How much do the short stories by Ian Fleming actually let you in on? Are they on par, or even better than some of the James Bond novels? Is is the smaller adventures that make the difference?
While obviously not going as in depth into missions or plots, Fleming’s short stories contain a wealth of literary 007 information that is not to be found anywhere else.
How old was James Bond when he lost his virginity? And where was he? What type of woman does he think he’d marry, if the day ever came?
It’s all here…
- From a View to a Kill
“How SMERSH got into SHAPE”
A brisk, fast paced short story that pits 007 against Soviet spies that are setting up ‘roadblocks’–if you will–to catch dispatch riders.
“In PARIS, James Bond sets out to find and destroy the secret hideout of a spy ring that has eluded the top security brains of fourteen countries.”
From A View To A Kill is one of the stories from this collection that usually ends up somewhere around the middle if asking a fan to rank their favourites. The somewhat simple plot works effectively enough, allowing the reader to see Bond in action while ‘in the field.’
Supporting characters in this story are minimal with the exception of the Bond girl, Mary Anne Russell. While not given the same level of attention and detail that Fleming provides for several of his other leading ladies, she does have a solid introduction and the scenes that follow her first meeting with Bond (such as the claim that Bond is playing a silly game of Red Indians) give her some added depth.
As an incidental note, we are told that Bond lost his virginity at the age of 16 on his first trip to Paris.
Comparison To The Film: Little is taken from this story and put into the film of the same name (even the ‘From’ is dropped from the title). The locations are somewhat similar, but there is little else.
- For Your Eyes Only
“How the Cuban was rubbed out in Vermont.”
The story sharing the same name of the collection itself. This time, 007 makes his way to Vermont to track down a killer named von Hammerstein, who along with a man named Gonzales, were responsible for murdering the parents of Judy Havelock on orders from an unusually upset ‘M’. While the mission is ultimately a success, things are not quite as they seem once Bond prepares to take out his target…
“In VERMONT, James Bond joins forces with a beautiful blonde who is determined to assassinate a professional killer.”
Arguably one of the better short stories of the collection (while many fans call it the very best). The scene with ‘M’ asking for Bond’s personal assistance in the matter is brilliantly written and sets the tone for the story to follow. It isn’t the normal case ‘M’ assigns for his secret agent, but he still tries to treat it as such.
Whereas Bond was the main show in From A View To A Kill, that’s not the case for this story. Judy Havelock is an intriguing heroine because her very purpose in the story–to get revenge. Her relationship with Bond, which is on a professional backdrop because of the reason they are both together is an interesting one. They both know the killing of Von Hammerstein will eventually occur, but Bond immediately gives her the line: ‘Don’t be a silly bitch. Put that damned thing down. This is man’s work.’ How the story finally concludes makes it all the more interesting for the reader.
For Your Eyes Only is a strong short story on both counts of adventure and the overall plot. It really doesn’t disappoint in either. Moving from the death of Judy’s parents, M’s request, and then to the eventual pulling of the trigger, it’s a fast story that barely let’s up, making it very successful and enjoyable to the reader.
Comparison To The Film: The killing of the Havelocks is also present in the film of the same name as is the character of Gonzales. Judy is changed to Melina Havelock and the relationship between Bond and Judy/Melina has some similarities from the story to the screen.
- Quantum of Solace
“Love and Hate in Bermuda.”
This story may be the most interesting all of that Fleming ever wrote. In a way, it is the breath from action that the reader experiences previously in For Your Eyes Only and to follow in Risico. The action that remains is a battle of ‘love and hate’ in a story about two interesting people witnessed by Bond.
“In BERMUDA, James Bond learns a strange secret of love and hate at an ambassadorial dinner party.”
The real importance in this story lies in the tale that is told to Bond by a rather bored Governor of Bermuda at a dinner party. The Governor tells of how two people he once knew got married and the nightmare that followed, involving affairs, a husband made into the laughing stock of a community, his financial revenge on his wife and their ultimate divorce.
The extent at which these two people do certain things to each other is the basis on which the Governor tells both Bond–and the reader–about how at least a minimal amount of humanity must be present for two such people to survive one another. He tells about the problems of blindness, disease, disaster, but how the complete removal of humanity can be far worse. Something to which the Governor coins his title of such thoughts as the ‘Law of the Quantum of Solace’. Things are fully put into perspective when the Governor reveals to Bond–SPOILER–that one of the guests at the party is the woman from the story.
