Archive for February, 2012

Ian Fleming – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

The movie adaptation of Ian Fleming‘s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) is in general seen as getting mixed opinions, mainly due to lead actor portraying James Bond giving a poor performance. Personally I think the movie has some strong parts, mainly the action sequences, while the acting isn’t that poor either. All thing’s considered many of the later movies required far less serious acting, so there can’t be much said about those performances either.

With only two James Bond novels and one story collection left to go, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service surprised me as being the first novel which plot is left virtually intact in the movie adaptation, following the story quite closely. Until this book there were always considerable differences and changes to mention, but the differentiations in this novel are only minor. The small parts that didn’t make it to the movie were simply not that interesting. On the other side many scenes have been greatly expanded with more twists and substance, actually making the plot richer and far more entertaining.

So one could see the book as a more straightforward and simplified version of the movie. Because of that it is hard for me to give a substantial review. Nevertheless because it is so similar to the movie I do can say the novel follows the James Bond format as it is known most closely, with a few exhilarating action scenes (though far fewer than the extended and long sequences of the movie) and the typical Bond gusto. Compared to some of the other novels we see here a Bond that we are most familiar with and that’s a thing I haven’t been able to say in my previous reviews.

While there are few surprises, the minor differences do provide a good reason to read this book as it gives the fan background details that has been excluded in the movies. The movies are more impersonal, while Fleming likes his details and does go more personal. That is one of the traits that provide a strong reason to read the novels, even as one has seen all the movies (multiple times). In my list of favorite Bond movies On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is ranked somewhere in the middle, and the same I can say of the original movie. It’s only weakness is a bit too straightforward plot and it lacks a bit compared to the stronger novels, but overall it delivers, providing yet another take on the spy novel, making each James Bond novel characteristic and unique.

Five old novels

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

I am always interested in browsing through a catalog of a certain publisher, if they happen to have an interesting collection, to find some interesting new books. In this case I was checking the Oxford University Press for some interesting titles. I picked up another historical work by Alexandre Dumas, La Reine Margot (1845), describing events in France in the late sixteenth century. Then I noticed they had a remarkable selection of Gothic novels. I am not a particular fan of the genre, although I have read a few, just because they can be quite peculiar and at times I like to have a different take on what I usually read. As I was looking for the best price I came to an omnibus edition of four Gothic novels (of that same title in case you want to check it out yourself) for which I would have paid two or three times as much for each book separately, so the choice was easy. The included novels are The Castle Of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, Vathek (1786) by William Beckford, The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis, and Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley. The last one is the most famous but the description of the other three titles attracted me most.

Steven Erikson – The Crippled God

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

I felt a bit of hesitation when I picked up the tenth and final tale of the Malazan Book Of The Fallen by Steven Erikson. The series is one of my all-time favorites so I was a bit sad it would end. Fortunately there is already a spin-off series by Ian C. Esslemont going on and according to rumors, Erikson might be telling some other stories. That would be fitting, because the many storylines he started in the course of the series have not all seen sufficient closure. Certain mysteries still remain somewhat undisclosed. The main reason is that The Crippled God (2011), for sakes of coherency, can’t follow everything at once and not everything is related to the main storyline which has gained greater focus after the first five books which, to me at least, were used to set the stage. It’s for this same reason that the final tale was split into two books, Dust Of Dreams and The Crippled God, and that both had very focused storylines. There were in the end actually only two separate main storylines, although they had many branches. It is in The Crippled God that the branches come together in the two main storylines.

As it is a second part novel, The Crippled God already starts quite different from the previous books, which contained pretty much standalone plots. They had a beginning and an end, although many threads were open at the both sides. This is not the case for The Crippled God as it pretty much continues where we had left off. If it was intentional or not, Erikson provides a somewhat different approach. He slowed down the plot development and spent more time on his characters. With many we have been with for quite some time and gives the reader a bit more insight into their character. He also adds a message in this final book. Between all the mischief and intrigues there are goals that are for a greater good.

Another difference in his approach is that Erikson is really finalizing the story and with this I mean that he closes several threads and that there is some secrecy is finally broken and disclosures on certain mysteries are made. All this happens in a different way than Erikson usually does it. I felt a kind of melancholy from Erikson, who was probably also sad he had to say goodbye, so he wanted to do so in a nice way. So overall The Crippled God has a different feel to it. Less switching between multiple plots and characters, bringing closure and making sure that it doesn’t feel that grim.

Strangely enough The Crippled God is still bloody and at at times sad, and Erikson is still relentless in killing off characters. But somehow I have gotten used to it and perhaps the fact that it is happening almost continuously, the reader doesn’t feel the impact that much anymore. The book is a somewhat heavier on the big finales and intense battles than in the earlier books. They are spread out somewhat and I have to admit I didn’t feel as much impact of loss and tragedy as I did before. In that sense The Crippled God doesn’t deliver as well as one is used to.

The plot contains a few strong twists which are somewhat at odds with the events in the earlier books. While there is some disclosure on some parts, I missed some real explanations that would justify these twists. These are minor flaws, but still there, which leads me to the conclusion that the last book is the weakest of the series, even though I enjoyed it greatly. It had everything, but not enough. Even with the closure it could not give me the satisfaction that I felt with the other novels. Nevertheless the average level of this series of the highest possible and I’m quite amazed Erikson managed to maintain it through all those different novels, each of which had their own character. The series is still one of the most magnificent and original works in the history of epic fantasy.