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  1. The 007th Chapter: Role of Honour – Rolling Home

    Role of Honour 007th Chapter

     

     

     

     

     

     

    A literary musing in several paragraphs, cunningly delivered by Jaques Stewart.

     

     

    Through sad eyes clouded by disbelief, one often sees superfluous continuation 007 novels reviewed – with a pun I’ve just realised is a pun (bit thick, me) – as “gilt-edged” Bond.

     

    This is a guilt-edged 007th Chapter.

     

    You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

     

    There are worse enterprises than these bolt-on Bonds. To some they bring joy, and a measure of pleasure to detractors; otherwise why read them? Masochism has more nourishingly gigglesome sources than “reading”. Is it for a “fan” to pick at (…potentially) well-meant endeavours, and sow undermining thoughts? Rest of humanity has established it needs no opinion of these books as it scrabbles for food, water and huge televisions. Is mine so necessary a pose? Pose is all it is; lazy sneering testing no orthodoxy, inflicting doubt in my intended victim – that’s you, hi – via the sly pretence of strained preening about a book. An onslaught with nothing to slay, and less to say. What purpose iconoclasm that dismantles no icon? Beyond a shrinking circle, these books pester few. Or is that the justification? “I wouldn’t, if you were better”. That’s bullying. One stares at the screen, wondering what one would “write” about a real concern. The screen stares back with “fnarr” and “Hotels; again” and points its accusing cursor, we two mutually aware that tackling something challenging would, as it cannot fail to do, expose paucity of intelligence and lay bare great fear. Instead I inflict frustration onto a subject inconceivably a deserving recipient of whatever it is I think I’m doing. I jump willingly into my oubliette of writing silly things via a perfidious avatar. At least I’m not posturing on Twitter; a sole redemption, with an added bonus that I cannot crave further attention by announcing that I am leaving it.

     

    The converse must, though, bear truth: celebrating these books is equally pointless, and hasn’t worked. Persons favouring them can (and do) suggest there’s responsibility as a “Bond fan” to laud provision of “more Bond”, but this exposes their irresponsibility in avoiding the issue whether these are sufficiently “Bond” to merit the word “more”. It’s not as if without these volumes “James Bond” will disappear from a public consciousness to which it is decades-nailed as lazy shorthand for gullible consumerism. Arguably, “Bond” is so much a cultural touchstone that it has outgrown the books and films. One view has it that continuing 007’s exploits in either medium is unnecessary as it has gone beyond both sources into some metacultural state and is dependent for survival not on the print or screen iterations, but on its continued adoption as a convenient style barometer for suits, cars, exotic holidays, music, advertising, contemporary sexual mores (hopefully), sunglasses, handguns (regrettably) and wristwatches (even more regrettably). Another, that such media may as well continue to be flung at us and do any old thing because if Bond is now independent of its dual genesis and viral within so much else, what damage can the occasional duff book or film really cause it? No-one’s going to care that Role of Honour isn’t super or SPECTRE is $300 million of Bond film and that’s all it is, when there are baubles to buy and subliminal personal delusions to feed. Perhaps that’s why new Bond often gets a “pass” despite its quality: we would shake our own purchase-cultivated self-worth if we were to think it crap. Some say it’s always best to be positive; presumably they’ve never had a blood test.

     

    No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.

     

    Kicking a decades-old book not so much when it’s down but not even aware of a fight I’ve chosen to bring to it on the most specious of grounds, is bizarre behaviour. If so determined to opine, isn’t it more constructive to give of (what I know of, which isn’t much) food shortages, internet sock-puppetry (apparently so very serious), political malpractice or the motherlode, that perpetual motion of well-upholstered First-World sedentary outrage – mutual accusations of anti-Semitism? But no, here be I, lashing out at an absent scourge, an undemanded champion, failing to recognise one’s blessings and raging against perceived injustices like a fleck-gobbed mendicant grumblewandering the dawn streets, or a Western male with internet access. Perhaps all the hot air unleashed in unsubstantiated dissatisfaction with an absurdly fortunate existence adds to global warming, but if that observation indicates my understanding of climate change, it’s best I remain trapped here, locked in perpetuity in a danse macabre with patchy fiction. As a wise man – it was me – once said, there’s a reason it’s called free speech; you wouldn’t spend money buying most of it.

     

    Saying Role of Honour isn’t great must strike those joyous of heart, courageous of spirit and striving for justice for the masses, as needless. Such needlessness. One should be needlessnessless, achieving needlessnesslessness, lest one become needlessnesslessnessless. Something involving needles, anyway. A life lived in perpetual lipcurl enriches few and even a confessed awareness of one’s tendency to tear at the carcass long after other vultures have flown, only explains, never excuses. It’s still bullying, even if the bully recognises the flakes of their own desiccated soul. Here lies the dubious argument that runs: I am an awful person, but I recognise this weakness, which somehow gives me carte blanche to savage you as well. I will be asking myself some mildly searching questions later if it gives you any solace whilst I cave your head in. However, not being religious, I’m not entitled to cower behind that stance. Also, if you give me Carte Blanche, you deserve all you get. Still, if positivity cannot be extruded, there must still be capacity to be constructive, tolerant. One can try. Here goes: towards the end of Role of Honour there’s diverting action, it has an initially intriguing idea and overall it’s not as ludicrous as Icebreaker. But then one reads dialogue like:

     

    “What’s the most significant leap forward in the computer arts…?”
    “Bond did not hesitate. ‘Oh, without doubt the advances being made, almost by the month,  in vastly increased storage of data using smaller and smaller space.’ ”

     

    …and one wants to repeatedly flush its head down the bog or do something utterly unspeakable to it with lard. As young Master Bateman once observed, this catharsis has meant nothing.

