Thursday 15 November 2012

Licence digitally renewed

THE NEW eBook edition
The entire James Bond canon, both Fleming's original series and the novels by the various continuation authors, is now available as eBooks from Ian Fleming Publications. And the company have  also electronically issued the three books in the spin-off Moneypenny Diaries series. The Young Bond series is already available digitally and now all that remains are the two novelizations that Christopher Wood did but IFP have not announced plans to publish these two books which are not strictly canon.

Though just what is official canon regarding the books is debatable - John Gardner, Jeffrey Deaver and Raymond Benson set their Bonds in the modern day, while Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd have placed their books in the time-line directly following the Fleming series. Kingsley Amis who wrote one novel Colonel Sun had the benefit of producing his book just after Fleming's death so his book was both contemporary and true to the Fleming time-line.

Still canon or not it's great to see the long out of print books by John Gardner, Raymond Benson and Robert (Kingsley Amis) given all new digital editions with all new cover art.

John Gardner's Bond may have owed more initially to the film character than the Bond of Fleming's novels but by his latter books he had made the character his own and he wrote more Bond novels than Fleming himself - penning fourteen original works and two movie novelizations. Raymond Benson followed and gave us six new Bond novels and three movie novelizations. Like Gardner Benson placed his Bond in the modern day but he tended to ignore the Gardner continuity and this choice proved controversial with many Bond fans. In fact when Gardner was first announced as the new official Bond author many fans were furious that an American had been chosen to write this most British of characters, but Benson's smooth hold on the character and racy prose went some way to placate the fans.

All of the continuation novels have their merits but by far my favorite non Fleming Bond is Robert Markham's Colonel Sun which was originally published in 1968, only four years after Fleming's death.

Colonel Sun
Robert Markham

"I cannot hope to surprise anybody now that I have sunk to my proper level masquerading as the concocter of crypto-fascist James Bond tec yarns,"  -  Kinglsey Amis wrote in response to criticism printed in The Spectator  of his James Bond novel, Colonel Sun written as by Robert Markham. "I suppose he refers to the single yarn, Colonel Sun, which I published under a pseudonym while letting everybody I know I had written it. I did not masquerade as its concocter, or concoctor: I concocted it."

Kingsley Amis may have seemed an odd choice to continue where Fleming left off - on the face of it the two writers seemed poles apart, but Amis was a massive Bond fan and had already written The James Bond Dossier under the name of Bill Tanner, and, to my mind, the novel he produced, Colonel Sun is the best of all the non-Fleming Bond novels.

The name Robert Markham was originally to have been used by a number of writers to continue the adventures of 007 but this never came to pass - perhaps, using such a high profile literary writer to pen the first of the continuation novels was a mistake, as it wasn't very long before the cat was out of the bag - Kingsley Amis was Robert Markham.

Discounting Christopher Wood's two screenplay novelisations, and the novel James Bond: The Authorised Biography of 007 (1973), by John Pearson, Colonel Sun was the last, new novel in the Fleming canon's original Cold War time (the 1950s and the 1960s), until Licence Renewed (1981), by John Gardner, who, like Raymond Benson, updated the character to the 1980s and to the post–Cold War 21st century respectively, until publication of Devil May Care (2008), by Sebastian Faulks, which occurs in the late 1960s.

How though does Colonel Sun stand up to Fleming, and does it deserve its place in the Bond canon? The answers to these questions are, "very well", and "certainly."

The book starts off in gentle fashion, with Bond reflecting on his life while he plays a round of golf with Bill Tanner - we discover that the story takes place the year after the events in, The Man with the Golden Gun. Bond has fully recovered from the bullet Scaramanga put into his abdomen.

However this quiet reflective period is simply the lull before the story because no sooner is this section over than we are at Quarterdeck, where we witness the kidnapping of M - a terrific sequence in which Bond narrowly escapes with his life.

