Darth Pony

Ruling the galaxy is so overrated.

A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers

I’ve written and deleted an opening paragraph for this review at least five times. It’s funny how I’m almost never at a loss to articulate my dissatisfaction . . . and then when I feel like no amount of gushing would be too effusive, I can’t find the words. Maybe I’ll come back and try again later, but even after letting the story marinate and the afterglow fade a little, every attempt to express why I loved this book turns into a super spoilery Becky Chambers love fest.

 

So instead I’ll just say I loved this book and its characters and their stories and all the feelings they gave me and all the lumps in my throat that I had trouble swallowing. From this day forward, if Chambers writes it, I’m probably going to buy it. In hardcover.

Octopussy and the Living Daylights

Octopussy and the Living Daylights (James Bond, #14) - Ian Fleming

This is Fleming’s second Bond short story collection, published posthumously. I’m sort of sad (but not really) that I’m at the end of my Bond reading journey. It’s been an interesting couple of months.

 

#1 OCTOPUSSY: 2.5* A tale of avarice and treachery told via a flashback within a flashback. Thrilling stuff. (Not really. Bond was hardly in it. He didn’t even have time to say or think something bigoted, racist, or misogynistic.)

 

#2 THE PROPERTY OF A LADY: 2.5* This one involves mild international intrigue at an auction. Also, Bond gets more than enough page time to think misogynistic thoughts about an unattractive, flat-chested Russian double agent.

 

#3 THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS: 2* In which Fleming once again works overtime to prove that Bond is “too good for murder”. Decent twist at the end, but the extra dose of sexism, including but not limited to the crack about how girls should play the cello “sidesaddle”, effectively cancels out any points the twist might’ve garnered.

 

#4 007 IN NEW YORK: 1* A super-short and pointless story about Bond’s polite contempt for New York City. Includes a recipe for scrambled eggs. Make sure you have a good English toast rack on hand. Heaven forbid you serve the eggs with “dank” toast.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man With the Golden Gun (James Bond, #13) - Ian Fleming

If you take bits of previous Bond adventures, throw them in a cocktail shaker, and give them an almighty shake, The Man with the Golden Gun is what will pour into your martini glass.

 

Once again, Bond is sent on a mission that is tantamount to suicide. [See: You Only Live Twice, etc.]

 

Once again, Bond finds himself in Jamaica kicking around with Felix Leiter. [See: Live and Let Die, Thunderball, etc.]

 

Once again, Bond is inexplicably hired as an assistant by a villain who doesn’t really need his services for a job that mainly involves listening to bad guys sit around and plan their crimes. [See: Goldfinger]

 

Once again, Bond ends up on a train fighting for his life. [See: Diamonds are Forever, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, etc.]

 

Once again, Bond somehow gets to take the high road even though he’s there to straight-up murder somebody. [See: every other Bond book]

 

Once again, Bond makes a series of moronic mistakes and yet is carried through on the back of his stupefying good luck. [See: every single Bond book]

 

Once again, Bond is severely injured and has a long convalescence with a beautiful woman to look forward to. [See: nearly every Bond book]

 

It’s like a Not-So-Greatest Hits, and it gets boring fast, naked women tied to railroad tracks notwithstanding.

SPOILER ALERT!

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice (James Bond, #12) - Ian Fleming

‘Balls, James. You’ve been running through a bad patch. We all hit ‘em sometimes.’

(And by “bad patch” he means “severe depression”.)

‘M. just thought you’d be the best man for the job. You know he’s got an entirely misplaced opinion of your abilities.’

(Yes. Yes he has.)

 

Bond is understandably depressed after the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. After screwing up two assignments and generally losing the will to live, Bond is sent to Japan to try to winkle some spy secrets out of Tiger Tanaka, the head of Japanese intelligence. In exchange for these secrets, Bond is asked to cosplay as a deaf and dumb Japanese guy in a groan-worthy display of literary yellowface to infiltrate Doctor Shatterhand’s Castle of DEATH, which sounds cool but is really just an old castle with a garden full of fumaroles and poisonous plants and venomous insects that’s become a popular place for people to commit suicide.

 

BUT WAIT!