     

    I know 007’s “undercover” (sort of) when saying such… things, but I have a feeling this “Bond” believes it. The above is table-talk with a villain, over “venison marinated and roasted with juniper berries, wine, chopped ham and lemons”. Even the food’s overcomplicated and bitty; neither savoured at Sardi’s nor munched at McDonalds but only eaten when the bomb drops and there’s naught else; even then, a toss-up between chewing that puke or one of the less necessary offspring.  Plentiful precedents for such teatime teasing in Bond, usually providing insight into madness; here, dullness. The goodie engages the baddie not in sideswipes about a mental or physical or you’re-not-British deformity, but data compression. Hm. Book’s a fine example, however, of Mr Gardner’s prescience: coding as a skill for the dynamic modern chap, the connections between corporate concerns and terrorists (yikes), the head of SPECTRE being a well-educated, well-connected Middle-Eastern man with terror camps in the desert (very yikes), chaos being militarised (top yikes), terrorists piloting civil aircraft (doesn’t bear joking about), cyber-crime, international criminals exploiting pacifists to their own ends (…wasn’t that Diamonds are Forever?), our enslavement to timesucking devices and the insidious rise in popular culture of the hero-nerd who “knows computering”, a trend plumbing a sorry low with the Wishaw Q and his enthralling ability to press buttons in a particular order. There’s material that foresees the rise of the billionaire programmer, fascinating persons that they are, with awed reference to the success of a 28 year-old software tycoon (that Gates chap: age in mid-1984… 28) and it’s always fun with the Gardners to rub up against the man’s foresight and see what spurts out. He was often looking forward in his books, more so than one was to them. That this is his 1984 work is presumably just a coincidence. The irony of Role of Honour – let’s be generous and say it’s intended – is that there’s a vastly increased storage of data here over greater and greater space; bit like this piece. Ah, both my hypocrisy and “Mr John’s Description of Things” reach their all-time [insert preference for height, breadth, girth or depth]. The hair shirt begins its itch. My “Ted Lapidus cords” are jolly comfy, though.

     

    No, no, no; “constructive”. There must be something.

     

    I think I’ve got it.

     

    Not that. I’ve had that and – thanks for asking – no, my truss doesn’t itch any more. What I mean is that I understand it. Digressing again (I know it irritates you, but I’m under the Gardner influence), I’m not referring to understanding Mrs Jim because A ) I never will, more fun and B ) applying unto her the soubriquet “it” would be a provocative deathstyle choice. What I mean is this:

     

    “The girl at the switchboard at the Ministry of Defence flicked the switch to ‘Hold’ and said  to her neighbour, ‘It’s another nut who says he’s James Bond…’ “.
    “Miss Moneypenny buried her face in her hands. ‘Oh Bill!’, she said desperately. ‘There’s  something wrong with him…’ “.

     

    © 1965 Ian Fleming Publications

     

    Not just the singlemost arresting incident in Fleming yet to be filmed (fie to the Garden of Death not having been Eonised; it’s there, ish), the assassination attempt in The Man with the Golden Gun offers an in-plain-sight way to cohere – construct – the Gardners into written Bond, despite their best attempts to defy it on every conceivable occasion. Ah, continuity games. Redundant and depressing on the one hand, but the purpose of the James Bond extensions on the other. Although probably not on the other. There is just that one hand. Still, even with its spooky foresight, Role of Honour didn’t predict A ) the internet and therefore B ) its second most popular use, the imposing of specious continuity onto frivolous entertainment by those otherwise indulging themselves in the first most popular use. Just the one hand for that, too. What follows probably throws the Bensons and Deaver right out, and as I’ve used “throw out” and “Benson” in the same sentence, uppity human lint will now saddle up their high horses and accuse me of things of which I wish I had ectually thought.

     

    Consider this: James Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun acts nearly as the Bond we knew, but not quite. There’s nearly a Bond-style romance, but not quite. There’s nearly a Bond-style ruthlessness, but not quite. There’s nearly a Bond-style snobbery, but not quite. There’s a reason.

     

    It isn’t him.

