Thunderball Mass Market Paperback – Jan 1989
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|Mass Market Paperback, Jan 1989||
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"A thriller, a chiller and a pleasure to read " New York Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Ian Fleming (1908-1964), creator of the world's best-known secret agent, is the author of fourteen James Bond books. Born in London in 1908 and educated at Eton and Sandhurst, he became the Reuters Moscow correspondent in 1929. In the spring of 1939, Fleming went back to Moscow as a special correspondent for the London Times. In June of that same year, he joined Naval Intelligence and served throughout World War II, finally earning the rank of Commander, RNVSR (Sp.). Much of the James Bond material was drawn directly from Fleming's experiences as an intelligence officer. Later, Fleming became a consultant on foreign affairs for the London Sunday Times, by which time he had become far better known as the creator of James Bond.
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The plot of the book (which, as with most of Fleming's best work, is disturbing plausible) deals with SPECTRE's theft of two nuclear missiles and their attempt to blackmail the world with atomic destruction. On little more than a hunch, M (Bond's superior, as gruffly humorous as ever) sends Bond down to the Bahamas to search for the missiles. (It is made clear that other intelligence agents are combing other locations as well. One thing that sets the book apart from the film is the portrayal of James Bond as not the absolute best secret agent in the world but instead as just a hardworking professional who, often times, resents the intrusion of work on his private life.) While in the Bahamas, Bond meets the book's main villian, Emilio Largo (well characterized as an almost likeable rogue), Largo's mistress Domino (who has a nicely vulnerable speech in which she analyzes a picture on a pack of cigarettes), and old allies like Felix Leiter. Along with the usual nonstop action and the vivid descriptions that Fleming was known for, Thunderball contains some of Fleming's most memorable characterizations. While little new is revealed of Bond, Largo and Domino grab hold of the reader's imagination and linger after the end of the book.
Famously, this book was inspired by Fleming and producer Kevin McClory's attempts to launch a pre-Connery James Bond film series. The plot was invented for the movies and occasionally, the book suffers for it. The final battle between Largo and the military, for instance, reads a bit flat and doesn't carry the same charge as the earlier, less epic scenes. Surprising as it may be to some of Fleming's detractors, the writer main strength was always his ability to create compelling one-on-one scenes between Bond and the various eccentrics populating his world. And it is here that Thunderball really shines. It's too often ignored that Fleming was a witty writer whose Bond books often carried a comedy-of-manners feel. This is certainly true in the first part of the book in which Bond finds himself sent to a health salon to recover from a life of hard living. Bond's attempts to quit smoking and drinking are hilariously lampooned by Fleming, who makes little secret that he's mocking the critics who complained that his books were immoral. (Indeed, when we are first introduced to Blofeld, we are quickly informed that this man doesn't smoke, drink, rarely eats, and is apparently a virgin. In short, he lacks all of Bond's vices and, Fleming seems to suggest, turns to the business of international villiany mostly because he doesn't have much else to do.) By the time this book came out, Fleming had certainly grown as a writer from the first Bond books. Gone are the occasional awkward passages that occasionally pop up in Casino Royale. Every character speaks in his own individual voice as opposed to everyone speaking like an upper class English gentleman. In short, Thunderball is an excellent adventure that should thrill Bond fans and non-Bond fans alike.
Ian Fleming must have had a marvelous sense of humor becuase the chapters where Bond finds himself stuck at Shrublands, drinking tea and vegatable broth and longing for spaghetti and chianti are extremely funny. Later when things get serious the reader gets wonderful scenes with M. who really was a fascinating character. The old man was even more ruthless than Bond.
The biggest thing Thunderball did was to introduce the world to Blofeld and nevermind the Austin Powers jokes, the original Blofeld was a very dangerous, very scary dude. The description of Largo and the scenes with Bond's old pal, Felix Leiter are also great.
I'm very happy that the old (real) Fleming books are being re-released in such good quality paper and with such snappy retro covers. My dad's old copies were literally crumbling whenever I touched them.
Both book and film start with Bond being sent to Shrublands health Clinic for a detox' program. The film makes it look like a spa. In the book the reader feels the hunger pangs of people living on a grapefruit and carrot juice diet and a small feud with a former Chinese Tong member only serves to keep Bond's wits sharp. Then the criminal organization SPECTRE plans to steal 2 nuclear weapons from the RAF and then blackmail the world into paying them $100 million dollars. On only the thinnest of leads, M send his best man to the Bahamas with the hope he can find the bombs before the deadline is reached to pay up or else.
The book and movie follow almost parallel threads with a couple of significant differences. The movie has more violence and less reason for Bond to take an interest in the villain. In the movie he has an attractive mistress and is really a creepy guy. In the book Bond has more developed reasons for looking into Emil Largo and deeper issues with why Bond can't just shoot him and go home. Reader know that Largo is the bad guy but bond doesn't and he also has to deal with the fact he might be wrong and chasing a false lead.
The book also goes into detail of the wonderful scenery of the Bahamas in the early 1960's, the land of yachts and private beaches and nightclubs that you wish you could visit today. There are also well written scenes of scuba diving and a lecture from Bond's CIA contact to a cheating bartender on the proper way to mix a drink that is sterling.
Fleming truly knew the espionage business and his books, written during the cold war, reflect this, the dark gritty world of professional thugs just behind the glittering world of jet setting millionaires and estate houses. The film has more sex and violence the book, more color and atmosphere. The film may let you see the girls in bikinis on the beach, the book with let you feel the heat of the sun and the cool of the drinks while you watch them.