 

Doctor Shatterhand is really Bond’s nemesis, Blofeld, and he has to be assassinated because he’s “collecting death” and this whole suicide thing is super embarrassing for the Japanese government, even though suicide is regarded culturally as a perfectly good way to restore your family’s honor, and this Castle of DEATH is saving the Transportation Dept. heaps of trouble by luring potential suicides away from train tracks all over the nation. Still, it’s unacceptable and this “Doctor” must die by a non-Japanese hand, because reasons.

 

So Bond, thirsty for revenge and totally prepared after a crash course in Japanese culture and a whole afternoon of watching other people train as ninjas, sets out to slay the dragon with the help of Kissy Suzuki, a former Hollywood actress who speaks English and might be slightly psychotic since she wants to keep Bond and love him and pet him and call him George. FOR-EV-ER. Or at least until he wanders off into Russia to find clues to his past after a traumatic brain injury leaves him with near-total amnesia.

 

(Actual footage of book’s plot.)

 

Seriously, though, the star of this book is Japanese culture, to which Fleming actually manages to provide some accurate insight (aside from some absurd assertions about sumo wrestlers, but I’m not convinced that wasn’t a case of Tiger Tanaka taking the piss). The rest is . . . well, I suppose it’s justification for my mental association of these books with old Dirk Pitt novels. All that was missing was a Clive Cussler cameo.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (James Bond, #11) - Ian Fleming

In this adventure Bond gets an undercover assignment to ferret out the elusive head of Spectre, who has developed a sudden and inexplicable hankering for membership in the Peerage. So Bond heads to the Swiss Alps posing as a heraldry expert . . . and almost blows his cover in the first 24 hours because he’s an arrogant prick. Bond is supposed to be one of the best agents in the Service, but in this book he borders on gross incompetence at times. His performance is so bad he even berates himself on occasion. Even though he has reservations about the job and going undercover, it’s like he’s still bought into his own myth and his stupid assumptions are quite costly.

 

This one was just okay for me. I was hoping to like it more, as the movie of the same title is one of my favorites in the franchise. Oh well. At least the “curing” of “allergies” through hypnosis was worth a giggle or three. This also got a giggle out of me:

Griffon Or broke in excitedly, ‘And this charming motto of the line, “The World is not Enough”. You do not wish to have the right to it?’

Sorry, Griff. MGM bought the rights. ;)

Mouse Trouble

— feeling cat

Dear everyone,

 

It's not that I'm indecisive or don't know what I like. My mouse is starting to give out after years of faithful service and replacing it isn't in the budget this month (and possibly not next month, either - my taste runs toward expensive gaming mice, alas). So until I can replace it or get desperate enough to dig out the horribly cheap emergency mouse that spells certain doom in all the MMOs I play, I apologize for all the double, triple, and quadruple clicks.

 

Sigh. (First world problems, I know.)

The Spy Who "Loved" Me

— feeling bad smell
The Spy Who Loved Me (James Bond, #10) - Ian Fleming

I’m not going to waste much energy recording my impressions of The Spy Who Shagged Loved Me. The less I remember about this steaming turd the better. If this is an accurate representation of Fleming’s idea of how a woman thinks, all I can say is ew.

Thunderball

Thunderball (James Bond, #9) - Ian Fleming

In which M. packs Bond off to a health spa for detox to cure his apparent alcoholism and chain smoking and general unhealthiness. Hilarity and international intrigue ensue.

 

I once tried a sugar-free, low GI diet to see if it would help reduce my chronic pain. I vividly remember the carb and sugar detox. Reading about Bond experiencing something similar . . . well, that’s the most empathy I’ve ever had for the bastard. At least he still got to eat sugar. And oranges, which are basically delicious balls of sugar and acid disguised as harmless fruit. But I digress.

 

Move over, SMERSH. You’re obsolete. It’s time for SPECTRE to take over as Bond’s reason for staying in the spy game. Once you get past the massive amount of exposition detailing SPECTRE’s inception and the history of the man who masterminded it, and the massive amount of exposition detailing SPECTRE’s plan to extort millions from world governments, and the massive amount of exposition detailing how every little step is carried out, this is a fun spy adventure. It’s got nuclear weapons, killer fishies (well, only one, but it was big, okay?), and a Bond girl who isn’t quite my hero Galatea Brand but doesn’t fall too terribly short. I enjoyed it. And I wouldn’t mind seeing the movie again.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers

Once in a while, I come across a book that feels like it was written just for me. A book that makes me feel as if the psychic, precognitive author lives in my head and knows just what I like and when I’d like it.

