Thursday, 12 July 2018

Licence Renewed - John Gardner



Continuing my project of reading the pseudo-Bond novels in chronological order, here is the first of I believe sixteen written for the rights holder by John Gardner in the 1980s and 1990s. Gardner was a known writer, but nowhere near as well known as Kingsley Amis who had written Colonel Sun more than a decade earlier. Amis was associated with the Bond brand while Fleming was still alive (The James Bond Dossier and The Book of Bond, both 1965). Gardner was different. He had found literary success in 1964 with his Boysie Oakes series, an overt 'piss-take' of Bond. He went on to write other series, including my favourite, the Moriarty books. Then came this, in 1981.


Given the time lapse since Colonel Sun and the last of the Fleming originals, it was perhaps a wise move to bring Bond up to date. Had the lapse been longer, I feel sure prequels would have yielded better results, but the idea in 1981 was to sell new Bond to the same people who had bought original Bond. Overall, the updates work fine. The problem, however, is that Gardner wastes half the book getting over them.


Bond books were never the money spinners that the films were. Fleming, indeed, learnt from the movies and tended to begin subsequent novels with teasers intended to hook us into the narrative. I still remember the opening of Dr No (the novel) which I suppose I read in 1966 or '67. Gardner doesn't and I have to say I was on the verge of throwing Licence Renewed at the wall when we finally got to the action - on page 113! Gardner is keen to echo Fleming in detailed descriptions of Bondian technology. Gardner is a better writer than Fleming but clearly he does not love technology to the extent Fleming did. Fleming's prose comes alive when he writes about gizmos and sex. Gardner's technobabble is more a matter of listing and there is absolutely no rampant sex in the book, despite the presence of two strong and sassy female characters.


The super villain is Anton Murik, a nuclear physicist and (bizarrely) Scottish laird. He is absolutely in the Fleming tradition, and his evil plan is appropriately spectacular and ridiculous. From page 113 to the end on page 259 Licence Renewed zooms along like a fighter jet, action, twists, fights all the way. In the second half Gardner's first attempt is better than both Fleming and Amis. But the first half ... oh dear God, the first half is unspeakably awful.


As a result, it looks like I'm stuck with pressing on. Gardner 2 then, For Special Services, another good title. I might try Boysie Oakes, while I'm at it, to get an idea what Gardner really thought about Bond mania.

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