Archive for July, 2011

Ian Fleming – Moonraker

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

The third James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming is Moonraker (1955). In my reviews of the first two novels, Casino Royale and Live And Let Die, I put the notion that Fleming was still finding his path as author, both in style, plot and the formula that would define a James Bond adventure. Thus I was interested to know when he would find the right course for his spy thrillers.

The answer came with Moonraker. Basically the novel contains everything we know of the James Bond movies. Exhilarating car chases, twisted villains with diabolical plans and thrills at every corner. There is not a dull moment to be found and the story keeps a steady but fast pace that keeps you hooked.

Notwithstanding all the James Bond trademarks in this book, the story itself is as un-Bond-like as can be. I guess this is a strange remark to make when I wrote that it is a typical James Bond story. It is somewhat hard to explain without spoiling the story. Lets just say that it contains certain surprises you will never have seen in any Bond-movie and probably will not as people will not consider it fitting for a James Bond movie. These differences did however excite me and made me enjoy the book more because it is showing a side I haven’t seen before. However, these differences do not disturb the formula. It at least makes the read much more worthwhile.

Little of the characters and plot was used for the movie of the same name, which was mainly used to follow in the Star Wars hype of that time. Some basic concepts remain, but overall the story is partially limited by the time it is set in.

The character of Bond himself has now lost most of his sharp edges and behaves more like the one we are familiar with (although I would compare him more with Sean Connery than other actors, but as Connery is my all-time favorite this opinion is a bit subjective).

The plot itself still retains more sharp edges in its actions and events but it is also less than before. This is not a bad thing as it brings the Bond novel closer to as we know it from the movies. Of course it is not as exotic and more realistic in its events and behavior, this is of course not that strange as several of the movies also have aimed for a more realistic approach to step down from movies that had become too fantastic. That keeps the audience fresh. The books itself of course did not require something like that, although I am interested in the following novels. At least I can say that the James Bond novels live up to their name. Expect a more realistic bond and the reader will easily feel at home.

Especially because of its surprise compared to the typical Bond-formula Moonraker certainly is a must-read for any James Bond fan. It is well written, with a smoother style than the first two novels, and keeps you wanting for more.

Ian Fleming – Live And Let Die

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

In my review of Casino Royale I mentioned that the novel only felt like half a story. Now with its sequel (it can be seen as such), Live And Let Die (1954), Ian Fleming provides us with a full length novel, although 200 pages may seem short, but things were different in those days, especially where it concerned the more entertaining than literary novels.

The beginning of the novel is the only part which resembles the plot of the movie adaptation. Some names and plot elements are similar, but after that beginning the story diverges, resembling plot elements of other movies (I won’t spoil which or what), which makes me wonder what will be in those adapted books. Either way this was certainly not a problem as it at least provided me with new story to discover.

What struck me immediately, compared with the movie, is that the namesake characters in the book are depicted much stronger. The villain and the bond girl are weaker and less impressive. Events are also nastier en bloodier. I know the Bond movies are made to be somewhat family friendly but it is still a contrast that sticks when reading the books.

While the characterization is stronger, including Bond himself, the plot itself varies in strength. The beginning and ending are a bit slowish while the middle part of the novel is very much engaging and action-packed. Fleming also wastes a bit too many words on what seems as info-dumping, even providing more information that necessary for the story.

It seemed to me Fleming was still busy trying to figure out to find the right balance for a full novel-length story. In some parts he got it right, in others he didn’t. Still it showed a lot of dynamic and promise.

In the other review I wrote about Fleming’s distinctive style. In this novel I felt it had smoothed somewhat or maybe I have gotten used to it, but I don’t think so. It is not unusual for a beginning author to change his writing style. The same counts for the plots. Live And Let Die certainly seems to me to be an early Ian Fleming who is shaping James Bond into the famous character he has become. Next up Moonraker.

Ian Fleming – Casino Royale

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Intending to read the James Bond novels in chronological order I have started with Casino Royale (1953) by Ian Fleming. The James Bond novels are in general not long, but compared to those Casino Royale is just over half a novel. This is notable in the story which ends rather abruptly and although plenty happens the reader will get the idea there should have been more.

