Lots of travel for work lately, which means one thing: audio books. One more Bond novel knocked out. This time it was The Man with the Golden Gun
This was Ian Fleming’s final Bond book. Published a year after Fleming’s death, some have even posited that it wasn’t even finished by him, but other hands. At very least it’s often criticized for not having the polish and depth of his other novels. Still, it’s not a terrible little book.
This book starts with a bang. Bond arrives at headquarters brainwashed from his last mission. He’s on a mission to kill M. His attempt is thwarted and he is slowly deprogrammed and put back in service. His first mission is designed to get him back in 00 shape, and M decides the best way is to give him a nearly impossible task: go to the Caribbean to find and take out the brutal killer Scaramanga. Scaramanga uses a gold-plated colt .45 which shoots silver lined gold bullets. He is thought to be the man behind several secret service agents deaths.
Bond locates Scaramanga in Jamaican and manages to con himself into being Scaramanga’s temporary assistant under the name “Mark Hazard”. Scaramanga is involved in a hotel development deal on the island with a group of investors that consists of American gangsters and a KGB agent. The group is hatching a scheme to destabilize the sugar industry, running drugs into America, and other nefarious deeds.
Bond discovers that Felix Leiter is working undercover as an electrical engineer at Scaramanga’s hotel setting up bugs in the meeting rooms. As the meetings progress, Bond’s true identity is discovered and confirmed by the KGB agent. Scaramanga makes new plans to entertain the gangsters and the KGB agent by killing Bond while they are riding a sight-seeing train. Bond, with the help of Leiter, thwarts the ambush and kills most of the conspirators. Wounded, Scaramanga escapes into the swamps, where Bond pursues him where a final shoot-out takes place.
Not a bad little book, but felt drawn out at times. In fact, in one scene, Bond has Scaramanga completely in his power and knows he should kill him. Yet he does not because he’s curious what Scaramanga is up to. If he’d carried out his orders as instructed, this book would have been about 25 pages. So right off the bat you feel this is a bit of a cheat.
The next low point is that Scaramanga is a bit of a gangster caricature. I found myself getting tired of every other line of his being “Get the picture?” or “See here…” The movie version of him as a classy, million dollar killer of amazing skill is not to be found here. This guy likes to wave his gun around and shoot at people’s heads (missing intentionally) to get their attention. In many ways, he comes off more as a childish punk that never learned gun safety than a calculating killer.
Still, it’s not a bad little novel, and worth the read if you’re not going out of your way. C+
Completed another of Fleming’s James Bond novels: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
This has to be one of the more interesting of Fleming’s Bond novels. Bond is fed up. He’s been chasing down the escaped SPECTRE leader Blofeld for over a year with nothing to show for it, nor any proof Blofeld is even still alive. In the midst of a hiatus gambling at the same casino as found in Casino Royale, he encounters Tracy. At the end of her rope, he rescues her from her own self-destructive behavior and finds he’s just rescued the daughter of a noted organized crime boss. Her father makes him a proposition of marrying his daughter to end her downward spiral. Bond is somewhat captivated by this girl and agrees to see her again after she gets psychological help.
Bond then gets a lead on Blofeld via an unlikely source – the bureau of heraldry and lineage. Seems Blofeld is attempting to prove his lineage and unwittingly gives up his position. He’s apparently running a private ski resort high in the Alps with a ‘treatment center’. Bond pretends to be from the heraldry society and there he discovers the treatment center is really a brainwashing center for his nefarious plans. Bond attempts to shut down Blofeld’s operation in typical gunfire and explosion fashion; and is re-united with Tracy. A final battle ensues and we get a wrenching ending.
One of Fleming’s more interesting novels. Not particularly for the nefariousness of the villian (though they are pretty good and the ski chase scene over the top), but for Bond’s personal relationship with Tracy. Rarely do we see this much of Bond’s inner workings.
<spoiler bits >
James Bond ‘in love’? Going to get married? The nonchalance that Bond considers the union is pretty interesting. Is that how marriage was decided back in the day? Despite some glaring differences, he chugs right on along. It seems he only gives a solid page’s thought to the matter and decides, “Aw heck – why not?’.
At any rate, if you’d like some decent (but not spectacular) adventure with one of the few times we see Bond in a relationship – then this is a great book. Rating: B
Finished reading Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. What a surprising treat!
Rendezvous with Rama is considered one of Clarke’s best novels – winning a slew of sci-fi literary awards. While I’m not a huge Clarke fan myself, this came highly recommended as a ‘must read’, so I dove into the audiobook on my drives to/from work.
The story (no spoilers):
A gigantic, mysterious, cylindrical object appears in space, swooping in toward the sun. A ship is quickly redirected to investigate before the enigmatic object, called Rama, sweeps through the solar system and disappears, or crashes into the sun, or parks and starts an invasion(!?). The astronauts land and soon discover they can enter the kilometers long, hollow cylindrical object to decipher it’s puzzles. What becomes apparent is this object is clearly extra-terrestrial technology of high order; but apparently lying completely dormant without any signs of activity or life. After entering the object itself, they begin and fantastic exploration that leads the reader on an amazing ride as Rama starts to wake…
If you want to read a gripping, fantastic story about what a first human encounter with an alien space probe/vehicle/whatever – and if you want to watch the exploration process unfold and experience awesome and wonderful sights – then this is a book for you. I found myself riveted by the descriptions and picturing the fantastic scenes in my own mind. This alone is worth the price of entry!
While Clarke posits what he think alien technology might look like, I found some of the suggestions too implausible, or in some cases, overly simplistic or even a little silly. Still, the parts he really nails are so good that these minor points do not overshadow the amazing sights and experiences he does create.
I highly recommend this book to someone who loves good old fashioned sci-fi exploration and adventure into strange new areas. It’s quite a treat that is worth a read. A-