, but Spoon… Ken Spoon, is on Perrier! Oh, change my pants! Alternatively, steak, salad and gassy water were what passed for haute cuisine at this subsidised anti-FreeDom commie slop-hole.

     

    …Ralph Bark. Noel Rim. Bruce Git…

     

    If considering the hotel these days, be reassured (…slightly) by Wikipedia telling us that having been closed for “asbestos contamination and structural deterioration” (no extra charge), it’s now in private hands (whew!). As the mood to live like Bond, if not Spoon, sometimes takes me and since Glasgow’s closer than Miami and only twice as lethal, let’s study the online menu of this now-nearly-contamination-free hovel. Restaurant’s been re-named; Malmasion no more, presumably to avoid confusion with the chain of annoying hotels, the Oxford emanation of which is a former prison, its food embracing that standard: JimAdvisor says “Don’t go”. The “Grand” Central restaurant is now called “Tempus”, usually followed by “Fugit” but say that in a Glaswegian accent and it’s challengingly brusque.

     

     Bill Crumb. Dom Cock. Max Girth. Jeb Bush…

     

    For his starter, Fleming’s Bond would investigate a “Flavoured Roll” (tonight’s flavour is… bread flavour) to masticate as he reflects in melancholia upon his day of killing, knobbing, Korean-abusing and supercharged-Bentley-wrecking, followed by Crisp Haggis bonbons with bashed turnip (fnarr) and creamy bard’s sauce (infinite fnarr). Sounds Bondy, i.e. nonsense. Served in little copper pots. No? Oh be fair, it said “James Bond” on the cover, you could bother me with extraneous cruet detail. Ken Spoon’s choice of “smoked salmon” is still available so, being unimaginative, he’d have that again, although capers do harden his stools. As an amuse-bouche, Spoon enjoys the Olive Tapenade and Hummus, because it’s cheap and he’s precisely the sort who would. Whilst Ken moans about all the “foreign” on the menu, Bond despairs that Spoon dressed for dinner in soft leather sandals and Nitefinder glasses. Peculiar, even for Glasgow.

     

    …Cliff Rug. Paul Dark. Jon Fist. Geoff Dirt…

     

    Bond’s “main”, Ragout of Roasted Pork Belly and Sauteed Squid, sounds vile, but it’s the fanciest thing available so it satisfies twin aims of ordering something preposterous and annoying Ken Spoon. He will – as in 1981 – choose steak, served without a sauce because he’s plain, is Ken. Bit surprised he’s eating meat, tbh. Neither falls for paying extra for veg, especially not “Heritage potatoes” – £2.95 for old spuds? Spoon contemplated ordering a green salad, but the only iteration thirty-four years on is rocket & parmesan. It’s not the salad days of 1981, with their fling of Trotskyist cress and half a Stakhanovite cucumber; none of this European jeffrey. Neither will dessert (apparently a verb) – not even the Raspberry Tear Drop despite the violence in its name. Whilst Ken’s on the Perrier, Bond sucks his way manfully through both a Wandering Sailor and a Sweet Vivien and then plumps for a bot of Lafite Rothschild ‘66 decanted through the severed head of a freshly-murdered German.

     

    …Ben Punch. Rafe Hair. Zeus Clamp…

     

    Admittedly, the parsimony of 1981’s meal is to allow “Bond” to “drive” through the night, although there’s no reason; he’s not being followed and, despite the initial fury of getting to Glasgow – to travel hopefully definitely being better than arriving – there’s no rush. This is amplified by …Bond (…stifled laugh: oh John, stop it!) spending a day resting at a village near Loch Garry, then another night in which he can’t have eaten anything because a Bond book would tell us, and it’s early the next morning – around thirty to thirty-six hours after leaving the hotel – that he parks in some trees and spends another day lounging about, and even then he’s still “seventy or eighty minutes’ drive” from Murcaldy. Placing that fictional location, as Gardner does, near Shieldaig, that’s only 200 miles from Glasgow, in what will be two days by the time he arrives. Probably keeps breaking down.