What compensates this lack is Ian Fleming’s writing style. Most authors I’ve read, especially those aiming to write thrillers or action stories, don’t have a specific style. They just write in a fluent and smooth way which is unremarkable but not bothersome either. This is not the case for Ian Fleming. In the first few sentences his unique style of writing immediately stands out. It is hard for me to describe. I could say it is a style that reflects the time he wrote it in. One way to describe it would be ‘confidant’. The authors knows what he is writing about.

Two other things clearly stand out. First is a fast pace. Fleming does not waste words where it does not matter for the story. In contrast he goes into detail where it matters and also to add a greater distinction to the description of features of characters and the way they are dressed. This creates a specific dynamic.

The James Bond depicted is a raw and uncompromising character who changes somewhat during the course of the story. When comparing it to the movie adaptation this element is well incorporated. This Bond does not resemble the Bond we know from the movies. The story of Casino Royale is adapted fairly true to the story, but as mentioned before it is only half a story so it fill barely half of the movie. Although certain scenes have been extended greatly, also a lot of more story is build around it, but the core remains the same. This core is strong and intense and it surely has been great that they’ve finally managed to bring it to the big screen in its original atmosphere.

Although Casino Royale is a very fine read it is still lacking in story. Nevertheless it shows great promise and I will surely continue with the next installment Live And Let Die to see how the original James Bond further develops and compare him to the iconic character that he has become.

Another batch for a growing stash

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

I seriously should stop buying new books for a while and spend some time reading. Today I received another two new books, Fortress Of Owls (1999) and Fortress Of Ice (2006), books 3 and 5 of the Fortress series by C. J. Cherryh. Now I have the whole (available) series complete, so I can continue with book 2. Nevertheless I am also thinking about picking up a few Ian Fleming novels, which should provide some shorter reads for a change. For now I haven’t decided yet, but that won’t take too long.

George R. R. Martin – A Dance With Dragons

Monday, July 18th, 2011

It took me about 2 days and (luckily) most of my weekend. I write luckily because I could read continuously, except for sleeping and eating, which at least did not deprive me from getting sufficient sleep as reading during the working week would have caused. Those who have read the book I am writing about might be amazed for me reading almost 1000 pages in this short time, but if I am enjoying myself and the writing is easy to read I can manage 50 pages per hour. In this case it was only 30, if I make a rough estimate, so I don’t think I read too fast.

The book I am talking about is A Dance With Dragons (2011) by George R. R. Martin, the fifth book of A Song Of Ice And Fire. The previous novel was publish six years ago so the hiatus was quite long, although I did do some rereading, perhaps four years ago. Either way it was a long time since I had delved into the story. It took me no time to get back into the mood. That is the first thing I have to say about the book. Although it took Martin six years, the time was not wasted. A Dance With Dragons is a solid continuation of the series, capturing the same atmosphere and pace of the previous books. I can even say the pace is faster as time moves on faster between chapters. In previous books certain characters could be seen being rather slow in their movement but this time more ‘time’ is covered than before. Still it would nice to have an overview of the chronology of the different events.

The A Song Of Ice And Fire books remain founded on their characters. Most of the action comes from character interaction and their is little action. This was also the case in the previous books, but even more so here. Martin puts his characters in dire circumstances where they have to rely on fortune or their wits to get out of trouble. The events follow a natural course although one cannot predict how the flow will run. The characters choose paths were things can either one way or the other, but telling when or how it will go wrong remains guess work.

Going wrong is one of the common tendencies of A Song Of Ice And Fire which makes it so distinct and different than other novels. Most fantasy is in the end heroic fantasy. There is also dark fantasy where a lot of nasty things happen to the main characters, but the author in this case aims for it and presents the nastiness in a horrific way. A Song Of Ice And Fire is not dark. It sure is gritty and quite naturalistic, but events have a tragic nature to them. One can feel the tension growing while the characters aim to do right (from their own viewpoint) until things go wrong. The reader will feel a kind of desperation. Martin hits his mark and makes a deep impact.

There is one particular difference between this books and the others. The fantastic element is stronger. We see more of the special abilities wielded by certain persons. Still, a lot of things remain vague as ever. Many questions still have to be answered.

Martin yet again tells a great and complex story. Even in this fifth book he keeps pulling rabbits out of his big hat. No reader will have a clue where events will lead to and who will remain to be there at the end. The series contains a tremendous power with a steady and captivating rhythm. What further sets it apart from many fantasy series is its vast range of fascinating characters and details. To me it is a joy to read and I can only hope that the next installment won’t take that long to complete. This series remains one of my favorites and this latest addition is highly recommended.

