Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Samantha Weinberg talks Moneypenny

Author Samantha Weinberg (aka "Kate Westbrook") has written a fascinating article about Miss Moneypenny in the November 11 issue of The Times Magazine. The article can also be read online HERE.

The Moneypenny Diaries author has been on a creative roll lately. Not only has November seen the publication of her second Moneypenny novel, Secret Servant, but she also published two short stories: For Your Eyes Only James and Moneypenny's first date with Bond.

Samantha also makes a pretty fetching Miss Moneypenny herself (above). Hey, maybe when casting comes around for Bond 22... Just saying.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

BOOK BOND REVIEW: The Bond movie that made me cry (well, almost)


WARNING: CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

This movie shook me up (no, I’m not going to make a “shaken not stirred” joke). I really don’t know how to write a proper review, so I will just jump right into what, for me, were the pros and cons of Casino Royale.

PROS

Daniel Craig IS James Bond:
I LOVED him! I couldn't take my eyes off him. I wanted more, more, more! My private fear going in was, while I knew DC was a great actor, was he a leading man? Could he carry a movie? The answer is YES. I've been saying Craig is a British Steve McQueen. Not so. He's better than Steve McQueen. His ability to communicate pain, both physical and mental, is astounding. He deserves all the praise he’s getting. Craig really is one of the best Bonds, and if the quality of the movies stay high, he could easily become the greatest. He’s also now a true Movie Star. His casting was pure genius.

Eva Green IS Vesper Lynd:
I fell in love last night – and then I watched her die...horribly. Eva Green’s Vesper wrecked me! She was beautiful and spooky and sexy and tragic. She is the female animal that I will always love and never understand. Watching her and Daniel play against each other…my god!…every scene between them was sweet, sad, funny, tense…and when she finally offered herself to him (offered herself, he did not take her), it was one of the sexiest moments in cinema. And, yes, when she killed herself, I felt a wave of emotion and, had I let myself, I could have easily cried. Needless to say, emotion like that has never hit me in a James Bond movie before. Today, all I can think about is Craig and Green/Bond and Vesper. They’re haunting me.

Torture scene:
It was perfect! Daniel Craig…oh, I don’t need to keep saying it…just assume everything that works in this film comes largely down to Craig’s huge talent. As painful as it was, I actually wanted it to go on a bit longer (a few more hits) because Craig was just so thrilling to watch as an actor. And to insert the movie’s biggist laugh into this scene was pure genius. Thank you, Eon, for having the balls (hehe) to include this scene.

Main titles:
Daniel Kleinmann delivered. He reinvented the Bond titles in a way that was new, yet old…whatever…they just worked! I saw them as a tribute to Fleming and the literary Bond in the way they seemed to evoke book cover art. Hope he sticks with this style.

The poisoning scene:
Every bit as good as I hoped it would be, and I had high hopes. Ditto to...

The Madagascar foot chase:
Loved it! The audience applauded at the end. One of the best Bond action sequences ever with a terrific ending. A new classic.

Felix:
Jeffrey Wright’s Felix has one brief scene with Bond…and instantly we have the best Felix moment and the best Felix actor in the series history. He MUST come back.

Sets, locations, costumes:
All beautiful and all Bond. First class. The special, timeless world of James Bond is alive and well. Unlike other “back to basics” Bond movies, we lost nothing. And what we gained was...

The emotion:
For years the filmmakers have tried to inject real emotion into the Bond franchise…this time they succeeded. After this movie, it’s going to be very hard to watch something like TWINE (with its tortured attempts at DRAMA). Normally, I don’t like the personal element in my Bonds. But here it MADE the movie for me. In fact, when this movie hits DVD, I see myself fast forwarding though the action just to get to the next Craig/Green scene. But this injection of emotion also brings something very new to a Bond film...

The movie is genuinely upsetting:
This may be an odd thing to list under “pros”, but I found Casino Royale to be a very dark and truly upsetting movie. I applaud the artistic achievement here. But maybe this is why I can’t seem to write a proper review or have one feeling about it. It freaked me out. This is not Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me. This movie is by no means “fun.” It’s rough. It plunges us into a very dark, dangerous, and violent world and stays there. Good people and bad people die at the hands of some great unseen evil that is still out there. In the end, the world is not saved, and Bond does not win. He loses everything, including his soul. 24 hours after seeing the movie I still feel unsettled. It’s that powerful.

