In cooperation with the strikingly beautiful and talented people behind ChiZine publishing, I present James Bond-age, a series of interviews with the many brilliant contributors who make up the newly-published Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond.
And since I am also uncoincidentally one of the anthology’s many contributors—my short story “Not an Honourable Disease” closes out the book—I hereby renounce all notions of objectivity.
Click here for information on how to purchase your very own, available-in-Canada-only copy of Licence Expired.
I’m posting these interviews in the order of the Table of Contents. Today:
Secret Agent 0011, Licence to Write Down Conversations Overheard on the Bus
James Alan Gardner
James Alan Gardner got a couple of degrees in Math, then started writing science fiction instead. He has won the Prix Aurora award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Asimov’s Readers’ Choice award. He has published eight novels and numerous short stories. In his spare time, he studies rocks and teaches kung fu to kids.
Tell us about your story, “The Spy Who Remembered Me.”
My story, of course, grows out of The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond has a reunion with the “Bond girl” from that book, but now the roles are reversed.
How did the idea come about?
The Spy Who Loved Me has stuck in my head more than any other Bond book. First, it’s told in first-person from the girl’s point of view (a Canadian named Vivienne Michel). Second, the story has nothing to do with espionage; Bond stumbles into a small-time insurance scam where crooks are going to burn down a resort and pin it on Vivienne. Third, the book ends with a well-meaning police chief telling Vivienne to forget she ever met Bond—he tells her that Bond is an inhumanly violent being, “completely different from normal folks like you and me.” That final speech always annoyed me: Vivienne is a strong young woman who’s pretty good at keeping up with Bond, all things considered. With training and experience, she could be kick-ass. So I gave her that training and experience, then brought the two back together again.
What was your first introduction to James Bond?
Kingsley Amis contended that Bond was the direct opposite of our modern seven deadly sins. Those sins all involved lack of commitment to things we say we believe in. Bond always commits; there’s an air of cynicism about him, but he’s not actually cynical at all. He goes all-in on everything.I knew about Bond as a cultural phenomenon long before I saw the movies or read the books. In the 60’s, you couldn’t avoid him…and of course, there were numerous TV shows influenced by Bond, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart, both of which I watched religiously. I might have seen a movie or two before I read the books, but I plowed through the books pretty quickly as a teenager and only paid attention to the movies much later.
Where would you advise a Bond newbie to start?
Hey, start at the beginning, Casino Royale, then read the rest. I’m afraid they haven’t aged very well in their attitudes towards women (or people of color, or LGBT), but The Spy Who Loved Me is still interesting and I fondly remember Honeychile Rider of Dr. No as a surprisingly not-helpless heroine.
Why do you think James Bond has such lasting appeal?
Kingsley Amis contended that Bond was the direct opposite of our modern seven deadly sins. Those sins all involved lack of commitment to things we say we believe in, but don’t take by the horns. Bond always commits; there’s an air of cynicism about him, but he’s not actually cynical at all. He goes all-in on everything, and that makes him striking, even today.
In the world of Bond, what would you like to see happen?
Well, of course, what should happen is that someone should pay me a zillion dollars to write Bond books.
Best/worst thing about the Bond franchise?
Worst: the original sexism, racism, etc. Best: Bond continues to evolve with the times, and the tropes are flexible enough to allow him to do so. For example, most of the female leads were presented as strong competent women; I can’t remember any of them falling apart under pressure. Today, we’re appalled at the general attitudes surrounding them, but that’s a reflection of how awful 1950’s culture was. The Bond “formula” actually depends on the women being admirably hard-headed.
If you worked for MI6, what would your position be?
Writing up disinformation.
What’s your opinion of James Bond as a person? As a secret agent?
The question is always, “Which Bond?” There were so many, even in the books. He did, after all, become a burn-out case at several points, and his personality changed significantly. As a secret agent…well, he was hardly secret, was he? In real life, he wouldn’t have lasted very long. But real life is precisely not the point.
Favourite movie? Least favourite?
Right now, my favourite is the Daniel Craig Casino Royale; it felt like a breath of fresh air, and the opening parkour scene was tremendous. Least favourite would be the final Pierce Brosnan ones. Can’t even remember their names. When the only thing you remember from a movie is Halle Berry in a swimsuit, the movie is running on empty.
Who should play Bond after Daniel Craig?
I’m good with Idris Elba.
Favourite/least favourite novel?
Favourite Fleming Bond novel is The Spy Who Loved Me, with Moonraker a close follow-up (love the Bridge scene). Least favourite: I don’t remember a thing from The Man with the Golden Gun, so let’s say that one.
Favourite/least favourite Bond character who isn’t Bond?
Will a villain ever learn to not give Bond a sporting chance at escape?
Many didn’t go that route…and in some books, the whole point was to let Bond escape while carrying disinformation.
Final thoughts or remarks?
In the same way that we don’t question the presence of magic in fantasy, we don’t question the improbabilities of Bond books. We just sit back and enjoy the ride.
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