This surprises Bond, and quickly turns the boring dinner party into a more interesting event. It leads Bond to thank the Governor for the story, and also a statement that he has learned to notice people a bit more–as they are not always as they appear.
With this short story, Fleming has appeared to prove that he can create a truly intriguing Bond ‘adventure’ without the usual dose of beautiful girls, villains, and violence. Humanity is the key point of interest here and Fleming spins a captivting story around it.
As another incidental note, Bond says that if he was ever to marry, he imagines it would be to an air hostess.
Comparison To The Film: Currently no such film of the same title and nothing of a huge importance put in any other Bond film either.
“Drugs in Venice.”
In this sweepingly fast story, Bond is caught between the lies and truth of Kristatos and Columbo. The objective is for Bond to stop a major drugs smuggler, but finding out which one of the two men it is makes it all the more interesting. Upon finding out the true enemy, Bond then goes onward to stop the man in a warehouse raid.
“In ROME, James Bond finds himself the target of a dope runner who deals in death.”
This story is sometimes criticized for throwing too many characters and too many locations in too short a story. Granted the location jumping from Italy and Albania is noticeable but it doesn’t detract much from the overall ‘Fleming sweep.’
Risico is basically a battle between Kristatos and Columbo in which Bond gets caught up in. There are other characters, including Lisl Baum (who thinks that all men are pigs, but some are gentlemen pigs and lesser pigs than others). She knows of Columbo and agrees to meet Bond on a beach rendezvous to divulge information to him. This meeting then sets the scene for the almost non-stop action scenes to follow and finish of the rest of the story.
Risico works well on the merits of fast action and a swift pace. For readers looking for strongly descriptive characterization and thorough plot, it may not completely satisfy.
Comparison To The Film: Much of this story is used in the film For Your Eyes Only. The locations (including the warehouse battle) are partially present. The animosity between Kristatos and Columbo and their lies and truth is almost copied right into the film.
- The Hildebrand Rarity
“Death in the Seychelles.”
Bond is on holiday and eventually meets up with a man named Milton Krest who is out to find a rare fish. Bond comes aboard and agrees to help out, meeting the millionaire’s wife, Liz, and travels alongside his friend, Fidele Barbey. The events that follow lead to a wild hunt for the ever evasive and elusive fish and the mystery of a murder for which one thing is certain–Bond didn’t commit it.
“In the SEYCHELLES ISLANDS, James Bond becomes party to sudden and ghastly murder on a luxury yacht.”
Often labeled as a fine mix of action, mystery, and character development, The Hildebrand Rarity ranks as one of the most enjoyable Fleming short stories of the collection. Much like the previous story, Risico, Bond is once again partially caught between the action and forced to go at it the way he chooses.
Milton Krest is immediately recognized by Bond as an eventual problem when they first meet. Bond is given a tour of the magnificent ship, The Wavekrest, where it is evident that Krest has no problem saying what is on his mind and couldn’t care at all at how it affects other people. As an example, he dislikes the common practice of labeling ships as ‘she’ and arrogantly gets irritated when Bond does so. He also introduces the final important character in the story, his wife, Liz. Lovingly nicknamed ‘treasure’ by Krest and disturbingly the target of the ‘Corrector’, she lives a suppressed life, dominated by the cruel rituals and the harsh words of her husband.
Eventually, Krest manages to catch the prized specimen, much to the dismay of Bond.
Later on, Krest manages to get extremely drunk and proceeds to start flinging insults at anyone nearby, including Barbey and then Liz (the latter because Krest sees her getting friendly with Bond). A fight almost breaks out between the exasperrated 007 and the drunken Krest, but the latter wisely chooses to go to sleep and everyone else eventually does the same.
Bond is then woken up to find–SPOILER–that the prized fish has been shoved down the throat of Krest, killing him. Bond realizes that is was murder and throws the body over the ship and waits to see what happens in the morning. When morning does arrive, Bond notices neither Liz nor Fidele–the two prime suspects–acting out of the ordinary. Fleming ultimately leaves the culprit of the murder a mystery, while at the same time, leaving it up to the reader to decide who killed Krest.
Comparison To The Film: The title has never been used, but the character of Milton Krest and his ocean liner are present in the film Licence to Kill.