Monday, October 30, 2006


The Last James Bond Book

I finally got a copy of Octopussy and The Living Daylights, the final James Bond book by Ian Fleming. Sort of. Fleming said towards the end of his life that he was going to publish another collection of short stories about James Bond, a companion volume to For Your Eyes Only. It was not published in his lifetime but two short stories were collected as Octopussy and The Living Daylights. A later edition added "The Property of a Lady." And "007 in New York" was added to the editions printed after 2001.

I was rather disappointed with "Octopussy." At first. I love Octopussy, the film version, and I was interested in reading the source material. However, the short story bears little resemblance to the film. Almost none. Octopussy in the short story is an octopus, not a totally hot Swedish women who lives on a floating island with an army of ninja women who do her bidding. How can a real octopus compete with that?

James Bond is a supporting character in "Octopussy." The main character is a former agent of the British Secret Service who did something very bad in post-war Germany, got away with it, and retired to Jamaica with a fortune in Nazi gold. After 15 or so years, James Bond shows up and lets him know the jig is up. He's been found out. Bond, out of concern for the image of the service, gives him a few days to wind up his affairs and take the honorable way out … by killing himself.

(The only connection between the movie and the short story is this little tidbit. Bond had given Octopussy’s father the chance to kill himself honorably. But there is no mention of any daughter in the short story.)

So the short story is about what this guy, Smythe, does with the last hours of his life. And it was very interesting, after I got over the disappointment that there was no army of ninja women. Smythe doesn't actually decide to kill himself. He just indulges in a little risky behavior to satisfy his own curiosity about certain types of sea life. And he pays.

"Octopussy" is my favorite James Bond short story. What would you do, under those circumstances? Smythe's little oceanic mystery-solving is not very scientific or anything, but it's the kind of thing that might pop into your head if you're into scuba-diving. It's kind of weird and random. A slice of life story from the last minutes of an unusual life.

"Property of a Lady" was used (sort of) in the film version of Octopussy. And it makes a much better impression as a scene in a movie. As a matter of fact, it makes a much better episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." James Bond goes to an auction to ferret out some Russians. The main lesson I take from this story is this: card games are better than auctions in adventure fiction.

According to Wikipedia, "The Living Daylights" is often considered the best of the James Bond short stories. And I like it a lot. It's the other best James Bond short story. Discussing it any detail would give it away. The film of the same name uses one key moment from the short story, but it expands the basic idea into a feature-length film. It's unfortunate that the music is by a-ha, and that Maryam d’Abo has such weird hair. None of that is the fault of the short story.

"007 in New York" is a 10-page story where James Bond goes to New York for a minor, off-the-record assignment. And things don't go well. It's kind of funny. It's kind of like a weird Ian Fleming/Damon Runyan/James Thurber mixture.

So that's it for the Ian Fleming books.


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