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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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