     

    James Bond died in Vladivostok in the early 1960s; it’s cold there, he’d suffered a head injury and he wasn’t wearing much. Intercepting a coded signal and seeing his heart’s-desired chance to spend time indoors eating pie, cipher clerk Frank Westmacott a.k.a. Ken Spoon (born 1943, say), blessed with looking like 007 (despite blond hair) and unblessed with both a hobby of memorising user manuals and a turgidly pompous turn of phrase for one so young, gave himself up to the Russians with promises of pages and pages… and pages of brainsmothering technical information. The KGB/GRU/WTF was initially bored by Spoon, but after identifying Bond washed up on the foreshore all bloated, fishbelly-white and moist, and having reassured themselves it wasn’t The Actor Prearse Brisnon preparing another action film no-one goes to see, the Russians saw their chance. They spent six months filling Spoon’s mind with the details a senior operative would have cared about, and trying to suppress his desires for tea, moccasins and serial numbers (successful for a while, but all resurfaced traumatically by about 1990 and overcame the planted, more appealing characteristics).

     

    Accordingly, at the outset of the Scaramanga episode, when meeting “Bond”, M knew the man was not 007 (a twenty-year age difference – reet sharp, is M). M also knew that James Bond, like the career of The Actor… (etc.), was extremely dead but it would do everyone more good than all of Gloucestershire’s yoghurt to believe 007 was back – hurrah! It’s only a codename. To establish whether this interloper had a decent aim, all that’s required of an anonymous, expendable blunt instrument, M provoked Spoon into trying to kill him. Cruel, but some audition piece, that. This explains M’s curious decision to send “Bond” into the field rather than have him shot then tipped into a quarry. Scaramanga’s not a last chance, but a first, to establish Spoon’s aptitude. Disastrously, that first mission involved a hotel and someone with an alliterative name but no-one could reasonably have foreseen that the mentally discombobulated Ken Spoon would naively assume all assignments had to. A few lapses – why Spoon didn’t shoot Scaramanga on at least three occasions, and doubt about his sexual compass-bearing – but on the whole, M was satisfied. Needed headwork too, hence the evil Sir James Molony pressing “enough” Bond into this sad abused sap’s mind that he could function sufficiently to get jobs done, and make him and those following his exploits believe that he was James Bond and permanently in his early forties despite all evidence to the contrary either way. The breakfast, the housekeeper, the tendency to be rapey, all of it force-fed into the increasingly traumatised Spoon’s emoto-noddle. But not the thing about the dead wife.

     

    Not yet.

     

    No official record of the cover-up. Presented to the public was a heavily edited version – rumoured as the work of a committee – with “Bond” collapsing in M’s office and then waking in Kingston Airport. Weeks of Spoon’s life were redacted. Best not to investigate, although one hears that Guantanamo’s lovely at this time of year; an orange bag over your face would improve things, for sure. Those standing by the published version dismiss the conspiracy with “Moneypenny recognised him”; however, some with too much time on their hands, and too few people in them, raise the smoking gun evidence of Very Deep Throat (a minor CIA operative from Texas) claiming that she was ordered to say this lest something unacceptably sinister happen to her pussy cat. To maintain the deception, even her diaries were expertly rewritten, with all their lonely doodle-hearts expunged.

     

    The ruse worked for the first mission; the suggested memories overwhelmed the boiled brain of cruelly exploited Spoon. After that, like those hairs on your mum’s upper lip, fresh shoots of underlying Spoonlife crept into his manipulated consciousness, undermining the foundations and crumbling the edifice. There were rumours of a suppressed incident in South Africa, although despite much attention-shrieking by those claiming inside knowledge, it was never very clear nor very interesting whether this mission was completed; it remains shrouded in plausible deniability and public indifference. During the Colonel Sun affair, Spoon’s innate desire to “sit around” burst through, and there are traces of the torment of contradicting identities in the bizarre episode with the Papava woman and that Zanzarim matter. When Spoon, still only twenty-something, celebrated Bond’s 45th birthday at its outset, Molony was satisfied that good work had been done; few others were.

     

    Awkwardly, a man claiming to be James Bond emerged in the mid-1970s, unleashing a scurrilous “biography”, written by a man who had done similar for the Krays and Barbara Cartland, 007 a convergence of such twain if that Vivienne Michel was to be believed. Desperate to undermine this, inasmuch as it didn’t undermine itself, M sanctioned the fabrication release of two reports that contradicted the timeline claimed by this imposter, accounts written in a most plausible style but on examination very dodgy dossiers, between them claiming we were threatened by immortal bitey-giants, web-handed aquatic hermits and Space! Hitler!, all of whom possessed WMDs they could – and did – unleash within the last 45 minutes of the story. Facing whispers that he’d lost all connection with Science Fact!, M knew he had to play the cruellest hand of all, to instil incontrovertible proof that Ken Spoon was Bond. Spoon would be reprogrammed to remember Tracy, although not why he’d been attracted to her (ironically, the most compelling evidence that he wasBond). Accordingly, Spoon007 was out of action for much of the 1970s, imprisoned by Sir James Molony in The Park, memories of a wife he had never met punched hourly into his brain by “electric”, reaching a point that anything related to her name or the concept of wedlock would send this vegetable into convenient meltdown. When it ectually came to Meltdown Licence Renewed, although retaining vestiges of innermost Spoon – SAAB, a cottage, a regular girlfriend, the coveting of things rather than disdainful guilt, an inability to speak to women without being creepy and odd – loads of folk were convinced to buy into it, believing the trick. It’s alive! Nearly! M looked upon his work, and his work was good enough, just about, sort of, and batted away objections to ensuing involvement with the small girl by the lake Felix Leiter’s daughter on the basis Spoon and Leiter had never met, so there was nothing remotely inappropriate about it.

