Bringing Back Bond

By Carmen Comment

Once upon a time, James Bond was just a speck in the mind of a former intelligence agent who decided to transmogrify his experiences into adventure fiction. Now of course, he’s a phenomenon, even a punch line. But Ian Fleming’s estate wants to bring back some of the glory just in time for the centenary of the superspy’s creator:

Zoe Watkins at Ian Fleming Publications said: “To celebrate the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth in 2008 we are looking at a wide range of different activities and one of those is a new adult Bond novel.

“We are still in the planning stages, but at the moment the idea would be to have it done by an established author – potentially a big name.”

Watkins says the new book will be a major departure from the light-hearted nature of the films and mark a return to the dark, complex character of the early novels.

She said: “The literary Bond is something we want to focus on and any work would have to be in keeping with the literary aspects of the books. If it was successful there could be scope for further novels.”

A dark, literary Bond would certainly be way cooler than what’s passed for later entries of the series. And so, taking the cue from Ian Rankin’s speculative “if I wrote James Bond” piece at the end of the article, I asked some well-known thriller writers for their own version of how they’d write Bond. Those appear after the jump.

From Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher thrillers:

I heard the first rumblings of this stuff about three years ago. I am obviously very flattered to be in their thoughts, but I guess fundamentally my answer would be generated by what the estate itself calls the need for a “professional” writer … which means, what are they gonna pay? More than I make from a Reacher book? (I’m not the type of guy who can do two projects at the same time.) That’s possibly unlikely.

If it worked out though, it would be fun. Fleming was both very British and very frustrated by Britain – lived as an exile, etc. That shows up in the original Bond texts and it would be a background theme I would share. As would be a sense that as time moves on Bond is operating in a changed Britain … the contrast between the Eden/Macmillan years and the Blair years is huge, and it’s a contrast that the existence of the fictional Bond helped create. My yardstick would be Jill Paton Walsh’s first Wimsey book (Thrones and Dominions?) which was both a superb Wimsey novel and simultaneously an embedded critique of the series itself and the society that spawned it.

From Barry Eisler, author of the John Rain series:

What would I do the same? The babes and exotic locales. Different? Probably give Bond more doubts about the value of what he does and the trustworthiness of his paymasters, and more guilt over the lives he’s taken… but then I’d be writing the Rain series!

From Olen Steinhauer, author of 36 YALTA BOULEVARD:

This is a really cool question, because it’s something I’ve actually
wrestled with a fair amount recently as I’ve taken notes for new ideas. There are a few things that I’d want to do with MY Bond, listed here:

1) Service to the world at large. Along the same lines, my Bond would work for an organization like the UN (like Patrick McGoohan’s “Danger Man”), rather than an organization with specific national interests. So the goal is international stability, not necessarily the benefit of one country. Rational humanism, rather than patriotism, is his guiding principle. However, this doesn’t mean that the cause he serves is always just, and as a moral man, this Bond will occasionally have to fight against his orders.

2) Lose the gadgets. Never a fan of invisible cars or laser-firing satellites, I’d keep the gadgetry to a minimum. While Bond should certainly be more than the average man, his greatness should derive from his cleverness and resourcefulness, not the gadgetry Q Branch produces at a moment’s notice. They look cool in the movies, but they separate the viewer/reader from the illusion that they could be in Bond’s shoes–were they only a little more handsome, fitter, and much much smarter.

3) The girls. To maintain the charm of the original Bond, the girls remain, but in a different way. Tying the word “literary” to Bond signifies an emotional depth. So my Bond would charm women he must use, but not be impervious to their charms. He falls in love (occasionally) and suffers when the love ends. Perhaps he even has a wife at home, which would make his dalliances that much more interesting and complex. And when he uses a woman, which is sometimes required, getting rid of them will be a much more sticky situation than it has been so far for 007.

4) Sophistication. Like Fleming’s Bond, a level of sophistication needs to be maintained. But if this includes 10 vodka martinis and 4 packs of cigarettes a day, then he’s going to suffer in the morning. Times change, and the truth is, it’s hard to get a decent martini in a lot of places in the world, and so he’d probably be a straight-vodka man–not only is it simple to make, it kills bacteria from strange food. And beyond the occasional cigarette shared with someone to put them at ease, he probably wouldn’t be puffing much. His cultural sophistication is contemporary: He knows film, books, pop music and the intricacies of foreign politics; he reads the paper as well as getting his news online. Unless he was played it a lot in childhood, opera would not be his bag. He has a soft spot for art made in his original homeland.

5) The villains. The tendency towards megalomaniac villains would be curbed in order to flesh them out more as real people. Bond would understand them in many ways, and sometimes even sympathize with them. Villains all over the world act as they do because they believe themselves to be right, not because they believe themselves to be evil. From Hitler to terrorists, these people believe that was they do is, in the end, “good”, and Bond would have to enter their psychology, balanced on the edge of belief, in order to properly destroy them.