The By Who Loved Lee: James Bond-age with Richard Lee Byers

Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond (ChiZine 2015)

In cooperation with ChiZine publishing (the people who introduced me to the writings of Lavie Tidhar, Gemma Files, Craig Davidson, Claude Lalumière, Helen Marshall, James Marshall, and so many other legitimately awesome writers), I hereby present James Bond-age, a series of interviews with the many brilliant contributors who make up the published as of yesterday Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond.

Now we’re all adults here, so it can’t come as a surprise to you that it’s not a coincidence I’m also one of the contributors—my short story “Not an Honourable Disease” closes the anthology—so just roll with it. If it does surprise you? Welcome to the Internet! (I’m assuming someone so naïve has never surfed the web before.)

Click here for information on how to purchase your very own, only-legal-in-Canada-and-New-Zealand-and-China copy of Licence Expired.

I’ll be posting interviews in order of the Table of Contents. Today’s author?

Special Agent 003, Licence to Scribble

Richard Lee Byers

Richard Lee Byers

Richard Lee Byers is the author of over forty fantasy and horror novels including Blind God’s Bluff: A Billy Fox Novel and the Black River Irregulars trilogy (forthcoming). His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, and he has collected some of the best of it in the eBooks The Plague Knight and Other Stories, The Q Word and Other Stories, and Zombies in Paradise. A resident of the Tampa Bay area, Byers writes an opinion column for the SF news site Airlock Alpha.

Tell us about your story, “Red Indians.”

My story is set between Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. I hesitate to say too much more about it for fear of spoiling it, but it’s about Bond preparing physically and mentally to go to war with SMERSH.

How did the idea for your story come about?

When [co-editor] David Nickle invited me to submit I started rereading Fleming, something I hadn’t done in decades. It popped out at me that Bond’s ordeal in the first novel was pretty darn traumatizing, he’s good to go in the second, and Fleming doesn’t fully explain how he bounces back. So that seemed like a good subject to explore.

What was your first introduction to the world of James Bond?

I’m old enough that I was in junior high or thereabouts when the Bond novels first came out in paperback in the US from Signet. I loved them and at that age, in that era, was blissfully oblivious to what many of us in the 21st Century see as their more problematic features. I also caught the Sean Connery movies when they hit my local theater, but unless my memory is playing tricks on me, I discovered the novels first.

Live and Let Die, first edition, 1964

Where would you advise a Bond newbie to start?

To my mind, Live and Let Die is one of the more entertaining books, and since it comes early in the series, it makes a good start. Anyone who likes the stories is going to want to read Casino Royale in due course, but I don’t think it quite displays all the attractions of the character and his adventures the way that later stories do.

Why do you think James Bond has such lasting appeal?

A hero who defeats bizarre but formidable villains, beds gorgeous women, and enjoys an epicurean lifestyle has obvious appeal. Beyond that, Bond’s life and character present contradictions. He’s often cold and ruthless, yet he’s capable of genuine affection and sometimes even quixotic impulses. He goes on extraordinary adventures, but between missions he works in an office and has a boss like an average guy.

In the world of Bond, what would you like to see happen?

This won’t happen, but I would prefer that any new fiction or movies be set in the time period Fleming inhabited and wrote about. I think Bond works better and makes more sense in that context.

As a person, Bond’s a little like that friend many of us have who possesses some unenlightened if not positively atavistic attitudes but who’s good company and can be counted on to have your back.
Best thing about the James Bond franchise? Worst?

The best thing is the way it serves up exotic if not preposterous adventures and yet still makes its lead feel real, at least for the length of time that you’re actually experiencing the story. The worst is when the movies become completely tongue-in-cheek.

If you were a secret agent, what would your ideal mission be?

Since I’m not exceptionally courageous or especially athletic, I don’t think my ideal mission would be much like Bond’s typical one in terms of fighting, killing, etc. I’d probably just be snooping around for information. I hope that wouldn’t preclude getting as much sex as Bond does, but honestly, I’m not optimistic on that score.

Realistically, if you worked for MI6, what would your position be?

Data analyst, cryptographer, or administrative.

What’s your opinion of Bond as a person? As a secret agent?

As a person, he’s racist and sexist. He’s also brave, dedicated, and loyal. He’s a little like that friend many of us have who possesses some unenlightened if not positively atavistic attitudes but who’s good company and can be counted on to have your back. As a secret agent, you could argue that he’s a tad heavy-handed. He rarely seems to get the job done without landing himself in extreme danger along the way. But then again, maybe those are just the missions Fleming chose to write about, and most of the time, he achieves his objective without being IDed or leaving a trail of corpses in his wake.

Roger Moore as The Saint

Favourite/least favourite movie Bond?

Since Sean Connery was the first one I saw, and I saw him at an impressionable age, it’s tough to pick anyone but him. I do think, though, that of all of them, Timothy Dalton most resembled the character as written by Fleming. It’s too bad other aspects of his movies aren’t as strong. My least favorite is Roger Moore. I felt like he just kept on playing the Saint like he did on TV. I like the Saint, but Simon Templar and James Bond are not the same guy.

Who should play James Bond next?

No idea. People have suggested Idris Elba, and I think he’d be fine if, as it seems overwhelmingly likely that Bond is going to be an updated, contemporary character.

Favourite Bond novel/movie? Least favourite? Why?

I really like both Dr. No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in both book and movie incarnations. The former has the best of the wild pulp-flavored arch-villains and Bond running the gantlet of deadly perils. The latter has the cool ski chase and the unexpected ending. Among the films, Skyfall is good, too. It rejects the notion of Bond as an impervious superman, something Fleming likely would have endorsed, and celebrates the series as a whole. My least favorite novel is The Spy Who Loved Me because Bond just isn’t in it very much. My least favorite movie is any of the Roger Moore ones. They’re just too campy for my taste.

Favourite Bond character who isn’t Bond?

My favorite is Felix Leiter who’s extremely likable and shows us what Fleming considered the best things about Americans. Leiter could have carried his own spinoff series of novels if Fleming had seen fit to write them.

Will a villain ever learn to not give Bond a sporting chance at escape?

Not if Bond’s survival and thus the proper resolution of the plot require the exotic execution machine or whatever.

Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond (ChiZine 2015)

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