|Cover from the first edition.|
Monday, August 29, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
|Cover from the first edition.|
But like all Fleming's previous novels OHMSS is riddled with his tiresome prejudices. In The Spy Who Loved Me Fleming played out his quite distasteful rape fantasises, and I'm afraid he does it again in this novel. Tracy is the daughter of a French criminal who raped her English mother. He states to Bond that she 'possessed a sub-conscious desire to be raped......well she found it...and she was raped...by me'. Distasteful to say the least, and for all that I like about the Bond novels, Fleming's attitudes to women in particular made for very unpleasant reading. Later on Bond describes the girls in Blofeld's lair as 'rather on the stupid side'!! I'm afraid Ian Fleming was nothing more than a raving misogynist.
The novel is predominantly set in Switzerland, and Fleming has his obligatory xenophobic dig at any country that isn't England. Here he states through Bond, 'You know the Swiss....money's the religion of Switzerland'!! Fortunately Albert Broccoli had the sense to cut out all of Flemings less savoury aspects from the films. If he had kept them I doubt whether the franchise would have survived too long. They would have been quickly consigned to memory instead of becoming the enduring phenomenon they have become.
Funnily enough with this being written after the film adaptation of Dr. No actress Ursula Andress is in Blofeld's lair ( see page 193 )!! The novel is even topical as the Israeli abduction of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina is used as an example of how Bond wanted to abduct Blofeld ( see page 86 ). The novel is also noted for the fact that Fleming introduced some history of Bond himself. He is off mixed Scottish-Swiss heritage, which is due to Sean Connery! Initally Fleming wasn't impeessed with Connery being selected to play Bond. but after watching Dr. No he changed his mind, and wrote Connery's Scottish heritage into OHMSS.
In OHMSS service Fleming also wrote into the plot his own passion for skiing. He and his wife used to Engadine near St.Moritz, and he used the experience in the novel. Also the plot uses heraldry as a back drop, and Blofeld shares Ian Fleming's actual birth date. The crest of arms above on the first edition's cover, is Bond's families, and the motto is 'The world is not Enough', which of course was used as the title for a Pierce Brosnan film.
So in short if you have seen the film then the novel is virtually the same. As stated this was intentional and since the novel itself is one of Fleming's best the film is also of the same calibre. It is 316 pages long and one of the longest of the series as well. Leaving aside Flemings rape fantasies, misogyny and xenophobia, (which isn't as rampant in this novel as some ), OHMSS is certainly one of the best bond novels Fleming wrote. I get the feeling though that it mirrored Thunderball in being written as a quasi screenplay. That may explain why it adapted to film so well.
Well I'm almost there as there are only 3 novels left to read!!
Friday, August 19, 2011
The novel surrounds a mysterious explosion at a Union powder factory. Dunaway, and his 'beautiful' wife ( she just has to be doesn't she??! ) Asia investigate on the orders of President Lincoln. What transpires is a visit to Canada in pursuit of rumoured Rebel activities in connection with the explosion. One thing leads to another and it slowly becomes apparent how the powder factory was destroyed. Dunaway and his wife undergo several adventurous escapades, and even a Congressional hearing, that bodes poorly on Dunaway. The same fiery technique is to be used on Washington, and fortunately our hero Dunaway is there to save the day ( not to mention start a huge fire! ). Plot in a simple nutshell!
It is interesting to compare this historical novel against the recently reviewed, Ship of Rome. In all honesty this novel is far superior. It is pacy, using some really interesting premises, namely in use of Greek Fire and hot air balloons to deliver it. The writing is of a high standard, and overall I think Steven Wilson shows his obvious intellect very well. I didn't feel he fell into the cliches that blighted Ship of Rome, and even the marriage between Dunaway and his wife had some decent friction.
My only complaints are the title and lack of historical feel. By the end of the novel I wondered why President Lincoln's Secret?, because in all reality there is nothing revealed that can be called a secret. In fact Lincoln barely enters the novel at all. So the title is a mystery in regards to the plot. Also, like so many historical novels, I didn't get an atmosphere of 'Civil War'. Sure names, places, dates, etc are mentioned, but they don't provide the air and feel of the times. I find very few novelists who write within this genre can ever pull it off. Just read Leon Uris as a comparison. Even though, it is a competent novel with a great plot and characters ( flawed as they are. Colonel Dunbar is a notorious hothead ). But did it feel like I was there during the Civil War? No, it did not.
President Lincoln's Secret then is a worthy read. I think Steven Wilson has a keen intellect which shows in his writing. He avoids annoying cliches and provides an interesting premise with the Civil War backdrop. But I just not sure the title is appropriate to the plot, and overall the difficult task of making the reader feel they are transported back in time is somewhat lacking. But they are small criticisms, because when compared against the likes of Ship of Rome, this is by far the superior novel of the type.
