Bond in Print: 'Moonraker' - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Bond in Print: 'Moonraker'

Alexander Wallace keeps his feet on the ground.
Moonraker is in many ways one of the odd men out of the James Bond films. It is thus far the only film in which James Bond goes to space. It was made as such to cash in on the science fiction craze as kickstarted by Star Wars, the 1978 Superman, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a literally out-of-this-world plot.

But what many forget is that the novel upon which that film is based is a much more worldly affair. There is nothing that transcends Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, Moonraker refers to a missile manufactured by the likes of Hugo Drax for the British Ministry of Defence. Given that this is a novel starring James Bond, suspicious things are afoot.

The more I read of Fleming’s Bond novels, the clearer it becomes to me how they sell themselves by appealing to the fascinations of the 1950s British middle class. Casino Royale made its atmosphere with the glamour of high-stakes gambling and the perceived sophistication of France. Live and Let Die staked its bets on the glitz of New York City and the glamor of a Caribbean vacation. Moonraker takes a different tack, one that enters the territory of soft science fiction: the rocket program. During World War II, the Nazis pummeled Britain with the V-2 rocket, and fears of rocket war were in the air. Moonraker runs on the fascination with these new and terrifying weapons; much of the book is set at a launch facility.

Commentary on the book notes that Moonraker is set entirely within England; there is none of the globetrotting adventure that has defined so much of the franchise. In a strange sense, this book about devastating missiles is cozier than the previous two novels. It is a book about Bond and his England, only a few years after the end of World War II, and the clubs and hotels and offices that he knows.

You get an even better sense of Bond as a character here than in the previous two books. You learn his daily routine, roughly; Fleming describes his normal life as something like a well-paid civil servant. You begin to understand the insular, somewhat cold culture of MI6, for Fleming talks of how hard it is for anyone there, male or female, to have a committed relationship in light of their duties. That which stands out the most is Bond’s relationship with M, which Fleming portrays as having a level of quiet intimacy that neither man would ever admit to.

Another interesting little bit is Gala Brand, the ‘Bond Girl’ of this novel (albeit I find that the women in the novels thus far are far more substantial than their counterparts in many of the films). Her relationship with Bond is more subdued than I’d expect, and her story ends in a way that is unlike anything in the films.

Moonraker is almost as if James Bond were in a science fiction novel. It is concerned with technology and its relationship with British national security, and how that national security can be subverted by malicious actors. It is a very clever novel whose insight and thrills have not dulled in the decades since it was written.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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