No puns:
Thank you!

CONS

David Arnold's score:
Didn’t David Arnold promise us a “new sound for a new Bond”? Well, to my ear, he didn’t deliver. It just sounded like every other Arnold Bond score and that REALLY bothered me because this movie demanded and deserved better. I hated watching Craig play his scenes against the soundtrack for TND-TWINE-DAD. I also felt the movie was over scored. Too much music! Look, here comes Solange with her tinkly theme that tells us she’s female. The music worked against the new realism and too often gave the movie a bombastic feel. I don’t know, maybe I’m being hard on Arnold (God knows I couldn’t score a movie), and maybe on repeated viewings I will come to appreciate the score (I think I said this about DAD as well -- I haven’t). But walking out of the theater last night, my strongest reaction to this movie, besides my love of Craig and Green, was that I hated the music. (But this does not extend to Cornell’s song which I like a lot).

Sony product placement:
I normally don’t mind product placement in Bond films, but the constant close-ups of ONLY Sony products was laughable and became distracting. Seriously, did 10 minutes of this movie go by in which we didn’t get a giant close-up of some Sony device? This is, without question, the Bond movie with the most obvious and obnoxious product placement. Oh, and you know what? I thought all those Sony products looked like junk.

Bahamas and Miami action:
Rushed and confusing. The museum knife fight, which should have been pure Bond, was poorly staged and had no atmosphere whatsoever (shocking, considering the eerie setting). Again, natural sound instead of on-the-nose Action Music could have helped here. After the Miami airport sequence, I turned to my companion and asked if she understood what just happened and why. She said, “I have NO idea what’s going on in this movie.” I felt the same way. For all the talk of this movie being different, here I was watching just another Pierce Brosnan era Bond rushing to get to the next overloud action sequence (then Vesper came along and saved us).

QUIBBLES

Le Chiffre:
Mads Mikkelsen is a good actor and his Le Chiffre was very creepy. But I didn’t want creepy. That’s the role of a henchmen. I wanted gravitates. Le Chiffre is one of the great Fleming villains (and our last chance to see a true Fleming villain on screen), and I feel like a casting opportunity was lost. Daniel needed the modern equivalent of Peter Lorre (CR ‘54) or Orson Welles (CR ‘67) sitting across from him. Weak villains played by (young) minor actors is very business as usual. Shame this didn’t get a “back to basics” reboot (Gert Frobe, Robert Shaw anyone?).

The gambling:
These scenes were good, but they should have been the highlight of the movie and they just weren't. Maybe I needed a quick lesson in Texas hold'em. I don’t know the game, so when cards turned up, I had to wait for someone to tell me who won. How was there not a quick little “lesson” inserted in there for the audience? Also, the inclusion of score, which too often telegraphed what was about to happen, was a real tension killer. Gambling scenes should be played dead quite, IMO.

Pre-titles sequence:
A bit of a let-down after all the hype. The recent PTS’s have been too long, now we have one that’s a little too short. The bathroom fight side of the story felt cut down to almost nothing (shame they cut the scenes shot at Eton).

Martin Campbell:
I sometimes feel like he'll sacrifice anything for the sake of speed. Still, he was there helping craft those wonderful scenes between Daniel and Eva, so he deserves a lot of credit. And the last Bond flick I liked as much as this one was GoldenEye, so....

Aston Martin DB5:
Why is it in this movie? I felt sorry for it. It’s the villain’s car. Bond has no connection or love for it. He probably dumped it in the bay when he left The Bahamas. They should have left it in the past.

OVERALL

Today I give the film an 8 out of 10...but this will probably go up to 9 (or even 10?) on repeated viewings. Congrats to Eon, Daniel Craig, and all involved for giving Bond a new beginning.


JAMES BOND WILL RETURN


UPDATE: Just back from my second viewing and my opinion of this movie is even higher. My cons are now quibbles and my quibbles are now nitpicks hardly worth mentioning. As predicted, CR is now a solid 9 and will probably grow into a 10 by DVD time (when, in the privacy of my own home, I can finally cry my eyes out for Vesper). This really is one of the greatest Bond films...ever.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Second Moneypenny short in The Spectator

A second original James Bond/Miss Moneypenny short story by author Samantha Weinberg (aka Kate Westbrook) has been published in the November 11th issue of The Spectator, a UK weekly magazine focused on political and current events. The story is included as part of a special James Bond pullout supplement.

