In cooperation with those mad geniuses behind Chizine Publishing—I’ve read your books, you magnificent bastards! Seriously, I’ve read most of them, they’re fantastic.—I hereby 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 as stated previously, I’m not only a reader, I’m also a client—my short fiction “Not an Honourable Disease” makes up the closing story—so zip your lip about the whole “journalistic integrity” thing. That’s so last ventury.
Click here for information on how to purchase your very own, not-available-in-the-United-States (sorry!) copy of Licence Expired.
Today’s author: Special Agent 0012, Licence to Make It Up As He Goes Along
Jamie Mason is a Canadian SF/F writer whose zombie novel Kezzie of Babylon was released in March 2015 by Permuted Press. His short fiction has appeared in On Spec, Abyss & Apex, and the Canadian Science Fiction Review. His novel The Book of Ashes is forthcoming from Permuted in December 2015. Learn more at www.jamiescribbles.com.
Tell us about your story, “Daedelus.”
“Daedelus” fits into the Fleming Bond timeline between the events described in For Your Eyes Only (specifically the last story, “The Hildebrand Rarity”) and the intro to Thunderball. During a summer vacation, we have Bond traveling to sleepy Leichtenstein for the most mundane of reasons—to check up on his savings portfolio and scout properties for retirement. While there, in that sleepiest of European backwaters, he bumps into Pussy Galore, newly released from prison and working as a bodyguard for an sketchy German banker named Von Horgen. Bond gets swept up in her plan to steal the funds Von Horgen has been laundering for SMERSH.
How did the idea for your story come about?
I’m going to be fifty next year, so I’ve begun actively planning for my own retirement. I remember exactly when the idea for the story came to me. I was sitting outside my financial advisor’s office waiting for a meeting when I thought: this is so damned mundane, Bond would never do this. And then I realized: of course he would. Double-Os, if they live, burn out fast. The average spec- or SIG-force (action service) operative peaks at 32. Bond would have to start planning much earlier. What would Bond’s exit strategy be if he made it to retirement? And the story spun itself out from there.
What was your introduction to the world of Bond?
I am one of those anomalies who was aware of the books before knowing about the movies. My father was a Bond afficianado who had a complete set of the PAN paperback originals. I grew up knowing the images on the covers before knowing the stories. Then I read the stories when I was still young, spending much of my early life in remote areas, with little or no TV. The book I really got into was Casino Royale. It’s more of a crime novel with an espionage angle tacked onto it than it is pure spy-porn. More hard-boiled than le Carré. That’s Bond.
My involvement with two organizations, RAND Corporation and Evergreen Air, brought me uncomfortably close to the edges of the secret world…I met people there who were “on the inside” both in the intelligence and special forces communities. And what I saw scared me. These people hold vast power and have access to vast sums of money, and much of what they do is beyond our knowledge or ability to influence. They literally function in a parallel universe—a kind of legal grey area and their technology and capabilities (and ruthlessness) position them as a de-facto infra-government—totally above the law.Where would you advise a Bond newbie to start?
Watch Dr. No. It’s not entirely unfaithful to the original novel and it gives you a good flavor of Bond, as interpreted by the original actor. Connery was brilliant. From the film version you can step easily into the world of either the novels or movies.
Why do you think Bond has such lasting appeal?
The Cold War has had a lingering effect on the West. To a great extent, for forty years or so, our culture was all about espionage and secret battles and nuclear threats. We all lived under the shadow of that for a long time and there really was no conceivable exit from the nuclear nightmare except the occasional respite of avoiding destruction after a close call. Bond is an ersatz guardian angel in that sense—more than human, entrusted with our protection against catastrophic violence. But it takes a toll on him. For many of us living more or less meaningless lives in a capitalist paradise, Bond affords us a chance to live vicariously through a man whose life stands for something.
In the world of Bond, what would you like to see happen?
I’d like to see ChiZine or some other publisher pick up my proposal for a full-length Bond novel based on my short story “Daedelus.”
Best/worst thing about the franchise?
The best aspect of the franchise is that—his many flaws aside—Bond stands for some very real values. He lives a life of absolute service. He is incorruptible and can be entrusted—literally—with the safety of the realm as he values it more highly than his own. That is a high code of conduct toward which to aspire. Would that more followed the example.
The worst? Bond’s casual violence. His misogyny—particularly his use of female sexual partners as an anodyne. His service of and (ultimately) for the forces of Empire. His judgment may also be called into question. Alcoholism, pills, sexual rapacity and a tendency toward sadism…Honestly, I urge a thorough psychological evaluation for this agent before he takes on his next assignment…
If you were a secret agent, what would your ideal mission be? Your spy name?