A well worth while read that is well written, paced, and with an interesting use of Greek Fire as an original premise. But what the hell was President Lincoln's secret??
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
|Cover from the first edition.|
Like his other sci-fi novels Wells was ahead of his time with his scope and imagination. I mean when Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea the concept of the submarine wasn't totally foreign. Leonardo da Vinci envisaged such a machine, and there had been experiments with a submersible around the time of the American Civil War. But martians in War of the Worlds?? Or half man half, animal, at the hands of Dr. Moreau. But invisibility? This was heady stuff indeed for the late 19th century.
But like all older novels my initial approach to the novel was based on the many film adaptations there have been since the first in 1933. It is of course a cliche to say they have all butchered the novel! But it has also suffered at the hands of television, stage, and even radio. But it is an easy to approach work and I read it last night in all its150 page entirety! The writing style is surprisingly modern without the flowery poeticness of the 19th century. This was a surprise, especially against the almost quaint datedness of the actual story.
The problem for the modern reader is that the invisible man concept is well known to us through film etc. This being the original source it doesn't have the creepiness it would have held in 1897. But still, to get the most from this novella is to approach it as if reading it in the late 1890's. If you do, and put aside your modern appreciations, then you you see the impact this had on its publication.
I personally really enjoyed this novella. A bit quaint but still very well written, and that is a real strength. The main protagonist is an initially un-named albino who dabbles in invisibility. He achieves his goal but finds he can't reverse the process. At first he revels in his invisibility but quickly finds it is in fact a curse. He has to go around naked as he can't find clothes. And in a winter that wasn't exactly satisfactory! He even finds that ingested food is initially visible until it is properly digested! The process slowly makes him mad as he struggles with his curse.
It is here that Wells brings in a slight commentary on man. We find his name is Griffin. Through him and his curse, Wells shows us the typical reaction of man kind to what is unknown or different. Namely ostracism. Because he can't be seen he is treated as a freak, and the reader can read between the lines here, as Wells is quietly highlighting the ugliness of racism in particular. Griffin as a character is initially to be sympathised with. He rants and rages as one after another his attempts to reverse the process fail.
As he fails more and more his rages increase, and the reader can almost feel him in the next room! As his secret is unravelled ( quite literally!! ) he brings out the worst of those around him. He is quickly ostracised and forced onto the run. From here his anger quickly deepens as he has no where to go, and he resorts to stealing to survive, as well as thuggery and malice. To be sure a lot of it is his own fault, but he is a victim of humanities innate fear of the unknown, which Wells showcases behind a sci-fi facade superbly.
By the end Griffin has been completely driven mad, and after confiding to an old colleague his intention to cause terror and panic, he is cornered and accidentally killed. Once dead his body loses its invisibility. The novella ends with a stranger in possession of Griffin's three notebooks. He intends to use them to his advantage, as he has learnt from Griffin's mistakes, and his inability to harness the power invisibility.
|The man himself!!|
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Well after nine novels I can honestly say I think this is the best one yet!! Dr. No is the only other one that really impressed me, with the others having their individual moments among the datedness. I always thought, From Russia With Love, would be the best. But even though I thoroughly enjoyed it, Thunderball, for me surpasses it. It just doesn't have the datedness of the preceding novels, and if anything still retains a certain freshness. I think it is because of some of names involved technology wise are still known to us, even after 60 years. I mean we all know the weapon names of Polaris, Atlas, Titan, Snark, Matador, and Super Sabre. Also just the use of nuclear weapons as a plot line still has a relevance, and can still be easily imagined by modern readers.
Another thing as far as datedness went also leapt out at me. And that was the use of language. Before, Thunderball, the strongest word Fleming had used was bitch. But in, Thunderball, he uses crap, bloody, bastard, and the strongest word yet in, arse. Remember this was 1961, so this was heady stuff indeed! Funnily enough, even in the modern Bond films, the language is fairly straight laced and follows the novels. To be sure they are considered family films, and it is quite refreshing when you consider the amount of bad language prevalent in our modern age.
But Thunderball does follow in its predecessor's footsteps with Fleming's sexism exposed once again. Here he has Bond being driven about by Bond girl, Domino. Through Bond, Fleming tells us why woman are such bad drivers, and the obvious fact that they shouldn't be allowed to drive AT ALL! I laughed my head off at the absurdity of it. Fleming wouldn't be able to get away with anything like that today would he??! And surprisingly, Thunderball is more sexually explicit than the last novels. It doesn't get graphic, but the sex scenes are definitely more advanced in detail than before. Surely a sign of the times, as the world was breaking down previously held taboos within literature.