     

    A crisis came in the Icebreaker affair. The messed-up Spoon, his scarred brain starved of intelligence, was exposed to so many identities changing around him that enlightenment dawned, the ghastly truth leaking like a broken ‘fridge and both he and those keeping track of his exploits doubted who he was. Without Molony on hand with the Brain-O-Matic 934579hfdi-ette (it’s the size of Swansea, as is its description), “Bond” and those analysing his reports kept having, and choosing to have, distracting but not unpleasant flashbacks to a simpler time when the absurdities convinced. The affair unleashed the fight between Spoon and the insidious rise of neo-Bond, its ramifications felt for years. Driven insane, Spoon’s subsequent adventures played out not as a skirmish between a straightforward hero and a memorable villain, but a study of a tormented, inwardly collapsed character, a psychological struggle between the mutually loathing sides of SpoonBond’s nature. Later incidents, villains, girls, allegiances, stories and logic all were, and proved, insignificant; the real adventure was in being sucked into the Black Hole world of a man who cannot cope, to see which personality took precedence, paragraph-on-paragraph. What seemed a joyless, confusing struggle was suddenly revealed as a daring twist to preconceived norms of “adventure”: a completely unpredictable protagonist, utterly out of both minds. Too daring for many: doubts set in about how much longer they could buy the façade, so in due course they didn’t. Three rounds in by Icebreaker and challenger Ken “Gamesmaster” Spoon was well ahead on points. Seconds out: Round Four…

     

    Role of Honour is pivotal in this saga of abuse of a man and those caring about him. Shaken – and hey ho, barely matters any more, stirred – by Icebreaker’s revelation that all is not what he was coerced into believing, SpoonBond is in torment, his halves dully assaulting each other, so maltreated that they know no better. Bond! Lands a punch with a Bentley consigning the SAAB to the crusher. Spoon! Strikes back by eating chicken vindaloo “with all the trimmings” – how pleb. Bond! Unleashes rabbit-punches with engaging, lazy evenings on the Riviera. Spoon! Surprises everyone by revealing an Australian uncle/jawsmashing plot device. Bond! Can’t hit below the belt since Spoon’s got nothing there, but still makes an impact with (brutal) violence elsewhere. Spoon! Delivers a potential knock-out blow by sitting for weeks, coding. Eon Productions! Stuns all with a claim that a tale with a blimp, a character bearing a St. John/“Sinjon” surname and a sinister defence contractor interested in computers isn’t even coincidental. Ah me, the direction of 80s Bond inflicted on us by a brace of Johns G. Same initials: were they ever seen in the same room? Hmm… Bond! Sees his opportunity whilst Spoon is distracted by people Whose Films He Doesn’t Watch, Honest, and gets himself embroiled in an intriguing set-up of being used as bait. Spoon! Unleashes, incredibly illogically on multiple levels, SPECTRE as the party taking it. Bond! Reaches into his bag of old routines and bests the villain at his own game. Spoon! Stands aside and watches Bond drop gently to the canvas, asleep, because that villain’s own game is a stultifyingly dull one. A dozen more rounds to go yet. Don’t cry.

     

    Once aware that the SpoonBond gestalt was broken in spirit but still too prim to indulge him a little off-the-books murder, as both years-delayed revenge for the attempted assassination and to send “Bond” and his reader utterly mad, M developed a habit of only telling one of SpoonBond’s personalities half a tale and sitting back to watch both struggle to make sense of it. This mischief palled; easily bored, M dallied with rebooting the beast as Captain Boldman (just confused everyone further) then sought to put his creation, the misbegotten, unfortunate and unhappy SpoonBondBoldman hybrid monster thing out of everyone’s misery by devising ever-more- elaborate ways to get it killed by other people who betrayed it in ever-more-unlikely fashions (not an intended reference to its paltry garb but, unlike same, it fits). That he failed was testament to both the life-spirit within the creature – life is obstinate and clings closest where it is most hated – and the determination of others to keep drawing the sceptical and their money to the failing freakshow. Retiring to enjoy the company of previously-unheard-of grandchildren offsprung by a previously-unheard-of daughter bearing the previously-unheard-of name of Haley, M left the creature borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance, to a woman it came to believe was its mother.

     

    “There was no reason why James Bond, who had always been on the operative side of the  business, should know anything about the entrails of the service, any more than he should  have understood the mysteries of the plumbing or electricity supply of his flat in Chelsea, or  the working of his own kidneys.”

     

    ©Ian Fleming Publications 1965

     

    Or, for that matter, a computer.

     

    Ret-Con, or just con? Gaps in The Man with the Golden Gun allow it flight. I’ll stick with it; it’s an attempt to be constructive and less upsetting than the face-value of a very old, very confusingly characterised 007 sitting in a hotel suite, preparing flowcharts (…James Bond) and learning to program an equally arthritic computer but thereafter not using the skillset much, leaving one wondering why we were told umpteen chapters about it other than to pad a tale that, unlike its predecessor, has remarkably little plot in it.