     

    …Mark Doubt. Mel Pooh. Charles Smear. Hugh Jarse…

     

    “He had bought pies and some fruit…” Hm. James Bond sits in his car and eats a pie. You there, dog-toy salesdrone hammering your Vectra along the sodden roads of Great Britain, yes you, parked at Charnock Richard and weeping into your individually-wrapped pork pie whilst your boss screeches at you down the mobile for failing to meet last month’s target in the Accrington region, yes you could be 007 because he behaves Just. Like. You. I know sometimes Fleming crammed him with ham sandwiches, but still… Oh, the book’s so aspirational. Also, it’s sponsored by Ginster’s. If not by them, then by “…Perrier water.” That’s it Ken, hold the bottle up to the camera, label on show. With luck, Mr Brosnan will drive a tank right through it. And you.

     

    Tom Paine. Dirk Pitt. Dick Fudge…

     

    A subversion: “Having concentrated on making the journey in good and safe time…” Oh John, you creamy tickle – it’s “extended and overcautious time” making spoof stooge Ken Spoon look ridiculous – what larfs! – “…Bond so far had not been able to savour the views or delight in the beauties of Scotland”. True. He’s driven along the A82, through Glencoe (I think) with no mention of his heritage nor a Flemingy detour into chewing the heather, observing the butterflies or simply breathing deep the aroma of deep-fried turbocharger. Perhaps Ken Spoon’s not Scottish. The comedy isn’t over – just when you think there’ll be colourful reverie amounting to little but spraying the scent, smoke and sweat of James Bond, Ken eats a pie and has a snooze in his car.  Still, he’s nearly sixty. Skyfall gave us more of Scotland, and that was largely bloody Surrey, just around the corner from Bond’s little cottage. …the Bond we all want… Even when Gardner’s “Bond” goes outdoors, he can’t be bothered with it. “Spoon so far had not been able to savour the views or delight in the beauties of Scotland, and he’snot going to. Aha! Got you there!” John, you’re the living end.

     

    …Todd Coal. Rhett Tree. Kate Wrong…

     

    Gadgets! Lots of them, and lots of words to tell us about them, enthrallingly. Some bugs, Nitefinder headset, branded field glasses the manufacturer of which has not paid to appear in this piece, not that I asked, so I won’t endorse them, nurr, a Dunhill lighter gas-bomb-thing (send me nice things Mr Dunhill, I’ve mentioned you; those oxblood badge cufflinks’ll do) and a pen alarm. Not influenced by the films much, then. All this “stuff” probably existed – one of Mr Gardner’s beefs – but it’s a bit, y’know, “spy”. Ken Spoon might be a spy; never convinced James Bond was. Perhaps my discomfort / boredom at being told this, is simply another pearler from Mr G, that real espionage is dull and crumb-flecked and not actually table-knives stabbed into giant squids, curing lesbians (Spoon has a gadget for it, best not to ask) or throttling multiple maniacs with one’s bare hands. Isn’t the “old” Bond rubbish? Doesn’t have a portable arsenal of branded tat. Well, thanks for the lecture, J-Gar.

     

    …Phil Prod (suitably alliterative). Sam Throat. Dack Kill. Mike Shout. George Plank… 

     

    “…skirting Loch Carron in the knowledge that his destination was not far away and there was cause for him to be alert.” Wouldn’t do to break down again, certainly. “Bond calculated that it took him less than forty-five seconds to travel through [Murcaldy]”. Strength in the old dog yet, then, pushing an overheated SAAB all that way in such a short space of time. Practised secret agent James Bond slips on his NITEFINDERS! – his cottage has a well, to imprison plump girls – and “had little doubt that his passage through Murcaldy had already been noted”. Yes, your bizarre appearance wouldn’t attract attention, would it? Fool. And now, albeit headlights off, brilliantly stealthily you’re driving a silver car along a moonlit track “devoid of trees”. And you smell of pastry. Ken Spoon’s a twit, but I expect that’s largely Gardner’s satirical point. “To his right he could see low mounds of earth… as though somebody had been doing fresh digging.” Best think that prosaic way, Ken, and ignore the reality of the Mutant Horror Moles. They’d outrun the car, anyway, so you might as well press on. “…there came the call of some predatory night bird beginning its long dark hunt”. Going to tell us which bird, John? That’d be “Bond”. G’an, you’ve given us the brand names of all that plastic. No? Oh.

