Written by Kyle SlagleySome boys can recite the entire comic book saga of Batman or Superman at age nine. Other boys might easily rattle off the history between Master Splinter and Shredder of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There aren’t too many schoolboys whose hero was a martini-swilling, womanizing, narcissistic arm of the government.
I always was a little different.
Yes, Bond—James Bond—was the staple (almost super) hero in our house when I was growing up. My dad watched the movie marathons religiously, and that’s probably the reason my 007 collection has its very own shelf in my house.
I discovered the original Ian Fleming novels when I was in my early teens. I’d already been watching Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton for a while, so naturally I had some preconceived notions about the “true Bond.” What I found easily cemented my affection for the franchise. The Bond of the books is a deeply flawed man who can easily be as expensive to the British government as the Six Million Dollar Man but as self-centered and indulgent as Lord Henry Byron. Maybe another way to put it is that he’s as messed up as some of the bad guys he guns down, but you can’t help cheering for him anyway.
Ian Fleming died in 1964 after penning 14 James Bond novels, the last of which would be published posthumously in 1966. Following his death, five other authors have taken up the mantle, each putting his own spin on the legendary spy. Here’s a rundown of how 007 has spent the last 50 years.
Kingsley Amis wrote the first James Bond novel following Fleming’s death, Colonel Sun, using the pen name Robert Markham. Colonel Sun was published in 1968 and in it Bond heads to Greece to rescue M, who has been kidnapped. Colonel Sun Liang-tan of China is found to be at the heart of the plot and Bond must team up with a Greek agent in order to rescue his boss. Having been published immediately following Fleming’s novels, it’s no surprise that Amis’s rendition has much of the same tone and many of the same character traits as the original set.
James Bond took a nap during the 1970s and didn’t emerge again until 1981 under author John Gardner. Sixteen novels would be published under the Gardner name, two of which were novelizations of the films License to Kill and GoldenEye. Of his 14 original novels, however, none would make it to the big screen. Gardner published his last 007 novel in 1996.
The next six years were huge for Bond and his faithful fans. Raymond Benson kept the franchise pedal firmly on the floor with novelizations for the films Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day, as well as six novels and three short stories of his own. The Man with the Red Tattoo happens to be one of my favorite post-Fleming Bond novels because Benson did a wonderful job of tying West Nile Virus into the storyline at a time when the worldwide concern about global pandemic was at the highest levels since the AIDS crisis began.
Bond hasn’t really found a stable backing in recent years. Devil May Care was published by Sebastian Faulks on May 28, 2008—Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday—and just last year Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver hit the shelves. Both novels continue to bring Bond into the modern age, tying the villains’ evil schemes in with the global concerns of the day.
Although the traditional Bond novels seem to have hit a lull, the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson has taken off fairly well. It began with Silverfin and follows a much less suave James through the halls of Eton College. James is still daring and fiercely intelligent but without the martinis, the string of women, the swagger and pretentious confidence of the adult with a license to kill. Young Bond is a fantastic series for boys that dread reading requirements but love all the action and mystery of “Dad’s 007.”
With Daniel Craig signed on for another two films, it’s clear that as long as there are audiences waiting for another gun battle in which Bond has a girl in one hand and his Walther in the other, the film franchise isn’t going to die. For those of us that enjoy the depth of a novel, let’s hope that there’s an author out there that can write a good story to go with my martini.