"Moneypenny's First Date With Bond" chronicles the first meeting between 007 and M's loyal secretary. The story has also been published online at www.spectator.co.uk (registration is free).

In addition to the short, The Spectator's Connoisseur's Guide to James Bond  includes a second article by Samantha about Miss Moneypenny's unique relationship with Bond, as well as a lengthy article about 007 by Young Bond author Charlie Higson.

The first Moneypenny-Bond short story, "For Your Eyes Only, James," was published in the November issue of Tatler magazine.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Casino Royale UK tie-in edition

A movie tie-in edition of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale has been published in the UK by Penguin. Unlike the U.S. tie-in, the UK edition features poster art from the new Daniel Craig film.

France and Germany are also getting tie-in editions with poster art.

Casino Royale in the 21st James Bond film produced by Eon productions. It marks the third time Fleming's first novel has been adapted to film.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

BOOK BOND REVIEW: Miss Moneypenny is BACK

The Moneypenny Diaries series really "clicks" with Samantha Weinberg's deft second book, Secret Servant. Like espionage itself, you're not too sure where things are headed nor what information is relevant, until a startling revelation suddenly makes your vision clear and you realize EVERYTHING is relevant and danger abounds. Secret Servant reveals this series to be a single narrative, reaching all the way into the present. It also reveals it to be intricately layered, ambitious, and very very clever.

Secret Servant uses a structure similar to the first book of the series, Guardian Angel. In the first half of the novel Miss Jane Moneypenny is generally an observer. This first half is tricky for the author and a little challenging for the reader as Miss Moneypenny is pretty passive. In this regard, it's very much a personal diary (Bond fans will delight in the "behind the scenes" take on Bond's assassination attempt on M). But because it's a diary there is also unique tension in how suddenly, and dramatically, the world can change in a day. In Secret Servant there are several of these dramatic entries which turn the world and the narrative on its head, including that most startling and transforming of all days, November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was killed.

The second half of the book sees Miss Moneypenny thrown (convincingly) into a mission of her own (this time without James Bond by her side). Here the book assumes a more conventional thriller narrative, and a very good one at that. Unlike Guardian Angel, the mission in Secret Servant remains modest in scale (maybe because it doesn't included 007) and is much better for it. But the paired down scale still delivers plenty of Cold War suspense and some genuine Bondian action. Miss Moneypenny's hotel-room encounter with a sadistic Russian masseuse feels like something out of Fleming.

What is most surprising about Secret Servant, and what makes it the better of the two Moneypenny novels IMO, is the emergence of a contemporary story-line involving the consequences to fictional author Kate Westbrook (niece of Miss Moneypenny) over the publication of the first book. The real author, Samantha Weinberg, very cleverly interweaves the adventures of "Kate" throughout the novel, creating a parallel story -- a parallel diary of sorts -- which eventually ties into the story of Miss Moneypenny and provides the most intriguing springboard for the third book. It's also fun to ride the shift in tones between Miss Moneypenny's formal and domestic writing style and the more modern, independent style of Kate. Their voices and points of view define their worlds as clearly as the subtle change in font.

Unlike the first book, James Bond is largely absent for Secret Servant. That's okay. He's not missed. In Secret Servant, Miss Moneypenny and "Kate Westbrook" confidently assume front and center of this series, hurtling along with the reader toward an exciting (and possibly tragic?) climax in volume 3 -- which cannot come soon enough for this reader.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Original Fleming novels reissued in UK

The 14 original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming have be re-released in the UK by Penguin Books. These new editions feature the "retro" cover art by Richie Fahey used on the popular 2002 U.S. editions and include new introductions by notable authors.

The books can be purchased on Amazon.co.uk.

Friday, October 13, 2006

New Bond-Moneypenny short story in Tatler

Here's a treat for Bond literary fans! The November issue of Tatler magazine, on stands now, features an original James Bond/Miss Moneypenny short story by Moneypenny Diaries author Samantha Weinberg (aka Kate Westbrook).

