Looking Back: 'Colonel Sun'
The CommanderBond.net ‘Looking Back’ series now moves onto Kingsley Amis and his 1968 contribution to the literary 007 canon, Colonel Sun. As the first true James Bond continuation novel (unless one adds factors in 1967’s 003 1/2: The Adventures of James Bond Junior by R.D. Mascott), Colonel Sun has since been cited numerous times by Bond fans as one of the few that really comes close to capturing the “Fleming sweep” that makes the original adventures so readable.
CBn looks back at Colonel Sun through publication details, cover artwork, the original jacket blurbs, trivia notes, reactions from forum members and more.
Colonel Sun UK Jonathan Cape Hardback
Sooner or later, as James Bond’s followers have known, certain effects of his lifework would begin to show. The reflexes would be just as fast; the audacity as unflagging; but in a man of Bond’s intelligence and perception a certain speculative turn of mind was bound to develop. Inevtiably, he would begin to question not the clear necessity of his work but its cost in human lives and human values. Thus, within the old Bond, a new Bond was destined to emerge… within the man of action, a man of feeling.
It’s happened. Bond is pitted against a world-menacing conspiracy engineered by the malign Colonel Sun Liang-tan of the People’s Liberation Army of China. The stakes have never been higher, nor the dangers more complex and terrible. His allies–the fine-boned, tawny-haired agent of the rival secret service and the Greek patriot with a score to settle–are all too quickly neutralized. Alone, unarmed, Bond faces the maniacal devices of Colonel Sun… an ordeal that pushes him to the verge of his physical and moral endurance.
Robert Markham is a nom de plume for Kingsley Amis, author of The Anti-Death League, Lucky Jim, and The James Bond Dossier. Incredibly, he has added to the Bond saga not only his supple prose and marevelous sense of place but his own imaginative impetus, which intensifies and deepens the excitement, pace and glitter of a vintage Fleming novel.
US Harper & Row First Edition Hardback
Colonel Sun UK Pan Paperback
Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun under the pseudonym ‘Robert Markham’. While the UK and US first edition hardbacks (which share the same cover artwork image) only list Markham as the author, later paperback printings eventually added Kingsley Amis onto the cover as well.
Kingsley Amis provided a brief introduction to the novel, describing how he approached writing Colonel Sun, choosing Greece as the main location of events and following in Ian Fleming’s footsteps. This introduction can be found in the following editions of Colonel Sun: UK Coronet paperback (1991), UK Coronet paperback (1997) and US HarperCollins paperback (1993).
Colonel Sun is dedicated to the memory of Ian Fleming.
Colonel Sun UK Coronet Paperback
A VICIOUS GAME AGAINST DEADLY ODDS
From the cool complacency of an elegant lunch and the pleasant challenge of the Sunningdale putting green, to an explosive confrontation on a Greek island, James Bond is drawn back into Her Majesty’s service.
M has been kidnapped, his servants brutally murdered. Bond himself has barely escaped to follow a baffling trail that begins in Athens with the lovely Ariadne and leads across treacherous seas to a remote isle. There, as the Russians convene at a top secret meeting, Colonel Sun, master of interrogation, waits to welcome Bond to a game of ultimate risk and consummate cruelty.
It is a game without rules. It will played to the death. At stake: nothing less than global chaos…
US HarperCollins Paperback
- 1968: 1st British Jonathan Cape Hardback Edition
- 1968: 1st American Harper & Row Hardback Edition
- 1969: 1st American Bantam Paperback Edition
- 1970: 1st British Pan Paperback Edition
- 1977: 1st British Panther Paperback Edition
- 1991: 1st British Coronet Paperback Edition
- 1993: 1st American HarperCollins Paperback Edition
CBn Forum Member Reactions
Colonel Sun UK Triad/Panther Paperback
Colonel Sun is one of the better non-Fleming novels: exciting, violent, excellently written, and with a version of 007 closer to the original than any of the follow-up books. The latter shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since Colonel Sun was written only a few years after Fleming’s death, and Amis was one of the first people in the British literary scene to take the Bond novels seriously. This book was written in a substantially different era than the later Gardner and Benson tales, one where Fleming’s shadow and influence were much more immediate. Colonel Sun in some cases seems purposely written in opposition to the Eon film series, which had just made their first leap into outrageous science fiction (and away from a Fleming story) with You Only Live Twice. Colonel Sun is primarily a realistic and often violent tale with an lack of gadgetry. Amis even writes a dismissal of high-tech gadgets at the conclusion when Bond thinks about how useless all of Q Branch’s additions to his clothing actually were.
Amis is definitely the most skilled writer on the technical level to undertake a Bond story in Fleming’s wake, and it shows. Although a member of the literary establishment because of his novel Lucky Jim, Amis still makes his story essentially a thriller, and a fairly good one at that. His descriptions have some of the exotic thrill of Fleming’s, and I can hardly fault his style; nothing seems forced or clumsy, which is a complaint I sometimes have about Gardner and frequently have about Benson. (I haven’t yet decided about Higson, although so far I’m positive.)