     

    If that’s not enough, Bond sings.

     

    What should you do
    When it’s not the Bond you knew
    In the latest book by
    Gard-ner?

     

    Leave well alone
    Or flay it to the bone
    Is the usual choice with
    Gard-ner.

    [For the wordcloud for this one I handed the coding over to trainee programmer “JB”, a mature career-changer begging for (yet another) indulgence to “get it right this time, definitely”. He failed; his skills were thirty years out of date. In computer terms this means he might as well have painted a cave wall or smeared effluent across your screen (following my lead). Additionally, he went by the username “Predator”, most unwise for a mature man engaging with the internet. He won’t be used again, nor for the e-book].

     

    (addendum: Dear readers, a mere 18 months after the fact, much like a rhino baby, said trainee programmer – now going by the handle ‘Ken Spoon’ – appeared at our doorstep with something resembling a wordcloud in his shaky rheumatoid fingers. As he’s by now obviously homeless and out of work since he received his final kick at our tradesmen’s entrance, CBn decided to provide the man with shelter and a means to pay back his debt to society. He currently resides in our cellar, firmly fixed to a “micro” and will be released once he meets the terms of his original contract. This is our contribution to strong and stable working conditions for 99 year young startups. Please ignore the wailing and the rattle of his chains, thank you.)

     

    The 007th Chapter – Role of Honour: Rolling Home

     

    We’re not in a hotel room! We’re in a casino! James Bond! Yet we were in a hotel room for a very long time up to now; a marginal win, at best. Still, nice to get away from it all, even if one suspects that Mr Gardner doesn’t approve of gambling (is there much in his tales?). Rather than immersing in sensual pleasure, with victory and defeat incidental, Bond’s success at roulette finds its peace by presenting it as a systemic challenge. Not unengaging, and the lounging around the South of France (when not indoors… programming) is as relaxedly atmospheric as anything in Gardner’s run, but it’s a different approach to games of chance from that of You Know Who. Not worse; just different.

     

    (With apologies to Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II, Julie Andrews, John Gardner and, belatedly, Mary Shelley for the thus far unattributed Frankenstein quotes. Doesn’t quite work but, y’know … ‘tis Gardner): “A Few Gardner-Typical Things”: from the Original Cast Recording of “The Sound of BASIC”. Heading for Broadway! … the one in Worcestershire. It sold out in Chipping Norton! A sell out on several levels. A-one, a-two, a- (looks it up) – three…!

     

    Hotel room coffee and aggressive creatures
    SECRET COMPARTMENTS and nylon windcheaters
    Multiple traitors and sometimes Bond sings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    What isn’t different is that Bond acquires knowledge to exploit an obsessed villain. Two books ago he “did” Hogarth prints, but – there’s a but – whereas Fleming tutored Bond/us in diamonds, gold, heraldry, jewels, the occult and other exotic what-nottery, here it’s programming. The sensual pleasures flee; this is “typing in Oxfordshire”. Indoors. The hermetically-sealed, agoraphobia of GardnerBond. That it ends in a blimp over Geneva grants oxygen, but the overall lethargy suggests the alternative title “Bond Sits Down”. There is action: an (unexplained) attack on the Bentley, the first of (many) car chases in country lanes, the Erehwon incident and the aforementioned airshippery but drowning it out there’s yards of talk, with lots about “ ‘booting’ being the technical term for placing a program in the computer’s memory”. Seems quaint, so basic – so BASIC – three decades on, but that’s testament to Mr Gardner’s insight about computers becoming a new normal even for folks like me, uninterested in how it works as long as it bloody does. Is the oddity really the wide-eyed wonder of Gardner’s cave-painting descriptions, or our now being so infected by computer norms – their commoditising of the fear of personal social obsolescence unless we succumb to their language and tyrannically rebooted cultural constructs – that renders Role of Honour primitive? We are enabled by technology, the argument runs; I do feel so enabled, anonymously posting sinister messages on my children’s Facebook pages whilst I’m on the plop. So enabled. The Skynet war will not come; we are already conquered. Come, let us smash looms. There’s probably an app for that.

     

    Fireballs of crimson and bad Eighties fashions
    Scooby-Doo teamwork and sketchy assassins
    One barn-sized micro and nice pie fillings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    It’s not all 20 GOTO 10; there’s “Uncle Bruce” (boo), an unlikely contingency but one that happily dismisses the SAAB; a mention of the record shop at 59 Dean Street (hurrah! Many childhood moments spent there. I recall buying there the LP (look it up) of the Octopussy soundtrack; I was twelve and knew no better), M trickling info via a third party, rather than trusting Bond with the full picture (boo), Bond cut loose to lure others (hurrah! It’s The Spy who Came in From the Cold and Had A Refreshing Hot Drink and a Nice Sit Down) and a woman called Percy Proud. Willie Styffe or Spurt Reynolds must have been deemed too subtle and insufficiently alliterative, and it’s potentially a funny reversal of Pussy Galore. There’s Writing About Joysticks that could be quintuple-entendre were it not that John plainly wasn’t intending such filth, and did mean joysticks; even more amusing.