Titled "For Your Eyes Only, James" the fully illustrated story runs approximately 3,000 words and describes a weekend Bond and Moneypenny spend in Royale-les-Eaux in 1956 (setting of Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel, Casino Royale). Author Weinberg says she hopes the story is "fun in a rather risque manner."

This is the first James Bond short story since Raymond Benson's "Live At Five" appeared in TV Guide in the 1999.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Puffin responds to criticism of YOUNG BOND 3 poll

UK newspaper The Observer has published in its “Browser” column a rather stuffy criticism of Puffin’s Young Bond 3 title poll, calling it a “shameful failure of imagination.” Now Puffin has responded.

Dear Sir,

The Browser somewhat missed the point of our nationwide vote to decide the title of Charlie Higson's third Young Bond book (visit www.youngbond.com for details). This is an initiative designed to encourage young fans to interact very directly with their favourite book brand in ways that they are wholly accustomed to doing with brands outside the book world - text voting, e-flyers and on-line polls are very much part of our readers' lives, and a natural way for them to express their opinions, share ideas with friends and be active members of a community linked by shared interests. It also gives us as publishers of books for children a real opportunity to listen to their opinions.

I am sorry that we are a source of despair to the Browser! While he is perhaps not part of our target market, he does correctly highlight the fact that those of us following in the footsteps of Ian Fleming have a lot to live up to. Charlie Higson's brilliant Young Bond books are a very fresh perspective on the Bond we all know from the adult novels and films. Fleming's titles are absolutely iconic, and we'd love as many people as possible to be involved in making sure that the title for the next Young Bond novel is the right one. If the Browser really wants to be part of the decision, he could always vote.

Rebecca McNally
Publisher, Fiction and Non-Fiction

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

YOU decide the title of YOUNG BOND 3

OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE: In an unprecedented nationwide ballot, Britain is to decide the title of the third book in the super-selling Young Bond series, written by Charlie Higson and due to be published by Puffin Books on 4th January 2007.

Voting for the nation’s preferred title starts today, Tuesday 3rd October, at 9am and closes at midnight on the 3rd November. To cast your vote, and become part of James Bond history, visit www.youngbond.com. There are three possible titles, chosen by the author, Charlie Higson:

Double or Die
N.E.M.E.S.I.S.
The Deadlock Cipher

To help you decide, there is an exclusive extract from Young Bond 3 on the Young Bond website and a note from Charlie Higson about the three titles he has picked.

The title will be kept a closely guarded secret until publication and revealed at an as yet undisclosed, central London location on the 3rd January 2007.

The Young Bond series follows the daredevil adventures of James Bond as an Eton school boy in the 1930s. The third instalment in a planned series of five titles, written by Charlie Higson, sees the young James Bond pitted against the dangerous criminal underworld of interwar London, a world of illegal gambling dens, Cambridge spies and East End gangs. Here you’ll read about the experiences which turned the boy into the steely and ruthless secret agent that Bond becomes as an adult.

The first books in the Young Bond series, SilverFin (published in March 2005) and Blood Fever (published in January 2006) enjoyed tremendous success. SilverFin sold over 190,000 copies and spent ten weeks in the top-ten and Blood Fever went straight to number one in the bestsellers chart.

All voters have a chance to win one of a limited number of tickets to the central London event and discover, before anyone else, the title of Young Bond 3.

You can also cast your vote by text:

For Double or Die text DOUBLE to 60022
For N.E.M.E.S.I.S. text ENEMY to 60022
For The Deadlock Cipher text LOCK to 60022

Texts cost your normal rate. For full terms and conditions see www.youngbond.com.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

No Poster Art for U.S. Casino Royale Tie-In

Penguin Books U.S. has informed The Young Bond Dossier that their tie-in edition of Casino Royale, due for release Oct. 31, will not feature poster art for the film on its cover.

Instead, the familiar Richie Fahey retro cover art (first released in 2002 and soon to be released on new UK reprints) will be used with the addition of the cover blurb: "Now A Major Motion Picture."

A representative for the company explained,"We are not doing an official tie-in edition because the final poster art is not coming in time for us to have the book ready for movie release. We will use the jacket with the woman and the playing cards behind her."

