By George Ebey
Cue the music.
A man walks directly in front of you.
You see his profile. He’s wearing a sharp suit, keeping to himself. The perfect target.
You got him in your crosshairs. You’re about to pull the trigger.
Suddenly he turns and fires a gun directly at you.
Everything goes red. The world shakes.
The story begins…
For nearly sixty years the name James Bond has been synonymous with action and adventure. In his new collection, Choice of Weapons, author Raymond Benson keeps the thrills coming. This exciting compilation begins when 007 finds himself in Hong Kong to investigate the deadly intrigue taking place behind Britain’s political handover of the colony to China (Zero Minus Ten); then he must match wits with a fanatical cult that has murdered M’s lover (The Facts of Death); and finally must stop a Japanese crime ring from attempting a mass assassination with a deadly strain of West Nile virus (The Man With the Red Tattoo). Included also are two rare short stories, Live at Five and Midsummer Night’s Doom.
I recently had a chance to contact Mr. Benson who gave me some insight into what it was like to work within a series that has such a rich history behind it.
The original 007 novels were mostly written in the 1950’s. What challenges did you face in updating James Bond for a more recent audience?
My directive from the Ian Fleming Estate was to try and blend the “literary” Bond with the “cinematic” Bond, especially the Pierce Brosnan entries which were current at the time. Those are two distinct things. Fleming’s literary Bond was cold, ruthless, a bit of a brooder, and mostly humorless. The cinematic Bond has a sense of humor and more worldly sophistication. The films have much more action and gadgetry than the original novels. That said, I tried to keep the character of Bond more like Fleming’s (he still retained all his vices, which made him a bit anachronistic in the late 90s and early 2000s, but it also made him stand out). I was also directed to make the character of M a woman, just as the current films did. My books were probably more cinematic than Fleming’s. They were “modern” thrillers, as opposed to the kind of stuff that was coming out in the 1950s and early 60s, i.e., faster paced with terse prose.
How does your interpretation of James Bond differ from that of the original novels?
There really wasn’t much difference. Just as with my predecessor’s books (John Gardner), the character was picked up intact from the 1960s and placed into the 1990s. Everything *around* him was different, but Bond was basically the same guy. I worked very hard in keeping him a “blunt instrument”–but I suppose my Bond had a bit more of a sense of humor, in keeping with the films.
Which original 007 novel stands out the most in your mind and why?
As I wrote in Thrillers–100 Must-Reads, I believe From Russia, With Love (1957) is the best Bond novel. Dr. No (1958) is a close second and is perhaps really the most quintessential 007 book because its structure and ingredients defined the Bond novel. Russia had an experimental structure, but also had arguably Fleming’s best plot. I suggest everyone read my essay in 100 Must-Reads to get the full story, but suffice it to say that Russia (Fleming’s fifth book) elevated the series to a higher literary standard.
Choice of Weapons contains three Bond novels and two short stories. Do readers need to be familiar with typical James Bond lore in order to enjoy them or can newcomers join in the fun?
Not at all. I would venture to say that most everyone has seen a Bond movie, and that should tell you all you need to know. Even that is not a necessary prerequisite. Of course, aficionados will recognize certain “wink-wink” references to the original series. The three novels were my first, second, and sixth books in my own series. They are: Zero Minus Ten, The Facts of Death, and The Man with the Red Tattoo. The third, fourth, fifth novels were collected two years ago in another anthology called The Union Trilogy. The collection also contains two rare short stories, one originally published in TV Guidemagazine, and the other in Playboy. I’ve also written a new Introduction to the entire anthology.
Do you have plans for any new James Bond adventures in the future?
No. My tenure as the Bond author lasted seven years and ended in 2002. There was a hiatus before any new Bond novels were published. Sebastian Faulks did one book, Devil May Care, in 2008. ITW member Jeffery Deaver was just hired to reboot the series with one novel to be published in 2011. I have gone on since then to do my own original thrillers and several others types of tie-ins. It’s nice, though, that Pegasus Books have published these anthologies to keep my 007 work in print. I suppose it can be said–“once a Bond author, always a Bond author.” It’s an elite club and I’m proud to be a member.
I just have to ask: shaken or stirred?
Shaken is the only way. Fleming was right!