"I wrote this book, sidestepping out of my career as a straight novelist for the occasion, because I was asked to do so and because I found the project irresistible. When Ian Fleming died before his time in 1964, it was felt that James Bond was too popular a figure to be allowed to follow him."   -   Kingsley Amis from the introduction to the 1988 Coronet paperback edition of Colonel Sun

When Secret Service chief, M, is violently kidnapped from his house, James Bond follows the clues to Vrakonisi, a Greek Aegean island, where he, and Ariadne Alexandrou, a Greek Communist agent, plan to rescue M. Meanwhile they must thwart the complex military-political plans of People's Liberation Army Colonel Sun. Sun is sent to sabotage a Middle East d├ętente conference (of which the Soviets are hosts) and blame Great Britain.

Colonel Sun manages to retain the spirit of Fleming throughout, though the book does tend to sag a little in the middle, which is the result of an overcomplicated plot, but the Bond here does seem to be Fleming's Bond (which is more than can be said for many of the continuation novels), and all the elements that made the original novels so thrilling are present and correct.

"Why do you always include a torture scene?" Raymond Chandler asked Ian Fleming in a famous BBC discussion program.

"Do I, always?' Fleming asked, surprised at the question.

Yes Ian, you mostly did and Colonel Sun follows this tradition, but the torture scene in this book is cranked up several degrees higher than anything Fleming ever wrote. It's nasty, positively sadistic.

"You must understand that I am not in the least bit interested in studying resistance to pain or any such pseudo scientific crap. I just want to torture people."

 And torture Bond he does - in the most methodological manner possible. - the fingernails, the genitals, the knee joints.

"Just one more thing, James. This cellar is well on the way to being sound proof, down here in the rock. And blankets and rugs have been laid on the floor overhead to seal it even further. Our tests show that nothing can be heard at more than a hundred yards. So scream all you want."

Far more violent than Fleming ever was, Colonel Sun deserves its place in the canon. It's a brilliantly paced story, even if the middle does suffer from being over complicated. The character of James Bond rings true, and the book very much recreates Fleming's rather surreal world.

RELATED - There was another James Bond novel written under the Robert Markham name - Per Fine Ounce, was actually penned by Geoffrey Jenkins before Amis had written Colonel Sun and it was expected to be the first of the continuation novels.  The work was championed by Harry Saltzman to become one of the 007 movies, but the Bond copyright owners, Glidrose pulled the plug on the project.

Despite such promising-sounding material, and the fact that Jenkins was a best-selling thriller writer in the Fleming mould, had been a friend and colleague of Fleming's and had apparently had his blessing and input for the project, Glidrose rejected Jenkins' submitted manuscripts.

a page of Per Fine Ounce
A full copy of the manuscript is rumoured to exist in the archives of Ian Fleming Publications (renamed from Glidrose in 1998) - however, Peter Janson-Smith has said that he doesn't believe Ian Fleming Publications still holds a copy and that the most likely scenario is that the manuscript was returned for legal reasons (so as to not be sued in the future for plagiarism if a book with a similar plot is used). Jenkins' contract with Glidrose gave him a licence to re-use the material in the novel in the event of its rejection, with the proviso that he could not use any of Fleming's characters. Jenkins may have done this: his 1973 novel A Cleft Of Stars, while not containing any rogue British secret agents, is set in almost precisely the same area of South Africa, involves diamonds and gold, and the hero temporarily hides himself in a baobab tree.

And in another bizarre twist - 18 pages of the manuscript for Jenkins's Bond novel did actually turn up in Perkins papers, and two of these page were published on the MI6 website giving fans a brief glimpse of what might have been.

AND ALSO - You know I once wrote a Bond novel - A Whisper of Love, a Whisper of Hate but when I tried to approach the Fleming copyright owners with a view to them considering it, I met with closed doors and deaf ears. It sits unloved, by all but me, on my hard-drive. You never know, one of these days  I'll maybe give it over to one of the fan fiction websites.

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