Thunderball is the novel where Bond's nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld makes his first appearance ( but without the Persian cat! ), along with his criminal organisation SPECTRE ( Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion ). Fleming used the name after becoming enamoured with if from his use of the name Spectresville ( a town near Las Vegas ) in the novel Diamonds are Forever. He also furthered it from his use of the name, Spektor, for the device from the novel, From Russia With Love.
Friday, August 5, 2011
|Cover from the first edition.|
On publication in 1960 the title had the sub-title of, Five Secret Occasions in the Life of James Bond. The US version was, Five Secret Exploits of James Bond. But later the sub-titles were dropped altogether. The five stories comprise of From a View to a Kill, For Your Eyes Only, Quantum of Solace, Risico, and The Hildebrand Rarity.
For Your Eyes Only was used as the title for the 12th bond film, and used some of the stories characters or plot along with that of Risico. From A View to a Kill lent its name to the 14th Bond film but had no character or plot elements. Plot elements from, The Hildebrand Rarity, were used in the 16th Bond film, License to Kill. And of course Quantum of Solace was used as the title of the 22nd Bond film, and used no plot elements.
Each short story varies in length and quality, and to be honest, From a View to a Kill, was lame! It is only 30 odd pages long, and involves Bond investigating the death of a NATO dispatch rider in France. Bond tracks down the assassin, kills him, and uncovers his ingenious hide out. Interestingly this short story was going to be the back story to the Moonraker novel. Hugo Drax was to be the assassin who crashes his bike, and then taken to an American hospital, from where Moonraker picks up the story. The title was also used at the end of the, Octopussy, film and yet was shortened to From a View to a Kill instead. The only thing it had in common with the story is the fact that part of its action is in France.
Quantum of Solace really isn't a Bond story at all. He is at a party in Nassau and he is told a story about a diplomat and his failed marriage. The title is due to the storyteller saying he has a theory about marriages called Quantum of Solace. The film adaptation shared the title and none of the plot, except maybe the thematics alluded to in the theory of Quantum of Solace. I found this an unusual story as it really isn't about Bond at all.
Riscio sees Bond sent to Italy to investigate a drug smuggling ring. Of the five stories this is far the best with a good violent shoot out at the end. It also incorporates a mild twist in who is the bad guy and who not. This relationship is a key plot line in the movie, and both characters, Colombo and Kristatos are used. The shoot out scene is also an integral part of one the films action sequences.
The Hildebrandt Rarity sees Bond sent to the Seychelles. It is actually quite a dark and nasty story. Fleming explains the use of stingray tails as a form of keeping a wife in line!! In the story Bond hears a husband using it on his wife. The husband is a rich arrogant prick, and Fleming makes him so believable the reader hates him as much as Bond comes to. The guy is eventually ingeniously murdered by suffocating on the fish of the stories title. Suffice to say there are two suspects, and the story finishes with the identity of the murderer being left up to the reader to decide. The film, For Your Eyes Only, uses very oblique references to this story, and 1989's License to Kill used the stingray tail called, 'the corrector' (!!).
The whole book is a shade over 200 pages long, and to be honest if you skip it and move on to the impressive, Thunderball, then you aren't going to miss much. The only real thing is the interest value they have on the films. As described various titles and plot elements were used, but really I wasn't particularly impressed with any thing here. Bond purists may disagree, and whilst I read it because it is Bond relevant, in hindsight I may just have skipped it as there are many other books I would rather have read.
Monday, August 1, 2011
|Cover of the first edition.|
An American Dream then is not what you would call light reading!! To our modern eyes the subject matter won't appear so controversial as it did in 1965, but if you look at the era it was written in, it must have been shocking stuff indeed! It has two sex scenes that are graphic without vivid descriptions. The sodomy scene must have raised quite a number of eyebrows, and yet Mailer doesn't use clinical words for what is going on. He superbly dances around it, along with the violence, by his complex word usage that leaves an indelible picture in the readers mind.
This novel is a beautiful embodiment of literature, and why An American Dream is so utterly impossible to ignore. It is regarded as an important work of American literature. But the flaw is that, whilst I love its complexity, the premise is too often abstract, disappearing and reappearing, leaving the reader at times wondering what is going on. As a piece of straight literature it is superb even though it is considered one of Norman Mailer's lesser works.
A short dazzlingly, breathtaking, albeit flawed, masterpiece. If you want something to really stretch your reading abilities then this is the novel for you! Amazon has this with 3 1/2 stars from 32 reviews. Probably a fair mark, and I guess due to its abstractness more than anything.