It's still possible that Penguin UK will release a Casino Royale tie-in edition with movie poster art, although no listing for a UK tie-in edition currently exists on Amazon.co.uk.

This is disappointing, but it isn't a first. The U.S. tie-in edition for You Only Live Twice used only the familiar Signet paperback with the addition of a pink sticker on the cover reading, "GIRLS, THRILLS, CHILLS and SEX GALORE in a smash new movie starring SEAN CONNERY." (These editions are now highly collectible.)

Likewise, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill never received full movie poster cover tie-in editions in the U.S. In the case of Never Say Never Again and The Living Daylights, no tie-in editions of any kind were ever released in the U.S. (at least not that I'm aware).

Ironically, the unofficial 1967 Casino Royale did get an official movie tie-in edition, despite the fact that the Charles K. Feldman comedy hardly resembled the original Ian Fleming novel.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Charlie Higson confirms Apache in YOUNG BOND 3

Author Charlie Higson has confirmed for me that the Apache weapon discovered by reader Kevin Wells (aka K1Bond007 on the CBn forums) is indeed the weapon that will feature in Young Bond Book 3.

“Nice work on the apache pics. You've nailed it. Although my version has a slight adaptation to the knuckle dusters in that the gun doesn't have to be reversed to use them. I saw some pictures of these nasty little guns when i was researching weapons in Blood Fever and just knew that I had to use them in a book. Little boys love this sort of thing.”

Charlie had offered a challenge to fans to try and find a picture of the mystery weapon online.

Charlie also graciously commented on the suggestion of using the Apache on the cover of Book 3 in a sort of homage to the classic Richard Chopping From Russia With Love cover art.

“We can't use guns on the cover of a kids book, however (quite right too!) maybe if we ever do adult versions of the books we can use them - I love the mock up cover the fans made.”

A very big thanks Charlie Higson for giving me the scoop, and congratulations to Kevin for “nailing it.”

Young Bond Book 3 sees James searching for a kidnapped professor in the darkest corners of 1930s London. It’s due for release in the UK on January 4, 2007.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Well-Known Writer Selected for Centenary Novel

PRESS RELEASE: Ian Fleming Publications Ltd have commissioned a very well-known and highly respected author to write a new James Bond novel. The launch of the new book, which promises to be a major publishing event, will mark the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth in May 2008.

Corinne Turner of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd comments, "We are delighted to have secured this particular author who we have had in mind for some time now. He is the perfect writer for this project and we are greatly looking forward to his take on James Bond, in what we are convinced will be a stunning novel."

A publisher has not yet been sought and the identity of the author will be a closely guarded secret until publication.

Ian Fleming, whose one hundredth birthday will be celebrated on the 28th May 2008, gained worldwide acclaim for his most famous literary creation - the suave but deadly British secret agent, James Bond.

The Bond novels are, however, just one aspect of a fascinating life that combined the flamboyant elements of 007 with a unique creativity. Fleming was not only a novelist, but also a journalist, sportsman, naval commander, traveller, intelligence officer and bon-viveur.

2008 will be dedicated to a broad range of events and publications designed to celebrate the life of this literary legend and to examine his legacy. The programme includes a major exhibition featuring never-before-seen material. Further events will reflect Fleming's passions and experiences in the worlds of art, literature, journalism, sport, motoring and travel.

Corinne Turner adds, "The Ian Fleming Centenary presents an exciting opportunity to celebrate an extraordinary life. Our centenary plans are well underway and we are sure that there are more possibilities still to be explored."

Friday, May 26, 2006

MISSION: HIGSON


The news from Z at IFP headquarters in London was grim; Charlie Higson would not be making a stop in Los Angeles during his Blood Fever U.S. book tour. However, he would be appearing in Menlo Park, 25 miles from San Francisco and 400 from our front door. So what's a self-respecting Bond fanatic to do? Easy. Shirk all responsibilities and make a mid-week road trip North!

09:00 Hours: We packed a bag, filled a coffee thermos, bid a tortured goodbye to “Super Mega Kitty” (her first night “home alone”), and rolled out of the Hollywood Hills as the LA traffic was just breaking up for the day.