     

    …Jase Bourne…

     

    “Taking up the binoculars, Bond adjusted them against the NITEFINDERS! (second mention this page) and began to focus on the Murik Castle”. Isn’t it Murik Castle, no “the”? And haven’t we just been told “it was impossible to gain any vantage point above the castle”? I’m stumbling around in the dark now, but I don’t have any NITEFINDERS! (third mention), because I’m not weird. Getting the feeling John’s none-too-certain in describing “outdoors”. Give him a heated towel rail and a guide to underwhelming local attractions to read whilst on the plop, and he’s much happier. “Indeed, most of the present castle seemed to have undergone vast reconstruction.” It’s not the only one… The castle has “…a half-sinister, half-Disneyland quality”; ergo, Disney is not sinister, which is [redacted, redacted, redacted, litigated]; the slippery slope to Never Send Flowers starts here. “Well, Dr Anton Murik certainly had a castle…” I know. Been staring at it, and the page describing it, for an hour. Can’t we go back to the car and have a pie? “King Murik’s court…” Odd – King Anton, surely? One doesn’t refer to the Queen as “Queen Windsor”. That’s another member of her family, one who does such, such good work and doesn’t deserve insinuation and abuse, however true it is.

     

    …Len Moist. Den Vein. Ed Ache. Al Haig. Jeff Nonce… 

     

    “…materialising from the ground like spirits of the night.” Does that happen, with night spirits? “But these were not spirits.” You don’t say. Guess we’ll never know, then. Returning to the “broad Scots accent” in a mo, the “giant” lifts Spoon “bodily into the air”, as if there were any other way of doing it – mentally? Caber – for that’s his “name”, coming across as a Brasenose man – has an amusing way of speaking and it’s no worse than Quarrel, say. A hat tip to OTT dialect in the earlier novels, or just as bad? Maybe I’m trying to clutch at a spirit of a long-gone night, something Bondy even if it is one of the more questionable aspects of Fleming’s writing. “Yon man gied me a butt to the neb”. Um – half-past ten? Well, Spoon is still wearing the NITEFINDERS! so that’s bound to hurt. No-one appears to have noticed the NITEFINDERS! Except us. Nine times. ‘Tis an oddsome book.

     

    …Rex Clown. Lee Child. Rhys Stink. Vern Teeth. Jules Hat…

     

    Ah, Mary-Jane Mashkin – the hyphen nearly smuggles it past, but it’s an alliterative name, the first of very, very, very many. “He caught the scent of Madame Rochas in his nostrils.” Painful. Where else would he catch it; in his ears? Never heard of it, so… Lordy, it’s cheap. Amazon has it at £11.99, same as a couple of SAABs. Or “some pies”, God help us. Questionable scent and a euphemistic name – Mary-Jane covers all aspects of “skunk” does she not? I shall have words with Mrs Jim; twenty-three years married and she’s always claimed perfume starts at £200 a bottle. Spoon’s musk (shortcrust pastry) assaulting her up the beak, Mary-Jane points at the drainage ditches and talks girth, the minx, so they’ll be significant later, won’t they? Definitely a villain; she’s covering up the existence of the Mutant Horror Moles. “He had already slipped the NITEFINDER! set from his head, as though it was the most natural thing to be wearing.” Nice recovery, John; well remembered, if a bit late. For Ken Spoon, it might be natural; he’s so odd.

     

    …Roy Clit. Troy Ears. Sloane Pus. Rog Smarm…

     

    “You didn’t say why you were here, Mr Bond.” I’m having doubts, too, and Spoon’s reply of “Lost” can be read on many textual levels.

     

    “Even in an out-of-the-way place like this, where we know everybody, some stranger   might…”

     

    “Come in and ravage you all?” Bond grinned.

     

    …Phil Gulch. Phil Cleft. Phil Hole (you get the thrust of it)…

     

    M-J takes a liking to him, possibly because he stinks of reconstituted meat but more likely because he’s wearing a strap-on. On, um, his head. Ravage all of them, Bond? Even Caber? You duhty old man. Is this clumsy banter really in character for drab geek Ken Spoon? Vibe here’s an unholy admixture of Harry Caul and (the common perception of) the leering of Moore’s Bond, albeit trying too hard, with little in between, that in between where both book and film Bond reside. Is this a result of dragging “Bond” into a techy-spy world yet still trying to have “Bond” bits, leaving the character all over the place following an irreconcilable decision to dump him in a 1981 spy novel? Is it because the film-makers would crawl over it and object to too similar a depiction? Or, imprisoned by both situations, a gaolbreak into spoofery? Let’s go with that for the moment. It permits wonder at how this ruthless slagging of James Bond managed to get through. Something admirable there.