     

    Having a chinwag and scoffing down curry
    Plots tend to drift and then end in a hurry
    Many anonymous bad underlings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    By no means all bad. The computer thing, though, is problematic when it’s Bond doing it; convincing those being lured that James Bond, of whom they must know (…secret agent) otherwise the lure is pointless, has turned away from the sour infliction of oblivion, in favour of… typing? His enthusiasm rings hollow if it’s the same man Fleming invented/was, seething when trapped at the desk and longing for salt air, sneering and living out the sad in sadism. The tech stuff one leaves to Q branch, or that Grishenko wart; one does not own a dog and lick one’s own genitals bark one’s self. I need Bond self-loathingly tormenting unfortunates, not … [Being a fresh-air-and-fun-kinda-guy, I had to look up coding terminology since I know none – came across “Reality 101 Failure”, a program that appears to do as demanded but when used it misunderstands what it was trying to achieve and is instantly useless. A shorter review of Role of Honour, certainly]. Given that within five minutes the villain dismisses Bond’s cover but keeps him hanging around double-dips the absurdity.

     

    Disney and bedding his best friend’s young daughter
    Arguably not things the real James Bond oughta
    Computers that big will just break the SAAB’s springs
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    Into the Casino walks General Zwingli, along with men described in the last chapter as “looking as dangerous as an armoured brigade about to attack a Boy Scout troop” (I can’t say whether this means they look ridiculously over-dangerous or under-dangerous – a vexing image) and at the outset of this one as “not the kind of people you would be likely to meet at Sunday school parties”, the “beating up children” metaphor twice in a few lines. Just as well Ken Spoon’s in town; he loves kids, as the last two books have made worryingly clear. “General Zwingli had been no chicken at the time of his disappearance”, and although I’m resisting “But he’s in a right turkey now”, is “chicken” just age, as in “spring”, or cowardice or something post-watershed that explains a later reference to “complete non-interest…in all women”? Boy Scouts, Sunday schools, overcompensating, it adds up.

     

    Some of the changes are best left forgotten
    No Deals, Mr Bond as a title is rotten
    Pages and pages of turgid meetings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    “There had to be a connection. You didn’t need a crystal ball to work that out.” Yes “you” do. It’s Gardner. Why “you” and not “one”? I don’t have a crystal ball. [Predictable down escalator into testicles joke – here]. “Dr Holy and General Zwingli were tied together for life by a much stronger bond than marriage vows.” Need a much stronger Bond here, but it’s… Spoon.  He often sits, while others walk. He’ll talk, and talk and talk and talk… “Conspirators can rarely divorce without one partner seriously damaging the other”. But that’s OK, John, because you told us that the conspiracy was stronger than marriage, didn’t you? One sentence earlier. So how does one – or “you” – “divorce” if never “married”? I suspect I’m reading too much into it, by reading it at all. Pretty mah-oosive coincidence the chap turning up on this precise patch of the planet, isn’t it? ‘Tis Gardner.

     

    Technical detail that tends to annoy yer
    Sitting around in a dull hotel foyer
    Tales tied together with fraying old strings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    Zwingli heads for a “dark-skinned muscular man, possibly in his mid-thirties” – of course he does – the other big bad, Tamil Rahani, who does stuff and then stops; I forget. The involvement of SPECTRE baffles: Bond is recruited by the organisation that killed his wife. Hm. Upon whom its only two previous leaders 007 visited doom. Hm. Unless he actually is Spoon so one of those ex-Blofelds doesn’t count and the dead Mrs is but a… programmed memory (oh, I get it now; very clever, John), his ostensible enthusiasm to work with them doesn’t set off alarm bells? Like “James Bond, known to us, is not and never has been a programmer”? Has the C in SPECTRE been replaced with “Counter-intuitive”? Or “Codswallop”? Earlier, Bond expressed disbelief at the scheme, which undermines it totally when it subsequently happens. “ ‘I think, to be on the safe side, it would be prudent for us to take our leave now’ “, says Spoon, not using two words like “Let’s go” when a billion pompous ones will do. I do hope “tipping the croupier” is similar to “tipping the velvet”. It’s not coding terminology. “ ‘It could simply be a coincidence, but I’m taking no chances.’ “ Nor we. ‘Tis Gardner.

     

    So many turncoats just make Bond look foolish
    Obsession with hardware can read slightly ghoulish
    Prescient with those death cults and bombings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    Percy’s description of the “ultimate frowsy computer scientist” as fat and speccy does nothing to recommend it as a healthy pursuit. She’s unusual in having had imperfections mended before meeting Bond; not a bird with a broken wing, or nose, and there isn’t much wrong with her, nor to remember. Aside from her porny name; goes with her language – “…I’d have had to be fingered directly to Rolling Joe for him to now it was me…” It’s a hello, I s’pose. Bond responds with “ ‘There’s always the possibility that someone’s fingered me’ “, and I realise how unfair I’ve been to the Raymond Benson Sex Cataclysm; Mr Gardner got “there” first. Urr. “Bond brushed back the lock of hair which fell, like a comma, over his right eye.” As it’s often in the wrong place, it’s more likely an apostrophe. Very GardnerBond to describe Rahani as “swarthy”; achingly pompous. I should know.