The drive along Hwy 101 north was spectacular; mostly coastline, farmland, and rolling hills which, at this time of year, are covered in wildflowers. Six hours later the GPS told us to exit and we found ourselves in Menlo Park. We surveilled the bookstore...yep, it was there...then found a room at the Red Cottage Inn. We choked down two nasty microwave burritos for strength, then settled down to lie in wait. It wouldn't be long now…

19:00: The first surprise of the evening greeted us on entering Keplers bookstore (a very nice independent bookstore located in the heart of Menlo Park). Even though the book isn’t due out until June 1, the store had a cart filled with copies of the U.S. edition of Blood Fever. In the internet age, I didn't think I’d ever again "discover" the new Bond novel inside a bookstore. It was old school, baby!

Of course, being a collector, this brought back an old crippling dilemma. I remember in 1986 trying to find an acceptably “Mint” copy of John Gardner’s Nobody Lives Forever. It took a dozen copies and two stores and I still look at that copy on my shelf with scorn. Happily, I'm more mature now—I have a girlfriend to do this for me! I told Athena to just grab me what looks like a nice copy, don't even let me have a choice. She did, saving me from myself. (Okay, maybe I did go back once or twice to check her work).

Almost all seats were filled and I was pleased to see a large turnout of children. Yes, the Young Bond series is clearly hitting its target audience beyond adult nerds like myself. Charlie appeared at 7:30 to applause.


Charlie started his talk by talking a poll, asking who was your favorite Bond. Athena and I tossed in our votes for good old Roger, while Charlie confessed to being Connery man. The author then explained how he came to write the Young Bond novels, making a joke about how he was called into a top secret boardroom with a large table filled with other writers—he pulled a lever and the other writers dropped through the floor.

Charlie then read from Bond’s obituary in Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, explaining how it was all he had to go on as far as Bond’s past. He also read a passage from SilverFin in which James first introduces himself a “Bond, James Bond.”

One interesting moment came when Charlie spoke about how the formal Eton school uniform harkened to Bond’s classic look. Without mentioning a tuxedo, he asked anyone to describe James Bond, “how he looks on a poster.” A young boy in the audience described Bond as being dressed in a dark jacket, white shirt...and open collar!

I leaned over and told Athena that the boy is describing the Die Another Day poster – but, also, in America, Bond has not been depicted on a poster in his full tuxedo since 1987s The Living Daylights. I wondered if Charlie would find it odd that during his U.S. tour children would not associate Bond and the tuxedo as strongly as would children in the UK. Happily, we have Bond back his full tux on the Casino Royale teaser, but I digress.

Charlie then opened up the floor to questions, and they came fast and furious. That same young boy who answered the tuxedo question clearly knew his Young Bond and asked if the SilverFin injection is what created the Bond we know today. This was actually something I wondered after first reading SilverFin, and something I asked Charlie in our 2005 interview. Charlie said he never intended that to be the case--the injection wears off (like steroids)--but he said people could think what they like. He then chuckled at the idea of James Bond being what he is today because he was “injected by some nut” when he was boy. (But I confess, I kind of like this idea.)

Charlie was forthcoming with Book 3 information, although with Blood Fever being “new” to this U.S. audience, there were less questions about what’s coming next. He said they’ve yet to decide on a title, but confirmed the London location and the fact that it deals with early computers. He seemed especially excited about this next novel because of the London setting. He lives in London and described himself as a real London buff (although I don’t think he used that word). As with John Gardner’s Icebreaker, it seems Charlie is merging his own passions with the Bond universe for his third novel, and this usually results in an author’s best work.

Charlie also revealed some yet unpublished Book 3 info--that the villain would be using a special weapon called an Apache (a real weapon of the time). Charlie said it was as close to a “gadget” as the series has yet to see. He also said Book 4 was probably going be set in Mexico. The “probably” gave me pause -- we’ve all jumped on Mexico as the location of Book 4 after Charlie mentioned it at a recent London signing, but maybe nothing is certain until words are on the page? Book 4 has already gone through one location change (from The Alps).

Following the Q&A, the attendees lined up to have their books signed. Athena and I hung back until the end, and it was then I received my second surprise of the night.