     

    …Chris Desk. Brick Duns. Bert Damp. Brad Pong…

     

    “He stopped, for the small, birdlike figure of Dr Anton Murik was emerging from the castle.” Walking, rather than in gaseous form. Which bird is he like? A “Bond” would say. Going to give your reader the bird, John? Ah, you’ve already done that, at length. Let’s see; Murik is an Old Harrovian and went to Cambridge, so he’s a Great Tit. Or a Bustard. Or a Puffin (does that work? Insofar as anyone subjected to such “education” could work). With these antecedents, he couldn’t be more villainous. Fun that Murik was St John’s (not the real one) as was his creator, a neat parallel with Fleming granting Blofeld bits of his background. Anton Murik, inventor of the Murik “Ultra-Safe” reactor, like calling something the “Might-Chafe” Kalashnikov. Anton Murik, Laird of Murcaldy, otherwise there’s no point to Spoon Girl Lavender Peacock. Anton Murik, owner of… a fashion house? A crazed combination but required by imminent set-pieces. Insofar as this tale needs telling, he is all these things, but outwith the interests magically co-aligning to ensure the plot doesn’t drive into a fifteen-foot drainage ditch, this is nonsense. Ill-thought through, or a joke? Breaking news! Stephen Hawking has a divine blouse collection for autumn, and Karl Lagerfeld [censored: a “hot projectile thrust power” digression beneath everyone’s dignity].

     

    …Bob Dross. Will Dull. Kev Cress. Nick Pie…

     

    Murik is only five foot tall. Go on Bond, if Bond you are, give us that old mean spirit. Tell us what you think of small folk. Surely Murik revolts you in some way? He must – Bond law. You’re miles from home, you can misbehave; no-one will know and increasingly few will read it. Just a “little” one? Given you a head start, there. Curse how they’re scuttling and verminous things, half-pint Hobbitses, stunty asexual doll-eyed critters, microscopic of body and soul. Try this: “Bond had been mistaken: even at this time of year, Scotland was full of midges, after all”. Oh, go on. Nothing? You didn’t even sneer when you first encountered him, inch-high to his horse’s fetlocks. There’s no contempt for anyone, save arguably Bond himself. Oh James, come back to me. This “Ken Spoon” personality is taking over and I must believe you’re still in there somewhere. Fight it, James, I know you’re still a bad person at heart. I’m not going to give up on you. For a few books, anyway.

     

    …Blair War. Wayne Flab. Vic Cheese. Greg Cyst… 

     

    “I thocht (?) yon man was some kindo’ spy…” A good one? Moot. “…Mind, he acted strange…” No kidding. Pie-eating, SAAB-“driving”, Perrier-glugging connoisseur of cheap ladystink and branded gadgetry who eats in state-run hostels and sleeps in his car. The nerd commando. Oh, I don’t so want to be this man. Acting “strange” for James Bond. Totally in character for Ken Spoon, though.

     

    …Trent Bridge. Finn Bleed. Gus Poke, Thor Jam…

     

    “He had no desire for Caber to be messing about with the car.” Sensible; he’d snap it. A suggestion that Bond leaves the SAAB unlocked but no-one’s going to pinch it, so fair enough.

     

     Charles Goat. Luke Scum. John Doe…

     

    The reader left in little suspense about story progression due to heavy telegraphing – Caber, Highland Games, fighting, a warning from Murik, a DUNHILL lighterbomb thing (the red silk linen herringbone double-breasted peak lapel jacket, please: size “Fat”) – there’s greater mystery about the wider World! Of! Bond!  It’s twice as long between 1981 and now (written early 2015), as between Licence Renewed’s emission and Fleming’s death yet, notwithstanding SAAB’s extinction in the interim, this still feels “modern”. Someone will claim the equipment is obsolete but they’re someone interested in equipment, thereby paltry of spirit and themselves obsolescent. The Flemings read of a time, this Gardner could be of now even though closer to the Sixties. A sociologist (allegedly a discipline) could observe that the dramatic shift in Bond’s outlook shows more radical social advance between 1964 and 1981 than since, to now. Might be something in it but more likely is that what Fleming’s Bond expressed were the attitudes of the forties in conflict with the social changes of the sixties, i.e. his Bond is not formed by the time he operated, but by an age – and War – long gone. Ken Spoon is a modern guy thinking in tune with how his World is and largely accepting it. He’s not fighting the end of Empire and he has no view whatsoever about a female Prime Minister. That’s a major shift in how Bond thinks, not just the nature of the thoughts; not change of mind but change of mindset. Not simply an alteration of his environment, but also of his brain. Really has had a meltdown. I’m not sure it’s him.