Colonel Sun moves at a better pace than most of the latter-day Bonds and it held my interest most of the way, despite a slow late middle section. The novel gets off to a running start with the daring scene at Quarterdeck and the abduction of M–a nice sequel to the shocker opening of The Man with the Golden Gun. Amis shows immediately that he isn’t afraid to smash Bond around and really put the screws to him (or the metal skewers, heh heh). The book keeps up the pace for a good while before it starts to falter as Bond and Co. near the island of Vrakonisi. After the exciting underwater assault on the boat, the novel starts to slow down and get a touch dull. When Sun finally lays his mitts on Bond at the end, it’s back to the thrill factor for the climax. Amis again lays down the hurt, and it’s exciting. My only problem with the finale is that Colonel Sun is one incredibly talkative bad guy when he builds up to the torture. We expect the villain to give speeches in a 007 novel–it’s a classic part of the formula. But Sun seems not to stop, and Bond’s vituperative demands that he “get on with it” were ones with which I was readily agreeing. It is one nasty torture though, and thank you Kingsley for not going into too much detail on it. Appreciate it.
One significant difference between Colonel Sun and Fleming’s books is the amount of time Amis dedicates to political discussions and allegiances. Although Fleming casts his stories against the backdrop of the Cold War and frequently pitted 007 against the Soviets, his novels have little interest in the “whys” of the conflict. James Bond doesn’t fight against communists, he fights against the Russians. He works for the forces of good, his opponents for evil, and that is that. It’s an unexcused fantasy setting: an organization like SMERSH seems more comfortable in a pulp adventure than in real world espionage. On the other hand, Amis’s version of James Bond’s world places political affiliations on the front lines. The scene between Ariadne and the Russian general just gets too mired in political philosophy speech-making, and for me it slowed the pace down. Such additions might have made Colonel Sun timely and realistic when it was published, but I find it much more dated than Fleming’s fantasy environment.
Another strange thing that Amis does is include a chapter about George Ionides, the sailor who serves as an unwitting decoy for Bond and Niko Litsas. It doesn’t add much to story. The text could have just made mention of it when Bond and Litsas sneak onto Vrakonisi in a new boat, much the same way he mentioned the decoys in the car in Doctor No. It doesn’t help the pace at all in the slowest section of the novel.
The characterizations are also a strong part of the book. I’ve already mentioned how well Bond is done. Litsas is an excellent ally (although, again, lots of political chat) with his own vengeance quest reasons for getting involved, and Ariadne is a vibrant, action-oriented Bond girl very much in keeping with the times. Colonel Sun is a bit reminiscent of Doctor No, but aside from his lengthy chatter pre-torture, he’s a deviously successful villain and comes to a good end.
Colonel Sun definitely ranks among my favorites of the post-Fleming Bond novels, and it’s unfortunate that Kingsley didn’t have the opportunity to publish any further 007 adventures.
CBn Forum member ‘Double-O Eleven’
Colonel Sun US Bantam Paperback
This book has taken the longest to finish of any Bond novel (including Spy). An interesting book. Amis has managed to ape Fleming’s style very well, and it sits easily with the Fleming canon. It is obviously well-written, but far too low-key, dull and political. It isn’t FUN, and is too serious. The ‘M’ kidnapping smacks of the age-old problem of writers taking over a franchise – let’s do something unconventional. It is probably a better book than some of the lessr Flemings, but Amis unequivocally lacks the Fleming sweep. I would have read further Amis adventures, but I think Colonel Sun is an interesting experiment and a nice thank you to Fleming, but ultimately,not Fleming. Whilst many different actors and technicians have handled the film Bond well, it seems only Fleming had the ease, the seductiveness, the playfulness to make one lose themselves in his world.
The torture scene was extremely disturbing and Amis is more explicit about sex (but doesn’t mke it sound fun!). The story was good, Amis’s detest of Q Branch palpable. I find Amis’s prose difficult to read, Fleming, at least in the ’50’s books, tried to describe things in layman’s terms. Amis is obviously a verbose, intellectual writer. And perhaps too serious to write Bond.
So, all in all, a worthwhile book. Probably (I haven’t read them all) the best non-Fleming book. But it is not an easy read for many reasons, and i find myself extremely ambivalent about the novel.
CBn Forum member ‘manfromjapan’
I got an old copy of this book and decided to review it. I’ve read it before and the book has always invoked strong feelings within me. It’s strange why this is the case. I personally think the book is one of the few James Bond continuation novels to be sufficiently seamy. By seamy I mean that there’s atmosphere and its dark and moody as a proper James Bond novel should be.
I happened to like the Gardner and Benson novels but they’re continuations from the movie series in everything but technicality. I don’t honestly mind this and buy them because I like reading about movie James Bond. I haven’t purchased Devil May Care because I’ve become accustomed to the “new” style and don’t want to read a Bond book written in the 21st centuries set in the 1960s.
I had heard of Ian Fleming’s widow writing an inflammatory review of the work and that it had been suppressed because of libel. I don’t know the contents of this work, though I would certainly love to read it. Unfortunately, I suspect that such a thing is lost to the ages.
Having established that I think the book is wonderfully written, extremely seemy, and that there’s a very James Bond-ish plot (the literary James Bond not the movie James Bond); I want to warn people that the rest of this review is going to be extraordinarily hostile. I don’t like giving bad reviews but I’m not going to hide my feelings about the work or what they invoke.
So, if you don’t want to read further then note that if you’re not interested in subtext then you are absolutely welcome to check out Colonel Sun and will undoubtedly walk away with the book with a wonderful reading experience. Purely classic Bond and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth from the experience. I say this in terms of writing and plot 7/10. Now, my actual review is going to start with a 1/10… [click here to continue reading]
CBn Forum member ‘Willowhugger’