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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

License Renewed by John Gardner

License Renewed - John E. Gardner, Raymond Benson

The first Gardner Bond book.

In his Acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, Gardner tells us that all of the "hardware" used by Bond in the book is genuine and available one way or another. He then goes on to tell us that that used by Bond's adversary, Anton Murik, is not. This, I think, sets a broader tone, right at the outset: Gardner's books are going to try to tread a middle ground between Fleming's Bond and Movie Bond. It's a dicey proposition.

But first, from Gardner himself: "I described to the Gildrose Board how I wanted to put Bond to sleep where Fleming had left him in the sixties, waking him up now in the 80s having made sure he had not aged, but had accumulated modern thinking on the question of Intelligence and Security matters. Most of all I wanted him to have operational know-how: the reality of correct tradecraft and modern gee-whiz technology." Which would seem to leave a gap of about 16 years (from The Man With the Golden Gun [1965] to License Renewed [1981]). It isn't clear from this book (or the quotation above) how Gardner handles the gap, but Wikipedia opines that, "due to the timeframe change," the Gardner series "suggests" that Bond's earlier adventures took place not in the 50s and 60s, but rather in the 60s and 70s. Can it be that Gardner, during the course of 14 novels, never spells this out?

This, of course, is another thing: 14 novels. More even than Fleming wrote. And starting with a character in his very late thirties, at best. (Indeed, Bond is already noting, in this book, a few gray hairs.) Just how old is he going to get?

Well, what were the alternatives? "Period" novels from only a decade and a half earlier? Time travel? What else could Gardner do? I'll tell you. He could have created a new Bond; that is, a completely separate series with the character but not the history of Fleming's books. License Renewed could have become License Granted, and away we'd go with a young James Bond and nothing but blue skies ahead.

But he didn't, so we have what we have, and comparisons between the two, instead of being largely moot, are relevant. And based on this first book, those comparisons do not redound to Gardner's credit.

Not that it's a bad book; it isn't. It is, however, a shade tentative, which we might expect, and a bit slack, which we wouldn't. Gardner's prose isn't as tight as Fleming's, and neither is Bond. Oh, he's plenty tough, but he's not as hardboiled.

At the same time, and this brings me back to where I started, Bond here tips toward the superman of the movies. M's line that if there's anyone who can pull off his latest mission, it's Bond, smacks more of the movies than Fleming's books. Bond himself seems to have fewer doubts about his superiority.

Then there's that "gee-whiz technology" that Gardner mentions. Bond is here kitted out with a great deal of hardware--on his person, in his luggage, and in his specially modified Saab. What Gardner doesn't understand is that, to some extent, technology makes the man. The Bond of all this gimcrackery isn't the old-fashioned Bond of the novels (even if, at the time, he was cutting-edge). Finding him curled up on his comfy Sleepcentre bed, intently listening in to one of Murik's clandestine meetings on his fancy surveillance hardware is, I'm afraid, not the modern equivalent of Bond peering at Russians through a periscope in a dank, rat-infested tunnel beneath the streets of Istanbul. Bond has become the oxymoron of the films: soft, yet somehow infinitely superior to his enemies.

Still, in terms of the plot, it isn't technology that kills credibility here, it's the plan itself. I won't say more than that it involves the simultaneous assault on several nuclear power plants. I don't need to say more. It's the same as saying that Goldfinger's plan was to rob Fort Knox. It's ridiculous, unworkable, and never believable.

But I liked the book. Go figure. I didn't like it a lot (for these and other reasons), but I found it enjoyable. Partly, I suppose, for the fun of comparing it to Fleming's work. And partly because of Fleming's genius: after all, he created a character so beloved that this second series by another author makes sense, a character so transcendent that not even the film industry could kill him.