My answer may be a little unusual. The truth of the matter is, I am not entirely unfamiliar with the intelligence community. I have never been a working intelligence officer, but my involvement with two organizations, RAND Corporation and Evergreen Air, brought me uncomfortably close to the edges of the secret world and all its works. And I met people there who were “on the inside” both in the intelligence and special forces communities. And what I saw scared me. These people hold vast power and have access to vast sums of money, and much of what they do is beyond our knowledge or ability to influence. They literally function in a parallel universe—a kind of legal grey area and their technology and capabilities (and ruthlessness) position them as a de-facto infra-government—totally above the law. I am firmly convinced that our Western intelligence organizations are sorely in need of stronger civilian oversight. They have way too much power and we need to rein them in.
Realistically, if you worked for MI6, what would your position be?
Director, Internal Affairs Division. Weed out the agents on the take. Find the ones who give the Service a bad name, who abuse their authority, who contribute to a culture of corruption and who expose us to danger in the name of personal gain and hunt them down, by any means necessary.
What’s your opinion of James Bond as a person? As a secret agent?
Bond is ultimately a product of privilege, like his creator, Ian Fleming. Remember: Bond went to boarding school and an upper class college. I am told that in Britain the intelligence community is very class-oriented. The crew at Thames House is more blue collar while the toffs occupy the MI-6 ziggurat on the other bank. Bond would doubtless be living a life of privilege even if he weren’t a secret agent. I think he does his job with a knowledge of the class he represents and its historic “responsibilities” (read: duty) in service of Empire. Queen and country before all. Bond serves the Establishment, and he does so efficiently.
Favourite/least favourite movie Bond?
I like Daniel Craig. He’s done a good job of scoping out the kind of psychological wreckage Bond inhabits. That was always one of the more interesting aspects of the books. Skyfall was a gothic love-note to PTSD.
I really think all of the actors brought something to the role and I’m very reluctant to criticize any. Connery brought flash and style. Lazenby was a very muscular, manly Bond. Moore brought the humor and physical dexterity. Dalton was an overlooked gem—probably the closest to the book Bond of any. Pierce Brosnan, Peter Sellars…All very well done.
Who should play Bond after Craig?
Tilda Swinton. I’d love to see a female Bond, at least as a one-off. I love the way she inhabits a character, pushing out at its contours until finding a new shape. All of her performances are chronicles of that growth. I would love to see how she would interpret a female Bond who is every bit as shattered and alone as her male counterpart. In a female, the physicality would occupy a different space. I don’t see a female Bond as Ronda Rousey. She’d have to do something different. Tilda Swinton could pull that off.
Favourite/least favourite Bond novel/movie?
Favourite non-Bond character?
My favorite non-Bond character is Felix Leiter. He’s an interesting foil for Bond, an American counterpart who has managed to penetrate Bond’s armor to become a close friend. Leiter’s own bravery and deep loyalty to Bond make him a real stand-up guy—the ideal dude to cover your back in a bar brawl. He’s been portrayed by many different actors, but my favorite is Jeffrey Wright. He really nailed Felix, in my opinion. He’d obviously read the books and did a really great job.
Will a villain ever learn to not give Bond a sporting chance at escape?
The villains will get ever more vicious and unfair. Bond will adapt.
I think a lot of modern espionage operatives came to the Service because of Bond. Interestingly, Putin joined the KGB for similar reasons, having been influenced by the adventures of a guy named Stierlitz, a sort of Russian James Bond. I think Fleming’s and le Carré’s work have been fertile recruiting grounds for various intelligence agencies.
What they have made a poor job of doing is portraying the corruption, the duplicity and the waste that’s endemic in the secret community. There are a lot of good books on the topic, but I urge people to read Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes. It’s a biography of the CIA in its own words, drawn from the contents of over 50,000 pages of declassified information released by the Agency under FOI. It’s a very illuminating and upsetting read.
As we move into the 21st Century and our intelligence services face ever more violent and elusive adversaries, we must never lose sight of the importance of adhering to our democratic principles and convictions regarding human rights while doing what must be done. The ugly reality is that we rely ever more heavily on special operations to execute battlefield justice on people, leaders of organizations like Da’esh and Al Qaeda, men who may pop into visibility only for a minute or two, forcing quick decisions to be made. Our safety depends on them being made well. This is a vast power and must be conferred very carefully, and only upon the most trusted individuals. They may have questionable sex lives or excessive drinking habits or unusual political convictions. But their integrity must be above reproach.
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