     

    [Bridge. Not the game.] When the wolf bites, when it goes slow, when it’s not quite Bond
    I s’pose I accept someone else needs a go
    But I feel like I’ve been conned

     

    “ ‘I have a car and orders that we go separately. Under no circumstances are we to travel together.’” Apart from all that travelling together to date? Classic Gardner ruse: vicarious orders. It’s unclear whether Bond is working for the CIA at this point or who is interested in him (it’s not the reader); M has alluded to “…the isle being full of noises, only [Bond is] on a different frequency”, maddeningly unfair on Bond and us, disclosing nothing to help anyone grasp the fragments, leaving it to this Percy to explain what might be going on. There are passages where “M talked earnestly for about fifteen minutes, allowing no interruptions…” but we’re not told what he said, a cheat. Since Bond still bumbles around ignorantly for pages thereafter, still unsure about what is going on, this I-know-something-you-don’t-know technique creates tension that the underlying storyline can’t, and a suspicion that it’s being made up as it fumbles along. Scrag-end of plot smothered in distracting hyper-detail about TEWTs. Scrape off the sauce and it’s dubiously thin scraps of gristle. Marinated with chopped ham and lemons.

     

    (Key change) Pompous main hero and blizzards of codenames
    Leading man may or may not be that Bond, James
    Alliteration and brutal killings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    “ ‘…I think it’s merely a coincidence…And I think we should leave; the sooner, the better’ “. Why, if coincidence? Still, time to move along, the characters clearly aware of the need. “For a while she fussed around Bond, like the proverbial mother hen…” She gave him worms? Been around a bit, has Perce, including time married to a villain although little is made of this other than her conveniently briefing Bond about Jay Autem Holy because M can’t be bothered. “He lugged the cases containing the Terror Twelve into his own room…” – plainly heavy, then. Why does this feel more dated than much of the action (if not attitudes) of Fleming? Perhaps it’s that the Flemings were shot-through with nostalgia, so arrived already embedded with a defence to any criticism that they were old-fashioned and backward-looking – they always were; all elegies are. This tries to be up-to-the-minute and picks a discipline where during each minute to which you are up, a child has invented a process that blunts that cutting-edge of a gnat’s blink ago. The laptop into which I’m spilling this dross is way ahead of the Terror Twelve and its keyboard “twice the size of that on an electronic typewriter” but a haircut will tell me that it’s ancient and early adopters have now moved into digitising human functions, not reading data but sniffing it. One doesn’t e-mail; e-mail’s for fossils, daddio.  Cough, and it goes viral. There are rumours of nu-tech “talking to people to disseminate information” but it’ll take years to develop since no-one’s used to doing anything so radical.

     

    (Join in!) Poetry-quoting and chapters of chatter
    Girls who are agents and gadgets now matter
    M more overtly just pulling Bond’s strings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    “…disks that would help him copy or recover Holy’s listings, should he have the chance to get hold of any.” Not the most substantial plan, is it? Going up against a genius suspected of designing thefts with War Game precision, with a possibly-maybe? About halfway through the book, the computer-science evaporates. The record has it as the result of Mr Gardner being told to jettison the electro-battle between Bond and Holy lest it damage Never Say Never Again (an enterprise more than capable of self-harm), a sequence Gardner wrote first and around which he sought to manhandle the story. Does read that way – loads of build-up, but with a pay-off scooped out. I understand the War Game had Bond and Holy sitting in different rooms (?) refighting Waterloo, presumably more successfully than The Actor Purce Brisnong when he fought it in that singing film someone chose to put him in. Even if more arresting than the lifeless toy soldier Bunker Hill replacement, it’s still “sitty-downy”. Yes, Bond plays Drax at Bridge, but look how that’s written: savagely energetic and ectually about the Establishment humiliating an arriviste, not the game per se.  Could this have been the same? Depends whether you think the surrounding evidence points to it. A mystery is why, the primary purpose of the computer stuff shelved, all the hard-slog prep work remains? Bond hung out to dry as bait is still a solid idea; making him a programmer just isn’t necessary.

     

    KGB name changed and same for Bond’s masters
    Never Send Flowers and other disasters
    An overweight torpor to all of it clings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    Off Percy pops in her “sporty little blue Dodge 600ES” (photos might not do it justice but it looks horrid; needs a facelift, like the owner had), after Bond asks whether they will ever meet again. Even the author recognises this as “uncharacteristically inadequate”. There’s some undermining going on here… Much of the time Spoon was in that suite learning “computer” he was sniffing Percy (not a euphemism), wistful about her mysteries and puzzled by whatever it is F12 does. Reads like he’s never met a woman. Better suited to coding than first thought, then. Notably, he has “startling blue eyes”. Always thought, prior to the scrumbelicious Mr Craig, that they were bluish-grey, but as it’s ectually Ken Spoon, it matters not. Journey through France is spent remembering in detail matters about Rahani that he couldn’t recall a page earlier, including the amusing echo with Blofeld, that the man approached the British with offers of work. Doesn’t meet the expectations of Rahanism as a way of living, though. Then, after “the lack of excitement” (you wrote it, sunshine)… Bond sings.

