author: Ian Fleming
average rating: 3.69
book published: 1955
read at: 2018/07/13
date added: 2018/07/14
If your only experience with Moonraker is the Roger Moore film, please drop what you’re doing and read this book! In every respect–characterization, action, stakes, and plot development–this is the superior work. Fleming takes an oddly innocuous assignment for Bond–more of a personal favor to M, discovering a card cheat at the club–and unravels a treasonous Cold War plot that becomes the first of the familiar “Fate of The World” high-stakes gambits that James Bond is known for.
The scenery is local, but the plot reaches from Dover to Berlin to Moscow as Bond teams up with the Special Branch of Scotland Yard to investigate a murder-suicide at a defense contractor’s plant building the most advanced weapon to date: a transatmospheric guided rocket capable of hitting any capital in Europe with an atomic warhead–the ultimate defense against Soviet aggression or even a re-militarized Germany!
Fleming’s Bond in this story is far from the superhuman sophisticate we see in the Moore film of the same name. This version of Bond has a normal office job when he’s not on assignment and a human’s sense of mortality. The literary Bond gets injured (badly), he contemplates death (as he embarks on a suicide mission), and he might not even get the girl!
Maps are a powerful way of illustrating not only the world that is, but worlds that never have been. What follow are not fictional maps — there’s no Westeros or Middle Earth — but plans and hypotheticals that never came to pass. You’ll see military plans for invasions that didn’t happen or conquests that were hoped-for and never achieved. You’ll also find daring infrastructure schemes that would have remapped cities and even whole continents. There are proposals for political reform — some serious and some more fanciful — as well as deeply serious plans for entire independent nation-states that have never been brought to life. Welcome to maps of worlds that don’t exist — but might.
Fellow Cold War aficionado Clay Lipski has put together a brilliant photo series depicting former nuclear weapon test sites juxtaposed against modern tourists, creating a contrast in images that is all at once novel, dark, and poignant.
The time: 1955. The place: a dry lakebed in southern Nevada called Frenchman Flat. An explosion equivalent to 22,000 tons of TNT creates a roiling mass of superheated, low-density gas. This fireball rises and collides with the surrounding air, creating turbulent vortices that suck smoke and debris up from the ground into a column. The “stem” rises into cooler, thinner air, where the ascent slows, debris disperses, and moisture condenses to form a “cap.” Over days and even months, nuclear fallout spreads and drifts to Earth.
This is one of those novels that brings me to tears no matter how many times I read it — a powerful and moving piece of minatory fiction that really does the heavy lifting of science fiction with utter brilliance. The comic strip carries some of that freight (as does the 1959 classic film with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck), but the novel really is the best version by far.
I’m a sucker for old Cold War memorabilia. I love the whole aesthetic of a post-nuclear-apocalyptic survival story. Nuclear energy fascinates me as does the silent and invisible radiation that surrounds it. I love reading stories about near-misses: The Able-Archer Exercise and The Cuban Missile Crisis among them. Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite movies, and Ronald Reagan will probably be my favourite president because he was ready, willing, and able to fight if the War ever got hot (and spent his time poking fun at the Russians and mirthfully provoking Gorbachev before just beating the living daylights out of them economically). The EBS frightened me because I understood what it was for, but couldn’t wrap my young mind around the fact that it was “just a test.”
That being said, I’ve had this pamphlet nearly memorised–mostly for entertainment, but also in the remote possibility that we suddenly move into DEFCON 2. Browse its pages, satiate your curiosity, and the next time we get in an elevated conflict, you’ll be ready!
I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), Dr. Strangelove
In honour of the widespread anti-capitalist protests going on across the country (and, apparently, around the world), I dug this little tutorial guide out of the archives. It is attributed to the U.S. First Army Headquarters, who allegedly published it in 1955. Although I have not personally verified the source, the language and attitude is consistent with articles published during the “Second Red Scare.” So, the next time you see someone decrying capitalism while simultaneously claiming patriotism (as is happening in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, among other cities), check other signs against those you might see the text of this pamphlet.