     

    …Skip Lunch. Kier Piss. Mack Soap. Clive Fight…

     

    Another reason why this feels up-to-date is that it barrels along with much story, but reduced telling, giving little atmosphere of its period, whereas the Flemings are dense with theirs. This doesn’t feel “dated” and that may be a weakness in calling Licence Renewed “written Bond” if you are unreasonably expecting Fleming v2.0. If taken seriously, and one does replace “James Bond” and names of other characters hauled in from the past, is there much to distinguish it from loads of other “spy” books? The danger here is in calling for an impersonation of Ian Fleming, unfair, and preventing Mr Gardner from putting his own stamp on things. Yet, is that stamp of itself, within its own qualities and not by comparison, sufficiently distinctive from a hundred other writers banging out the Ken Spoons of this world? If we take “written Bond” not as “pretending to be Fleming”, which is a silly threshold, but “producing readily identifiable and distinct personalised prose, regardless of what you say but concentrate on how it’s said”, has this occurred? I feel the author of Casino Royale, mad old sod, but do I feel John Gardner, do I know John Gardner, his outlook, his channelling of himself through the melted down, emptied vessel of James Bond?

     

    …Dan Book. Bill Door. Carl Drab. Blake Flange. Ged Kraut. Rich Spunk…

     

    I mean, I’d hate to think of Mr Gardner sleeping in his car, crumbstrewn. A theory of writing Bond might run: you don’t so much take on “James Bond” as take on yourself.  A branch of the same theory – one I’m coming round to – would say that if one fuses in the personal and distinct then it’s closer to being “Bond” than ectually being required to set it in the sixties or use Fleming’s character names. Continuity isn’t of time; it is of experience, so a heightened sensual overload of a book, invested with personality and yet set in 2017 rather than in a Fleming timeline, if it “feels” Bond, may be truer to the nature of the beast than something dated 1967 with all the “requisite” names in there but surface decoration only. What this comes down to is not a game of “spot James Bond” or “spot Ian Fleming” but “spot this author”. Capturing the spirit of a Bond is in how one goes about it full-bloodedly, and making that particular, peculiar even, otherwise you might as well use any old name on the cover. The necessary refinement is that the writer should be applying something unique to his Bond output to distinguish it not only from other “thrillers” but from his other works, which is why Colonel Sun has merit and Carte Blanche was just lazy.

     

    …Kurt Wart. John Band. Leigh Grape…

     

    That I think is my problem with the book, if taking it at face value as “continuing” Bond. It doesn’t because it doesn’t feel immediately distinctive – it’s a Ken Spoon or Dan Flask or Pete Bog tale – and because it’s trying to dance between so much – the changes and the not-changes – never settling into telling me anything beyond moving plot along. The “not changes” – the breakfast, M, memories of past adventures – are not owned by the author and come through as robotic, tolerated by him at best. The “changes” in their content might represent Mr Gardner and his views, although I would hope he was more dynamic than sandals, cottages and pies suggests. Ian Fleming you don’t have to like, but a couple of paragraphs into Casino Royale and you get the message. If you take Licence Renewed at face value, it’s hard to come away knowing John Gardner’s nature and it’s just another Ken Spoon or Dave Pleb or Joe Blow thriller on the shelf. If you take it at face value…

     

    …Jake Gloom. Lou Brush. Clay Daft…

     