 

This is one of those books.

 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is much more about the Long Way than the Angry Planet. It’s episodic, like reading a television series, but I didn’t feel the pace suffered for it. The issues each “episode” focuses on are small in scope. This isn’t a sci-fi epic about a daring crew of space warriors fighting to save the universe from evil. It’s about a hodgepodge crew of ordinary people trying to make a living in a vast, confusing, multi-cultural galaxy. It’s quiet, it’s introspective, and it’s a good 95% world-building and examining individuals and relationships from a variety of perspectives—some alien, some human, all utterly relatable. It’s not going to be everyone’s cuppa, but it was just what I wanted right now.

 

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cuddle with the book and bask in the glow of its perfection.

For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only (James Bond, #8) - Ian Fleming

A collection of five short stories that don’t really add much of importance to Bond canon. Still, I guess it’s nice to know where all those movie titles came from.

 

Quick impressions broken down by individual stories:

 

From a View to a Kill: 3* Just a fun little spy story without much substance.

 

For Your Eyes Only: 2* I liked the bit about the birds at the beginning. The rest was boring.

 

Quantum of Solace: 2* In which a casual remark by Bond results in him – and the reader – being subjected to a lengthy, somewhat dull cautionary tale regarding marrying air hostesses.

 

Risico: 2* Colombo is an interesting character, but the story itself is terribly boring and I skimmed most of it.

 

The Hildebrand Rarity: 3* “He rarely killed fish except to eat, but there were exceptions – big moray eels and all the members of the scorpion-fish family. Now he proposed to kill the sting-ray because it looked so extraordinarily evil.” F*** off, Bond. F*** all the way off. As if I didn’t dislike you enough already. Other than that, it was an engaging story, though there wasn’t much in the way of Bondness about it. It could have been just about any sexist, racist Englishman in the starring role.

Goldfinger

Goldfinger (James Bond, #7) - Ian Fleming

Moonraker II Goldfinger: Because entangling Bond in a nefarious plot masterminded by the ginger-haired millionaire with a bizarre face whom he caught cheating at cards worked so well the first time.

How often in his profession had it been the same – the tiny acorn of coincidence that soared into the mighty oak whose branches darkened the sky. And now, once again, he was setting out to bring the dreadful growth down.

How often indeed, James.

 

Goldfinger didn’t do much for me. At all. Aside from the recycled flavor of the villain, I found the book slow and boring and overwhelmingly “meh”.

 

I’m starting to see how limited Fleming’s bag of tricks was. At least half the women so far who haven’t immediately responded to Bond’s extra-manly manliness have rape in their backstory. Good thing Bond is there with his magic penis to cure them of their reticence. How awesome would it have been if Pussy had run off with Tilly instead of Bond? She might have, too, if Bond hadn’t interfered. Oh well.

 

And is it just me, or would Pussy Galore and her Abrocats have made for a much more interesting book? Not that I would have trusted Fleming to do it justice. Someone should get on that, though. Pronto.

Doctor No

Dr. No (James Bond) - Ian Fleming

Picking up about a year after the events of From Russia With Love, this book finds Bond barely recovered from Rosa Klebb’s kick to his shin (three cheers for Rosa’s poisoned shoe-knife, deflator of egos and humbler of spies). M. wants to ease him back into the field and see if he’s still got what it takes, so he throws him into the shallow end with a routine inquiry in Jamaica. A nice holiday in the sun.

 

A nice holiday in the sun with poisoned fruit, venomous insects, fire-breathing dragons, giant cephalopods, tons of bird poop, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.

 

Bond is still a racist, sexist bastard and the phonetic spelling of dialects nearly liquefied my brain, but I haven’t had this much fun since Diamonds are Forever. It was cheesy and over the top while still showcasing excellent writing and pacing. And I learned a valuable life lesson about bringing a Smith and Wesson to a flame thrower fight. I thought this was a vast improvement over FRWL in nearly every respect, but I do wish the mortality rate of Bond’s non-British coworkers wasn’t so high.

From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love (James Bond, #5) - Ian Fleming

Oh dear. Where to start.

