The Mad with the Golden Gun: James Bond-age with Madeline Ashby

Licence Expired: The Unau­tho­rized James Bond (ChiZine 2015)

In coop­er­a­tion with the strik­ing­ly beau­ti­ful and tal­ent­ed peo­ple behind ChiZine pub­lish­ing, I here­by present James Bond-age: The Licence Expired Inter­views, a series of inter­views with the many bril­liant con­trib­u­tors who make up the new­ly pub­lished Licence Expired: The Unau­tho­rized James Bond.

And since I’m well aware that I am also one of the contributors—my short fic­tion “Not an Hon­ourable Dis­ease” makes up the clos­ing story—you needn’t point out the con­flict of inter­est here. I’m a writer/publicist, not a jour­nal­ist. My blog, my rules.

Click here for infor­ma­tion on how to pur­chase your very own, not-avail­able-any­where-else-in-the-known-uni­verse (sor­ry, rest of world!) copy of Licence Expired.

I’ll be post­ing inter­views in order of the Table of Con­tents. So, with­out fur­ther ado, we begin with a head hon­cho behind this enter­prise:

Co-Head of Secret Ser­vice, Code Let­ter “A”

Madeline Ashby

Made­line Ash­by

Made­line Ash­by is a sci­ence fic­tion writer liv­ing in Toron­to. She is the author of the Machine Dynasty series (Angry Robot Books), as well as the forth­com­ing nov­el Com­pa­ny Town (Tor, 2016). She has devel­oped sci­ence fic­tion pro­to­types for orga­ni­za­tions like Intel Labs, the Insti­tute for the Future, Sci­Fu­tures, the Atlantic Coun­cil, and oth­ers. You can find her at madelineashby.com or on Twit­ter @MadelineAshby.


So why the anthol­o­gy?

I was on the row­ing machine. [Co-edi­tor David Nick­le] and I had both heard the news about [Ian] Fleming’s works enter­ing the pub­lic domain in Cana­da, and we had dis­cussed it a lit­tle, and while he was in the sub­way and while I was row­ing, we both came up with the idea. He came home and said, “So I’ve been think­ing about an anthol­o­gy,” and I just start­ed scream­ing because he’d said exact­ly what I was think­ing.

What was your intro­duc­tions to the world of Bond?

Prob­a­bly the films—or par­o­dies of the films in oth­er media. The first of the nov­els that I ever read was On Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice.

What do you hope to accom­plish  with this unof­fi­cial col­lec­tion of Bond sto­ries?

Flem­ing him­self was crit­i­cal of Bond—he plays all these fun games with Bond’s lack of self-aware­ness that read more like a noir char­ac­ter. He knew that Bond was unhealthy and unhap­py, and he finds ways to tele­graph that with­out ever hav­ing Bond admit it to him­self or any­one else. Because that would mean admit­ting some lev­el of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty.
I’d real­ly like to give read­ers anoth­er nar­ra­tive for under­stand­ing Bond and for under­stand­ing what he means, both in the cul­ture and in his time. We were hop­ing for (and received) a lot of sto­ries that were open­ly crit­i­cal of Bond, but which also respect­ed his con­tri­bu­tion to the spy genre and to oth­er gen­res. Flem­ing him­self was also crit­i­cal of Bond—he plays all these fun games with Bond’s lack of self-aware­ness that read more like a noir char­ac­ter. He knew that Bond was unhealthy and unhap­py, and he finds ways to tele­graph that with­out ever hav­ing Bond admit it to him­self or any­one else. Because that would mean admit­ting some lev­el of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. But the sto­ries we received took that vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as giv­en. Bond sto­ries are always more inter­est­ing when Bond isn’t per­fect, and that’s also the case here.

Where would you advise a Bond new­bie to start?

Right at the begin­ning, with Dr. No.

Why do you think James Bond has such last­ing appeal?

It’s an endur­ing fan­ta­sy of com­pe­tence and cap­i­tal. Bond is good at almost every­thing, and has seem­ing­ly unlim­it­ed funds with which to enjoy all the best things, and the taste and sophis­ti­ca­tion with which to savour them. In Britain, part of the charm of that had to do with the ongo­ing rationing cam­paign. But out­side that con­text, I think there’s the charm of being the best. Car­ly Simon nailed it, real­ly. Nobody does it bet­ter.

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

I’d real­ly like to see an actu­al cri­tique of sur­veil­lance cul­ture, or of ubiq­ui­tous dig­i­tal sur­veil­lance, espe­cial­ly by world gov­ern­ments. As every­one from John Le Car­ré to Edward Snow­den will tell you, human intel­li­gence is far bet­ter than sig­nal intel­li­gence. And that’s the foun­da­tion of the Bond story—that a secret agent on the ground will always do a bet­ter job than a hid­den mic, or snooped emails, or what­ev­er. The most recent film, Spec­tre, tried to get into this, but didn’t real­ly take the time to explain why it’s the case.

Best/worst thing about the fran­chise?

The best thing about it is how it’s always a com­men­tary on the present. And that’s also the worst thing. The films date bad­ly because they’re so con­sumed with being set only one minute into the future. And the books date bad­ly because of their racism and homo­pho­bia and misog­y­ny. They’re just as firm­ly locked in the past as any­thing by Love­craft or Hein­lein or Asi­mov. And they’re also just as pop­u­lar, if not more so. Which real­ly says some­thing.