The arrival of the long-awaited one and more

Friday, July 15th, 2011

With some many fantasy novels being part of series of more than three books it is not uncommon that the period between two books can take several years. Overall I usually am quite patient. There are plenty of other books to read in the meanwhile. One of those series with larger intervals between the latest books is A Song Of Ice And Fire. There was a wait of 5 years between books 3 and 4. When book 4 came out, in 2005, the author, George R. R. Martin, said he had to cut the intended novel in two because it became too long. So the next book was already partially written and shouldn’t take too long to finish. Soon he rued saying that. Now, finally, after 6 years book 5 has finally been finished. It goes without saying that I have already started reading A Dance With Dragons (2011). Like many other fantasy fans it is one of my favorite series.

On my home from work, when I had picked up A Dance With Dragons at the bookstore I found a pleasant surprise on the floor when opening the front door of my home. Two books had arrived which I had ordered online. These were books 2 and book 4 of the so-called Fortress series by C. J. Cherryh, Fortress Of Eagles (1998) and Fortress Of Dragons (2000), sequels to Fortress In The Eye Of Time, a book I read and reviewed recently. Yes another book with dragon in the title. Books 3 and 5 I expect to receive soon as I ordered them at the same time as the other two books.
More books added to my stash, but that’s the life of an avid book reader.

Umberto Eco – The Island Of The Day Before

Monday, July 11th, 2011

The novels of Umberto Eco are famous for its erudition. The author delves into a vast range of curious subjects and displays great detail in describing them while putting them in their natural habitat within the story. More than his other works (for so far that I’ve read them) The Island Of The Day Before (1994) is such a novel. Taking place halfway during the seventeenth century everything is told from a seventeenth century perspective even as the story is told from a third-person view.

This perspective is also the strongest part of the novel. The reader gets induced in the physics and philosophy of those times although there is a fantastical element to it. The sheer complexity and details that Eco presents are quite stunning and captivating. Even though some things are obviously fantastical it is hard to distinguish what is and what isn’t.

Another element that marks this novel is the story within the story. There are actually many of them and in some ways they can be seen a digressions in which we explore certain topics. The negative effect of this is that the reader can get lost in where the story is heading, more profoundly it even causes a lack of focus within the story as it continuously loses pace and momentum and does not seem to progress much.

So what the book actually seems to become is an exploration of seventeenth century beliefs and ideas for which the story forms the setting.

This is also what makes or breaks this book. If you are looking for an engaging and exciting story you will not be satisfied. There are some parts which are enjoyable but this book seems to aim more at exploring ideas of the seventeenth century than at telling a powerful and captivating story. When I started this book I had no idea and expected to get at least an entertaining story but this I didn’t really get. In that sense it was unsatisfactory to me. Although the digressions and explorations of different topics in a seventeenth century view are certainly an impressive feat they were not that interesting to me because we know now that many have turned out wrong. So it is all about the mindset with which you read this book if you will like it or not. Most people will probably not like it much. It was amusing at times to me but often the digressions were simply too long and long-winded to hold on to my attention. As I’ve read other works by Umberto Eco I know he’s not a consistent writer. Every novel is different from the other although they have certain elements in common. In my personal experience this is the weakest I’ve read but as mentioned before it is all a matter of taste.

The works of Ian Fleming (part 2)

Friday, July 8th, 2011

The advantage of going on vacation while you are awaiting a set of books you’ve ordered online (and they are somewhat late) is that when you get back they will all have arrived. Luckily none were thick books so they all fitted my letter-box so I didn’t need to get to the post-office or my neighbors to get them. What I received was the remainder of the works of Ian Fleming, that is, his James Bond novels; a total of eleven novels and one short story collection. The story collection is actually a recent one as they haven’t been that complete in earlier collections. The eleven novels were Casino Royale (1953), Live And Let Die (1954), Moonraker (1955), From Russia With Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), Thunderball (1961), The Spy Who Loved Me (1962), On Her Majesty‚Äôs Secret Service (1963), You Only Live Twice (1964) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1965). The short story collection was titled Quantum Of Solace (2008), obviously because the movie with the same titled was released just before. I still have some ongoing novels to finish but I expect to pick these up after that, although I can never predict what I will bump into before that time.