As we stepped up and said our hellos, Charlie said, “I have something for you.” He then pulled out a copy of the Chinese SiverFin. This was an edition I had never seen and didn’t know existed! Charlie said it was the least he could do, seeing as we drove all that way. I gushed many thanks as Charlie signed our copies of Blood Fever. Athena and I then took a picture with him (Athena’s “ritual” – check her website for many pics of her with Bond celebrities).

We bid our final thanks and goodbyes and set out for a proper dinner at Palermo, a very nice Italian restaurant adjacent to the bookstore in the Menlo Center. All in all, a terrific event and a memorable evening.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Problems with Titans 'Cars of the Gardner Era' extra

First off, I love these Titan reprints and I'm thrilled they are now doing the original Bond stories. For a Bond fan, this is a dream come true -- original 007 stories not seen since the 70s collected together for the first time. Okay, some of these tales get a little Sci-Fi, but that was the era and they are still fun as heck.

These books also include nice extras. In this latest edition, The Golden Ghost, we get a look at Bonds cars with a fine article about the cars of the Ian Fleming novels by David Leigh. But then there's a retrospective of the cars of the Gardner era. Now, being a Gardner fan, I was excited about a definitive look at the Gardner cars. Unfortunately, this particular article by James Page is seriously deficient and, for me personally, a little disconcerting.

The article is basically a rehash (i.e., a pretty blatant lift) of my own article about Saabs in the Gardner era first published on CBn in 2004 and later in 007 Magazine. Now, I guess there's nothing wrong with using some of the facts from my article (even though it’s totally unsourced and I was not contacted by the author or Titan about this), but isn't this supposed to be an article about the CARS of the Gardner era? Why so much focus on Saabs? Unless, of course, the only source here was my own article.

For example, reading this article one gets the impression the Bentley Mulsanne Turbo appeared in just one novel, Role of Honor. This isn't true. The Bentley is the car that appears more than any other in the Gardner canon, and plays a major role in Nobody Lives Forever and No Deals Mr. Bond. Yet all the author says about these two books is that "Gardner put Bond back into a Saab." Sure, Bond rented a Saab for two brief sections of these books (which, of course, I noted in my Saab article), but he primarily drove the Bentley. He also rented a BMW in No Deals Mr. Bond. Why no mention of that if rental cars are part of this examination? Maybe because I didn't mention it in my article?

And if we're including rentals cars (and aren't all Bonds cars rentals in a sense), where's the BMW 528i and the Lancia from Win Lose or Die? Or the Toyota Previa from Death is Forever; the BMW from Never Send Flowers; the VW Corrado from SeaFire; and the Ford Taurus from COLD? Not one of these cars gets a mention, yet we do learn M drove a Saab 9000 in The Man From Barbarossa. Again, something that's nice to know when talking about Saabs in the Gardner era (and that's why I noted it in my article), but, again, is this article about Saabs in the Gardner era or the cars? Certainly this valuable space could have been used to talk about even one of the many other cars that Bond drove instead of the one obscure Saab appearance noted in my article (notice a pattern here?).

And what about Bond's second Bentley? Gardner upgraded Bond's Bentley to a Turbo R in a later book. For an article that's supposed to be a definitive look at the Gardner "cars," this is a pretty shocking omission! I've always wondered if this second Bentley was actually a new Bentley or a mistake in name. Raymond Benson carried it over into his books as new car. This would have been something interesting to at least note or, better yet, do a little research and solve the mystery. Of course, I didn't tackle this in my Saab article because it wasn't relevant. Mr. Page doesn't mention the existence of the second Bentley in his "cars of the Gardner era" because...well...I think we can now figure that one out.

Let's hope Titan is a little more careful with future contributions (and contributors).

Thursday, January 5, 2006

BOOK BOND REVIEW: A more mature Young Bond

For this old 007 fan, Charlie Higson's first Young Bond novel, SilverFin, was a mixed bag. Clearly a book written for a preteen target audience, it too often seemed to mimic a Harry Potter adventure. A risky concept this Young Bond idea, and in SilverFin, author Higson and the 007 copyright holders showed signs of understandable uncertainty.

This is NOT the case with Young Bond Book 2: Blood Fever, which takes a confident quantum leap into maturity and gives Bond fans of all ages one of the best James Bond novels yet written. Notice I didn't qualify this by saying "Young Bond" or "continuation" novel. I said JAMES BOND novel because this is a book that could have come from the pen of Ian Fleming.