 

Reading this book, I got the impression that the original manuscript Fleming turned in to his publisher was deemed too short, and subsequently Fleming was required to pad the word count with what is now erroneously referred to as “Part One: The Plan” (a more apt name would be “Part One: The Villain Monologues”). This theory might also explain why Fleming felt compelled to expand – mid-dialogue, in brackets – on the context of the sly digs the Russian officials were dishing out to each other during their interminable who-should-we-kill-to-flex-our-international-muscles meeting which could have been summed up in a single paragraph (and which bore a striking resemblance to an actual love letter to the British Secret Service, which is apparently the bestest on the whole planet because all the other countries except maybe Sweden are stupid, but Sweden doesn’t care about spy scandals. You really are Great, dear Britain. Sincerely, Russia xoxo).

 

Once we wade through the life story of a nameless masseuse and the minute physical description of her client, followed by the life story of said client, followed by the life story of the different branches of Russian Intelligence and their conference room, followed by that interminable meeting which includes the life stories of the department heads, followed by a chess game, followed by more meetings, followed by the life story of this book’s Bond Girl, we FINALLY get to Part Two, which starts off with a bang, and by “bang” I mean a description of Bond’s current state of ennui that’s nearly as interminable as this sentence.

 

And THEN the real story starts. Slowly. Nearly halfway through the book.

 

Someone forgot to put the thrill in this spy thriller.

 

Unless you’re thrilled by 1950s-style racism, misogyny, homophobia, and British nationalism, in which case you may find this a most thrilling work of fiction.

 

I know I've seen the movie, but I honestly can't remember much about it. After reading the novel, I suspect that may be due to a subconscious act of mental self-defense.

Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are Forever (James Bond) - Ian Fleming

This fourth Bond adventure was so much fun that I never found myself making movie comparisons. In my mind, Bond was once again played by a young Hoagy Carmichael, and Kidd and Wint bore a simultaneously hilarious and disturbing resemblance to Penn and Teller. From the locations to the horse racing to the gambling to the villains to the return of Felix Leiter, I really enjoyed this book. If not for the usual racism, misogyny, and Tiffany Case’s gratuitously horrible backstory, this would have been a perfect spy thriller for me.

 

In the case of Diamonds are Forever book vs movie, Tiffany Case had it right: “It reads better than it lives.”

Moonraker

Moonraker (James Bond, #3) - Ian Fleming

Bond is back at the card tables in this adventure, and though we’re told at the beginning that he’s the best shot in the Service, Moonraker seems to reinforce the impression that Bond is just an average bloke who’s good at gambling and super-duper lucky. But he doesn’t always get lucky. Something came to me while reading this book. For an alleged lady-killer, Bond spends a lot of time not killing any ladies. Aside from that one seaside holiday in Casino Royale, he’s either too busy, too injured, or too late to score and all his alleged lady-killing takes place off-screen, so to speak. I hope (in vain, I fear) this trend continues. It makes the constant referring to grown-ass women as girls a tiny bit less grating. (Yes, I know, written in the 50’s, blah blah.)

 

Speaking of grown-ass women constantly referred to as girls, Galatea Brand is my new hero.

 

Who stayed under cover for a year without detection? Gala. Who cracks the case? Gala. Who knows how to reprogram the rocket and save London? Gala. Who probably didn’t really need Bond to save the day? Gala.

(show spoiler)

 

I’ve never seen the Moonraker film so I had no insistent movie images or plot points intruding on my reading. Perhaps that’s why I finally started seeing Bond as a Hoagy Carmichael lookalike instead of picturing Roger Moore. It was a nice change. (No disrespect to Roger Moore, but young Hoagy wasn't at all bad to look at.)

 

Three stars! It probably would have been closer to four had my utter ignorance of Bridge not made the whole gentlemen’s club card cheating subplot dry as unbuttered toast.

Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2) - Ian Fleming

This novel drags for the first third, but then the good ol’ 1950s spy thriller cheesiness really kicks into gear and we’re off for another entertaining Bond adventure. Though he was slightly less of a douche-canoe this time and there was a lot more action than in Casino Royale, I actually found the baccarat game more thrilling to read about.

 

I’m still struggling to divorce the books from the movies. Thanks to being raised by a Bond-loving father, I fear my mental image of Bond will continue to shift between the actors who have played him. Oh well. Alternately picturing Daniel Craig, a young Sean Connery, etc., won’t do me any harm.

 

In the meantime, watch out for trapdoors and don’t disagree with sharks.

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