    For the moment, I’m choosing not to, and in choosing not to, I think it does show me Mr Gardner clear as day. Read seriously, as “continuing” Bond, there’s something terribly, terribly wrong here. Read Licence Renewed as a spoof and it’s funny, inventive and those changes that ring hollow as “changes James Bond would make”, ring laughingly as “changes of course he bloody wouldn’t”. The sensory deprivation isn’t missing through a lack of effort, but a deliberate omission: how could anyone get a sensual thrill out of being a spy when it’s actually like this. Isn’t Bond preposterous? James Bond isn’t a spy, I’ve tried to make him a spy, and look how odd it is. Surely I’ve proved my point. Can I go now? You want another fifteen? Are you mad? Ken Spoon thinks he’s James Bond, has even adopted it as a codename, and look at the scrapes he gets into when he tries to be him. Eating the same brekky he might, but Spoon’s a sandal-wearing SAAB driver. When he tries on his hero’s smarm / charm, it comes across as excessively crude and clumsy – deliberately.

     

    …Turk Thrust (II)…

     

    If a serious attempt to continue “the story of Bond”, it’s bafflingly “off”. If you take Bond seriously, you’ll be enraged and smash things, but you’re in the right place already, in that secure unit of yours. Nurse’ll be along soon. More appealing and enjoyable to approach them as a fresh start exercise in having a giggle. Also, contemplating how much wee-wee is being extracted pleasingly diverts when relentless paragraphs about NITEFINDERS! cause one to misdigest one’s “pie”.  So, despite immediate impressions, these embrace the spirit of writing Bond, if the auteur theory holds Perrier. There’s loads of John Gardner to see here, but it’s much, much cleverer than first impressions suggest. JEG moves from WTF to OMG. As a knowing spoof slipped in under the NITEFINDERS!, this is a treat and if you haven’t re-read it for some time, please do, and look not at what’s said (quite boring and absent the topsy-turvey rhythms of Fleming), but to what’s done; an author detaching himself from the farce whilst pretending to play the game. Insert another name to replace “James Bond”, and it doesn’t undermine the work as generic and run-of-the-mill Ken Spoon anyspy, but gives us the author and his stance. You can’t get much more Bond than that.

     

    …Des Lice. North Toe…

     

    Some might say this shows Mr Gardner hates Bond and wants to humiliate him. Too strong; what it could show is respect for Bond, that 007 doesn’t fit the milieu of Spoon and his dull ilk; that Bond is precious, in a bubble and not to be drawn into the more run-of-the-mill spy novel world. Not necessarily better, but to one side and better left there. Sixteen times for money (gloss over this, otherwise my idea collapses and I’d rather think of the Gardners as a cheeky game than a misfiring struggle), but there’s rebellion here. Oh, delicious. These are giving of their author, indubitably. If that is critical to being written Bond, these are written Bond. Really, really weirdly.

     

    …Fred West…

     

    But, you “say”, monosyllabically, “but the cover says James Bond and written by John Gardner, and now you’re saying that’s not what he was seriously trying to do?” I’d like to think not, because I’d hate to think so; if that’s all it was, the books start frail and, occasional positive blips aside, get worse, the reference to Bond-lore and the attempt to modernise it falling between two caper-riddled stools. I’d prefer to look kindly, and suggest a witty ruse has been pulled. Consider this: the fondness for traitors. Can’t anyone be who they say they are? Not even the author’s doing what is claimed of him. Once you see it, it’s in flashing mile-high neon. All those traitors like… thing and…whatsit… no-one remembers, but not important – all those traitors, disrupting the plan from the inside… if you can’t (and don’t want to) break into Bond’s mind because it was Fleming’s closed one, who else will represent the author’s attitude to the job… he’s leaving clues. Come to think of it, is the man named James Bond even James Bo… oh I get it now. Very meta. Very clever. Surprisingly so, for a Cambridge man. Smart. “Intelligence work”. Twist ending: having boded a heavy slog, the Gardners are suddenly promising to be very interesting …

     

    …Peter File (too many syllables. Given imminent Cedar Leiter, not inappropriate though). Jim Bore. Hulk Smash. Cash Inn.

     

    Ken Spoon will return in the 007th Chapter of For Special Services. James Bond might, although he probably won’t. Henceforth, whenever Jacques Stewart is accosted whilst sitting in a car at night, many miles from home, eating a pasty and watching someone’s house through NITEFINDERS!, he will claim he is “being James Bond”. No, be fair, it could work.

     

     

     

    Helmut Schierer @ 2016-05-09
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