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

I’d real­ly like to become the sassy best friend of all the down­trod­den girl­friends of supervil­lains. I’d real­ly like to be the one who was paid to tell them “This sounds like a tox­ic rela­tion­ship and you need to get out. I mean I know he promised you all the gold in Fort Knox, but oh my God, he’s clear­ly insane and you don’t need that in your life.”

What I real­ly want­ed to see was a depic­tion of Bond as this pro­found­ly needy cud­dle monster…Just once I want to see the woman who says to James Bond, “Um, this was love­ly, thank you, but I have brunch plans with my girl­friends tomor­row, so…”
Real­is­ti­cal­ly, if you worked for MI6 (or CSIS, CIA, etc), what would your posi­tion be?

Well, my job would prob­a­bly involve look­ing at all the pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios relat­ed to a giv­en sit­u­a­tion, and pick­ing the weird­est one, and devel­op­ing it and a strat­e­gy for deal­ing with it. That’s what I do as a fore­sight con­sul­tant, and what I do as a nov­el­ist, so I don’t imag­ine it would be any dif­fer­ent some­where else.

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

As a per­son he can be deplorable, but he has ran­dom hon­ourable moments that make him redeemable, like when he ini­tial­ly refus­es to sleep with Hon­ey Ryder in Dr. No. He knows she’s very young, and a rape sur­vivor, and while he respects her abil­i­ty to defend her­self he also knows she might be look­ing for com­fort in the wrong place, for the wrong rea­son. Bond can be incred­i­bly spite­ful, and pet­ty, and he’s plain­ly a racist and misog­y­nist. (Even Daniel Craig admit­ted that much dur­ing pro­mo­tion of Spec­tre.) But as a secret agent he wastes no time. Half the rea­son the books move for­ward like they do is because Bond just refus­es to wait around for any­thing. He’s always doing some­thing, so the sto­ry is always doing some­thing.

Who should play James Bond next?

Idris Elba. Maybe Hugh Dan­cy.

Christo­pher Lee as Scara­man­ga, The Man with the Gold­en Guy (1974)

Favourite Bond movie?

Like every­one else on the plan­et, I loved Sky­fall. But that’s because it’s secret­ly a Goth­ic hor­ror film. It’s a big Ham­mer hor­ror film with a big scary haunt­ed house at the end, and a Goth­ic secret at its core. The oth­er Ham­mer hor­ror film in the Bond cin­e­mat­ic canon is The Man With the Gold­en Gun, star­ring none oth­er than Hammer’s Drac­u­la, Christo­pher Lee. It’s a ridicu­lous Bond film by any stan­dard, but at the cen­tre of it is this deeply creepy man, Scara­man­ga, who likes to fuck women with guns and who keeps a fun­house dark ride in his base­ment. And also he’s Christo­pher Lee, who was Fleming’s cousin, and was at one time a con­tender to play Bond him­self. It’s real­ly meta. Like Bruce Lee-in-Game of Death lev­els of meta. It’s mind-bog­gling. And that’s all before you real­ize that Hervé Vil­lechaize is in it.

Hervé Vil­lechaize as Nick Nack, The Man with the Gold­en Gun (1974)

Favourite non-Bond char­ac­ter?

Pos­si­bly Bond’s wife Tra­cy. She’s just as self-destruc­tive and impul­sive as he is, and she’s a mafia princess, and she just won’t stand for any­thing less than total com­mit­ment from this man. Oth­er than that, I always thought Soli­taire, from Live and Let Die, was this mis­placed urban fan­ta­sy char­ac­ter trapped in a spy nov­el. Flem­ing treats her psy­chic abil­i­ty like it’s a real thing amidst this oth­er­wise very vio­lent, grit­ty sto­ry about orga­nized crime and its con­nec­tions to espi­onage in the US, and I think in doing that he end­ed up wedg­ing the door open for a lot of urban fan­ta­sy con­cepts we see lat­er on.

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

No. He’s just that attrac­tive. Every vil­lain who gives Bond extra time is secret­ly just preen­ing in front of him. They secret­ly desire his approval.

Final thoughts?

The oth­er day I was remark­ing to David that what I real­ly want­ed to see was a depic­tion of Bond as this pro­found­ly needy cud­dle mon­ster. Like we only ever see him as this pow­er­ful, pen­e­tra­tive sex­u­al being – an attrac­tive man who has women try­ing to seduce him, or a very seduc­tive man him­self who could have any­one he want­ed. But I sort of won­der what he’s like after all that’s done. Nor­mal­ly he’s depict­ed just ris­ing from bed and accom­plish­ing the next task, but I won­der if there isn’t a long line of women who lay there hop­ing he might let them go, soon. Just once I want to see the woman who says to James Bond, “Um, this was love­ly, thank you, but I have brunch plans with my girl­friends tomor­row, so…” And mean­while James was hop­ing to stay in bed and read the Sun­day Times with some­one who knows noth­ing about for­eign pol­i­cy.


Licence Expired: The Unau­tho­rized James Bond (ChiZine 2015)

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