There’s a lot of conjecture of late around the future of print media – both books and newspapers. There is a large range of e-readers on the market, on which people can store and access millions of books, and internet news is undermining the relevance of newspapers which are always a day behind. Personally, I would rather read a tangible item than stare at a screen – but e-books are proving to be extremely useful and convenient.
For example, recently I read the novelisations of both The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. I say novelisations because, when those two films were released it was felt they diverged so far from their source material that they warranted new books being published. Christopher Wood, a scriptwriter on both films, wrote the novelisations and he does a sterling job of bringing the silliness of the films back down to earth. As a credit to Wood, the standard of the books does not lessen in quality in the same way the films did, and he even manages to make James Bond in space seem somewhat credible. For me, these two books have helped the e-book prove its purpose. I was able to access The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, which have been out of print in English for 30 years, because they’ve both been recently released as e-books. So, I installed the Kobo app on my iPad, bought and downloaded the two books, and sat down to a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon. If not for Kobo, I doubt if I would ever have read them.
The necessity for a new published version of The Spy Who Loved Me stemmed from Ian Fleming’s stipulation when he sold the rights to his original novel that only the title be used – the author having been so embarrassed by the thoroughly lacklustre contents of his own work. Accordingly, the producers devised an entirely new story that has become an audience favourite and is often hailed as Roger Moore’s best Bond film. The film centres on James Bond’s efforts, in a détente partnership with Major Anya Amasova of the KGB, to recover three stolen nuclear submarines from the clutches of megalomaniac shipping magnate Karl Stromberg. The film features setpieces the likes of which had never been seen in the series before, and set a new level for excitement that the films which followed it would be hard pressed to match.
The novelisation of the film differs significantly in parts. It tends to be more character driven than the film; certainly there is more expansion of James Bond’s emotions, away from Moore’s portrayal of the character as an eyebrow raising class clown. Wood returned to the Fleming novels and emulated the tone and style evoked throughout Fleming’s canon, to great success. According to Wood himself, writing the book after the film was made meant he was able to change his material with hindsight. He reflects that this hindsight enabled him to go back and work on some elements with which he was unhappy, and so as a result the book is a very tightly written work with the style of Fleming but with the film’s very cinematic plot. It definitely has a much harder edge – there is more violence, and more death – and some of the decidedly sillier elements are completely left out (though readers will be pleased to know that Jaws was not amongst them). The final product, as a consequence, reads almost more like a book upon which the film was based, rather than the other way round.
When it came to Moonraker, the producers again decided to authorise a novelisation, as once again the film diverted far from its source material. Here, James Bond is once again up against a billionaire transport magnate. This time it is Hugo Drax, a man with his eyes set on repopulating the earth with a master race, from space. Bond must avert the murder of the majority of the world’s population that Drax considers inferior, and to facilitate this travels to space for perhaps the most outlandish and ridiculous Bond denouement ever put to film (even if it is a guilty pleasure for this writer).
Wood’s novelisation this time adheres very closely to the plot of the film. After the high of The Spy Who Loved Me, this book proves something of a disappointment. Mind you, it’s not without merit. Wood has gone to lengths to make Jaws seem scary, even though he was the comic relief of the film, and the trademark Roger Moore quips don’t seem as smarmy in print. However, like the film, the best part of the book is Hugo Drax. His calm and collected witticisms make the book worth reading – case in point: “James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.” Ultimately, this book is a decent improvement on the film, but in the eyes of so many it would take more than an adaptation as a straight thriller novel to save Moonraker.
I doubt that these books appear in the “must haves” of many Bond readers; indeed, I suspect few people these days even know they exist. However, as curiosities they are surprisingly enjoyable, and with the hassle-free format of e-books, are easy to obtain without problems if you want to check them out.