     

    (This bit’s pure Grammy-bait) Bond as commando and that’s very boring
    Real people threatened and why are you snoring?
    Somehow more dated than Fleming’s writings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    Unexpectedly?  He does sing, briefly, in Dr No, so it’s rare rather than rubbish. It jars in its happening primarily for a Tracy reference; whilst singing seems another odd thing for Bond to do, it must be the same man: I mentioned his dead wife! Spoon’s brainwashing is complete. It’s robotic; old song Rolling Home (it’s not ectually called that) crunching the past in and, to roll the point home, one Bond sang with “brother officers” when he would “literally roll home”. Literally? Some party, that.  During whichever war it was this programmer fought. If determined to sing, it could have been anything, and more likely for a modern guy like Spoon to pick a contemporary ditty, surely? What was in the Hit Parade that year? Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley, that’s a Gee-Whizz groove. Within six words, he’s thinking about Percy Proud again. Chronologically haywire, this. Hey ho; what’s love got to do with it? That was from 1984, too. Bond sniffs women’s necks and sings without much evidence of prior ability. I have erred; that Brosnan (sp?) person was well cast.

     

    Namechecking restaurants and weird sex descriptions
    Totally downplay Bond’s many addictions
    Contractual fulfilment, the joy that it brings
    These are a few Gardner-typical things

     

    “ ‘Well, 007, the woman’s taught you all the tricks of the trade, eh?’ “ . Someone had to, M, and ignoring the brick-subtle innuendo, calling her “the woman” is rude; she’s done better than you in explaining who, what, where, when, how, if, why, whether and… uh? M’s turn of phrase has gone Thirties throwback, referring to Rahani as “that joker”. Ooh, that scoundrel. He’s a rapscallion, and no mistake. It might be symptomatic of finding inner peace. “M nodded in reply like a buddha”. A buddha? Not Buddha Buddha? I can’t believe it’s not Buddha. M’s reaction to being told Rahani was with Zwingli – “as though someone had hit him in the face” – seems delayed (…old age) given that barely paragraphs earlier “[Bond] gave a summary of the final hours in Monaco, and the sighting of Zwingli with Tamil Rahani”. I know Fleming was fond of asserting that one should never look back, but just a few lines up might have helped here. “Wonder where he fits into all this”, muses M, without irony: where does M fit in? What’s he actually for in the story other than throwing out confusing gobbets of non-information? “He’s always been a bit of an unknown quantity…” M helps his author not bother fleshing out a villain with an engaging chapter of back-story, stuff the reader trying to engage with that character, “…so we’ll inform those who need to know.” Which doesn’t include us.

     

    Moments from Bond films he says he’s ignoring
    007 is not for adoring
    Can’t help but feel that he went on too long
    Bit like this dumb-deedee-dumb-deedee song (fill in the blanks, do what you like, don’t care, ran out of interest when I was ordered to cut out the best verse)

     

    “Then, on the Thursday evening, in the bar of one of Mayfair’s plush clubs, he bumped into Lady Freddie Fortune…” I suspect/hope it’s a joke that the supporting cast have such daft names. Practically every woman into whom Bond inserts his floppy gets an alliterative name – there’s a Cindy Chalmer kicking about – and a chap called Hoppy Hopcraft turns up to do something. I’m sure he does something. I think I’m sure he does something. But – ‘tis Gardner, so he might not. “Bond longed for Percy and the special smell and feel of her.” Not her brain, then. He’s oddly obsessed with what she smells like. It’s a “special smell”. Cabbage, or Babbage? Hopefully his sense of smell is better than that of direction; by chapter’s end, with “all the computer equipment in the boot”, Bond has driven the Bentley to Nun’s Cross, three miles north of Banbury. Some achievement; it’s not there. Nor anywhere. Erehwon, indeed. Aha, Mr Gardner! You didn’t foresee satnav, did yer?  I’ve typed “Nun’s Cross” into mine and its best suggestion is “Newcastle”. That won’t be happening.

     

    Role of Honour might be less chicken pie and more Raspberry Pi (I have no idea what this means) but I still feel guilty. As with Ken Spoon, as perhaps with Mr Gardner too (if so, how pointed to slip it into this chapter), I am “confiding in one or two people that [my] feelings of disillusion had become considerably worse.” Maybe the author finds here his Bond voice: “grumpy”. Ah! A War Game hidden in plain sight, an aggressive virus programmed into the code: spot where John comments acidly on his lot. We have moved from the first three books’ sequential attack on the fundamentals of 007– the books, the films, the man – into Phase 2 of the Bond Universe Manipulation (lick that abbreviation): Mr Gardner savaging the merits of the whole continuation enterprise. Ooh… delicious.

     

    Possibly not constructive, and I’m coming round to a positive approach because the next one I liked hugely. I haven’t read it for nigh-on thirty years, though. Might be awful. Really hope not. Since the 007th Chapter of Role of Honour can’t muster one, call that the cliffhanger.

     

    James Bond will return in Nobody Lives Forever. Jacques Stewart also types in Oxfordshire, the results just as… pfft.

    H.Sc. @ 2017-05-07
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