The key difference seems to be that SilverFin was written as a children's book (that could still be appreciated by adults) while Blood Fever appears to have been written with a more adult readership in mind. This is a tougher, darker, much more violent book than SilverFin. It even includes a classic Bondian torture scene (but don't panic, parents, the torture is more about endurance than person-to-person sadism). Not only is the content of the book much more adult, but so is the form. Words like "hell" and "damn" flow freely in descriptive passages as the tension mounts. But because Blood Fever chronicles the adventures of a 13 year old, it's still a novel young readers will find thrilling. However, with its surprisingly high body count, Blood Fever might not meet with a chorus of approval from parents and grade school teachers, as did its predecessor. This book is bloody and dangerous, just as a James Bond novel should be, and it may need to be read beneath the sheets at night by flashlight or smuggled into the back bleachers of the schoolyard. Good! This is exactly where a James Bond book should be read. Ian Fleming would be proud.

Plotwise, Blood Fever spends far less time at Eton than did SilverFin, getting Bond quickly to Sardinia where the bulk of the novel is set. The exotic setting clearly inspired author Higson, who infuses his story with a terrific sense of location -- its history, culture, its sights and smells. This is something that was always a highlight of the best Bond novels by Fleming and later Raymond Benson, and it's great to see the tradition continue in the Young Bond series.

As with SilverFin, Blood Fever's narrative is driven by the slow unpeeling of mystery and the discovery of character rather than nonstop action one might expect (or dread) from something bearing the James Bond name. But make no mistake. Blood Fever does contain action. Clues to the subterranean caper simmer until it all boils over into a series of action-packed climatic set pieces, culminating with a scene of destruction as spectacular as anything in a big-budget James Bond film.

The villain in Blood Fever, Count Ugo Carnifex, is a true Bond baddie in the most classic sense, with a lair and scheme reflecting every inch of his megalomania. This is the best drawn Bond villain, book or film, we've encountered in some time, even if his plot isn't of the "ticking clock" variety. Secondary characters are also marvelously conceived, particularly the pirate Zoltan the Magyar and the delicious Vendetta. Amy Goodenough, who exists largely in a parallel storyline, is a true Bond Girl in the best literary sense and carries her part of the narrative so authoritatively, her passages could have been plucked from her own novel.

But it's the character of young Bond who stands head and shoulders above all others. The timid, apologetic youngster of SilverFin is long gone. Here, we have a teenage James with all the confidence, athletic skill, and luck of Ian Fleming's secret agent. He coolly defies the villain, finds kinship with bandits, and derives visceral excitement by diving off high cliffs and driving fast cars. When forced into a gladiatorial boxing match with a much larger boy, Bond relishes the opportunity to "get his fight on." This Bond is no Harry Potter clone or Alex Rider wannabe. This is the boy who will become 007 and who could kick the pixy dust out of any character in the Potter universe.

One thing that is still not a part of the Young Bond universe, even in this more mature version, is sex. However, there is some simmering eroticism in how Ugo's decrepit sister leers at handsome young James, and clearly, the animalistic Vendetta has some carnal curiosity. Bond even delivers his first "hard kiss on the mouth" in Blood Fever. But that's as far as Higson takes it. Bond's resistance to his female admirers seems more rooted in chivalry than nervous preadolescence (as in SilverFin), and besides, danger is always too close for such "distractions." However, with Higson's writing abilities and IFP's willingness to push the boundaries, one wonders if the series may take a chance down the road. But, for now, Higson and the copyright holders are keeping the series "child safe" in this regard.

Some Bond fans have resisted the Young Bond series based on concept alone. Even I admitted that SilverFin wouldn't change the minds of the most entrenched fans. However, with Blood Fever, that resistance is now foolish. Bond fans are denying themselves a better Bond adventure than most of the recent James Bond films with their overblown action and under drawn characters. Here, that formula is reversed. There has been much talk lately about bringing Bond "back to basics." Well, those basics are being practiced right here in the Young Bond series.

So for you holdouts, my advice would be to take the plunge with Blood Fever. Young or old, this is James Bond at his very best!

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