Thursday, September 03, 2009

James Bond Daily: Octopussy and The Living Daylights

And then we came to the end.

Octopussy and the Living Daylights was originally published a good two years after Fleming's death, and then collected the two novelette-length stories in the title. Since then, it's accumulated two other, shorter stories, the last stray pieces of the Bond corpus. The resulting book, even in its four-story expanded incarnation, is barely half the length of even the shortest novels of the series; it's very much an afterthought. So Penguin's recent book Quantum of Solace, which collects these stories along with the ones in For Your Eyes Only to make a Complete Shorter James Bond, is probably a better bet for the casual reader.

And those four stories are:

"Octopussy," originally serialized in the March and April 1966 issues of Playboy -- It's from the point of view of a gone-to-seed British colonial (in Jamaica, of course) whose sordid wartime past comes back to confront him in the person of 007. Along with The Spy Who Loved Me, it's one of Fleming's very few stories that show Bond from another point of view. And the "Octopussy" here is an actual octopus, much like the Pus-feller of Doctor No.

"The Property of a Lady," from a 1963 Sotheby's annual (and reprinted a year later in Playboy, which would take any Bond it could get) -- Bond uses a known Soviet mole's payoff -- a fabulously valuable Faberge globe -- to find and target for diplomatic expulsion the KGB's local Resident Director at a Sotheby's auction. It's probably the most bloodless Bond story, and one whose plot doesn't entirely make sense -- if the KGB doesn't have a good sense of the value of this object, how could they possibly be able to bid it up at the auction without risking being the winning bidder?

"The Living Daylights," from a 1962 color section of The London Sunday Times and reprinted in the US in Argosy (which I'm always surprised to find survived as late as 1962) -- Bond acts as a sniper in Berlin to stop a KGB sniper and allow a British agent to get across the border. This is the only Fleming Bond story to take place in Berlin, the heart of the Cold War, and it's one of the great contradictions of the series that such a Cold Warrior spent most of his time so far away from the serious battlefields. Also notable for being another example of how the literary Bond does not find it easy to kill, particularly when he has an extra reason to leave a target alive.

"007 in New York," a vignette added to the first US edition of Fleming's Thrilling Cities (as a consolation prize to soften the nasty things he said about real NYC) after first appearing in the New York Herald Tribune -- Bond muses about the splendors of New York and about his mission to tip off an ex-colleague that her boyfriend is a Soviet agent upon whom the American net will very shortly fall. Not really a story at all; the action happens entirely offstage, and there's little of that. If it were funny, it would be a shaggy dog story -- what's the equivalent for a thriller?

And that ends the Bond stories. I still have a pile of interesting quotes, which will keep "James Bond Daily" running for another ten days or so. (Unless someone has a copy of Colonel Sun lying about that they'd be willing to lend me?)

1 comment:

Gary Farber said...

I doubt you want to spend the money, but you could pick up a copy of Colonel Sun for about $10, including shipping, at if you really wanted to.

Of course, then there's the line of additional other-than-Fleming Bond books, none of which I've read, myself.

Post a Comment