The sky's the limit in third Bond thriller.
Ian Fleming's Moonraker is James Bond's third literary outing and it sees him trying to prevent the detonation of a loose nuke. If you've never read a Bond book, you may want to know that in addition to being thrillers they're hardcore car and food porn. Fleming takes pains to describe engines, exhausts, gearing; then he'll turn toward flavors, ingredients, and vintages. In Moonraker a chapter long car chase is a tour de force. A meal in a private club is almost as exciting. The rarefied world of three digit speed and three star dinners drew us in almost as much as the plot. But the main takeaway from this book for us is that it was absolutely murdered by United Artists when adapted for the screen. They left nothing but the title and the name of the villain. It's worth reading just to experience Fleming's original vision. This 1960 Signet edition has Barye Phillips cover art, and it's a bit different for him but very nice.
Bond is born in Ian Fleming's 1953 Cold War thriller.
We've read a few Bond novels, but not his debut in 1953's Casino Royale. When it comes to secondhand bookstores and yard sales you read what you find. But we decided to finally made a deliberate effort to go back to the beginning with an edition from Signet, which appeared in 1960 with Barye Phillips cover art. The debuts of franchise characters leave room for continuing adventures by design but we've never read a book that was so deliberately a prequel as Casino Royale. It's the essential novel for understanding Bond. You know the basics already: Cold War intrigue, opposing teams taking the field for a long struggle, a Soviet spy named La Chiffre who's dipped into funds not his and who hatches a desperate plan to restore them via the baccarat tables of a famous French casino, Bond dispatched to outplay him, break him, and ensure his downfall for stealing the money.
The book is fantastic from its opening, through its tremendously tense middle sections, and on to its brutal punchline of an ending. Bond is imperfect as both a spy and a man. He's sometimes kind, prone to sentiment, and philosophical about his work; he's also sexist, racist, and generally regressive. Casino Royale is designed to explain how the first three qualities were destroyed, making him a perfect spy. The latter three qualities remain. While in serious fiction many authors of the period were writing about racial equality and the essential sameness of people, Ian Fleming was declaring that Asians are terrible gamblers because as a race they lack resolve. None of this is a surprise because much is known about Fleming's personal views. Bond is an icon, but of a less enlightened era. We're readers, of ours. Yet we can meet on the page, and—with a tolerance Fleming never showed others—still manage to have a little fun.
When he was in med school we all called him Resident Yes. Time really changes people.
We ran across this interesting dust jacket for Ian Fleming's Doctor No, from a hardback edition published by U.K. based Macmillan in 1958. There have been so many James Bond covers over the decades it's almost impossible to find one that is less known, but we think this example is just a bit more obscure than others. The prominent octopus in the art by H. Lawrence Hoffman, in case you haven't read the book, represents a component of a diabolical torture Dr. No puts Bond through at one point. That didn't make it into the movie.
Bond takes a shot at Thai readers.
The above book covers for the James Bond novels Live and Let Die, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only and Goldfinger come from Thailand, where a martini is a “hăy láa bprà-pâyt kók-tayn,” a phrase sure to leave even international badass James Bond a sputtering mess. At the very least, he can forget about getting it shaken not stirred. No way he can pronounce those words, cunning linguist or not. Of course, being Bond, there’s always some slinky English-speaking femme fatale happy to help him out before a) bedding him and b) trying to kill him. It’s the same for us, except the slinky femmes are the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, and after bedding us they make us help with chores, which is a little like being killed. Bond never did chores. And next time they ask us we’re going to say that to them with a straight face—James Bond never did chores. We’ll let you know how that works out.
Change is inevitable—especially if you're dealing with Ian Fleming.
Ian Fleming was not an author to be trifled with. We talked about how he shifted the rights for Casino Royale from Popular Library to Signet. Well, here we go again. The above 1957 Perma paperback of Diamonds Are Forever with excellent William Rose cover art is rare because Fleming shifted the publishing to Signet after Perma changed the title of Moonraker to Too Hot to Handle. Since this happened after the Casino Royale fiasco you’d think the editors would have known better.
Perma: Ian, Moonraker is a terrible title. It sounds like a sci-fi novel.
Fleming: You listen here, you sniveling little pup—
Perma: This is my job, okay. I’m telling you a bad title hurts your whole brand.
Fleming: Well, I have an idea for a book called Goldfinger. I suppose you think that’s a bad title too?
Perma: Well, yeah...
Fleming: Why you rotten eel. And Octopussy? You don’t like that either?
Perma: Sounds pornographic. It’s ludicrous.
Fleming: You have two tin fucking ears is what’s ludicrous! And Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang?
Perma: The worst of the bunch, and pornographic. I’m sorry, Ian—
Fleming: Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang? Pornographic? That’s the last goddamned straw, you pimply little Yank!
Bond—James Bond. But Jimmy is fine. Some people call me Jim, Jimbo, J-Man, J.B. My mom calls me Jimminy Cricket. I’m cool with whatever.
The story is well known—Popular Library insisted upon changing the title of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale to what you see above. They even went so far as to call 007 “Jimmy Bond” on the rear cover blurb. Fleming retaliated by selling the U.S. publishing rights to Signet at first opportunity, leaving only a small run of very collectible copies of You Asked For It on the market. Fleming must have learned from the episode, though, that titles don’t really matter, because he later wrote Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car. Anyway, You Asked for It appeared in 1955, with unsigned and uncredited cover art. The blog Killer Covers has a bit more info about the book here.
Two Fleming covers offer opposite visions of how to Live large.
Sometimes we get in the mood for a true classic, so at top is the excellent 1966 Macmillan Publishers edition of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die. It’s possible the James Bond books have had more cover iterations than any other series, and most of them are high quality, often trending toward the sort of luridness we love, but we also like the simple, elegant graphics of Macmillan's deep green masterpiece. On the other hand, if we were to go lurid then there’s no better art to be found than on the 1964 cover Vivi e lascia morire from the Italian imprint Garzanti. The variations on Live and Let Die are practically infinite, but the Garzanti edition is our other favorite (though this one is great too). There is no artist info on these, which is criminal, we think. We’ll dig, though, and see what we can find. As a matter of taste, it’s interesting to contemplate which of the two books we would buy, assuming we could buy only one. Tough choice. What do you think?
Update: the second cover was painted by Giovanni Benvenuti.
James Bond’s cruel nature is exposed on comic book cover.
This amazing Italian comic book cover for Ian Fleming’s Missione Royal, aka Casino Royale, with excellent cover art by Franco Picchioni, was printed in 1965. We found it over at the blog illustrated007, and there are other items there worth taking a look at if you’re inclined. Casino Royale was the first James Bond adventure written by Ian Fleming, but when it eventually hit the big screen in 1967 it was a Royale with cheese. Or more accurately, it wasn’t a Royale at all because it was a spoof that had nothing in common with Fleming’s work except the title and some characters. Still though, in its own way it was a good movie. But this cover reminds us that one thing we like about Bond as written by Fleming is his seriousness. Fleming more than once described Bond as having a “cruel mouth.” This doppleganger of Sean Connery has a cruel everything. No compassion in those eyes at all. We love it.
Your play, Mr. Bond.
Since we were just on the subject of classic dust jackets, it seems a good time to post this first edition jacket of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. We put together a post of Bond first editions a while back, but left this one out because it was thematically different. Those others Bonds are some of the best covers we’ve ever seen, but this hypothetical, two-suited playing card has a certain charm of its own. Speaking of which, when contemplating what to title this post we remembered that most people think of a card trickster as a “card shark,” but “sharp” is actually the older term, though both are accurate. Just FYI. Check our other Bond dust jackets here.
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