Monthly Archives: January, 2014

The Dream Archipelago

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This collection of stories is characterised by non-completion. By ellipses, gaps, loss of memory, tantalising hints of more, general incompleteness. In the stories themselves, in the people, in the world.

This turned out not to be the book I thought I was reading. Having adored The Islanders, I thought I was getting an earlier novel set in the same place. Uh, no. This is a set of short stories (including a couple of novellas): some set in the Dream Archipelago, some just referencing it. So I was quite discontent when I read the first ‘chapter’ – The Equatorial Moment – and accepted it as setting the premise for the book… and then realised that The Negation was quite separate, although with strong links. Don’t worry; I got over my disappointment.

“The Equatorial Moment” is not a story. It’s a vignette, explaining the very odd thing about this world: that there is a time vortex, which means it’s the same time everywhere on the world at the same time. It also means that flying somewhere is a rather difficult business. It also sets up that this world is experiencing a war, which – far more than issues to do with time – informs the entirety of this collection. “The Trace of Him” is also a vignette, of a lover and a funeral, that doesn’t really seem to fit the rest of the collection. It’s set in the Dream Archipelago, but that’s all.

Some of these stories are directly about the war, and its impact on soldiers and civilians. “The Negation” is framed around a draftee and his experiences, but also around an author whose art might be subverted by the war. (Its connection to the Dream Archipelago is tenuous – the novel that the soldier loves is set there.) This story was the first taste of incompleteness that flavours the rest, as Priest suggests and hints but does not fulfil. It’s marvellous. “Whores,” too, examines soldiers and civilians, through a different lens. This time the soldier has been granted leave due to sickness which manifests as synaesthesia; the civilians are women who have become whores because of the exigencies of war. This aspect, that the women are not simply whores but that they became such for real, usually economic reasons, and that they might also have other concerns, was a delight. Too often whores (and slaves) just exist in the same way that horses or dogs do, with no reference to what came before. So that worked. And there’s a tantalising question over whether the soldier in these two stories is the same man or not. The last story in the collection, “The Discharge,” also brings together art and war and ellipses. It’s the fullest exploration of the war that’s been affecting this world for a ridiculous amount of time, and makes it clear that ridiculous is exactly what it is. But then the narrator ends up in the Dream Archipelago, and starts exploring art… a type of art that has a genuinely visceral impact on its viewer by messing with the hypothalamus. And the story takes on a whole other layer and attacks a whole other idea. It’s maddening and glorious and a bit creepy.

You know that thing where you’re reading along, and you’ve been assuming something about the race, gender, location or attitude of a character and then something happens and you have to go back and read everything again to see whether you were stupid and made a mistake, or whether the author has been deliberately messing with you? That was “The Miraculous Cairn” for me. And I’m pretty sure the answer is the latter. It’s set half on the mainland and half on an island; half in the present and half in the past; and it’s a horror story. One of those slow, creeping horror stories that might not be a horror story but probably is. Gave me the shivers, anyway, and is the exemplar of non-completion. It has nothing to do with the war. Neither does “The Cremation,” which is set more fully in the Archipelago and whose horror aspects stem directly from that fear of not knowing the local traditions and attitudes and behaviours. It works all too well. Also largely separate from the war is “The Watched,” whose horrific nature really only comes through in the last few pages. Before that, it definitely has its creepy elements but they’re not the focus (although on reflection perhaps that ought to have made it more creepy…). The tantalising gaps in this story are the sort of thing that in another author’s hands would just indicate a lack of imagination, or pages where they’ve simply deleted “MUST ADD MORE INFO HERE”. Instead, the reader is left just as much in the dark as Ordier about the society of the Qataari, his object of frustrated fascination. What makes the novella really work is that this fascination, while at the heart of the story, is not its sole preoccupation. Ordier – living in the Dream Archipelago but not a native, having left the mainland and his war-related work – lives a relatively ordinary life with a girlfriend whose job is demanding and disappointing, and we get many pages of relatively ordinary life along with Ordier’s growing obsession. This adds to the creepiness but it’s not just there as filler; actually I would have been happy reading about Ordier and Jenessa and their experiences, they’re so intriguing. Which is why it works as a novella.

Are they SF? Is this fantasy? No. The collection is set on a different world, yes; but there’s no exceptional technology – it would be easy to read much of it as set in a generic olde worlde rural setting until you get references to planes, grenade launchers and microwaves. There’s also no magic; the time vortex just exists, and except for stuffing around with air travel doesn’t actually impact on life. The people are human, with nothing special about them. This is just… a world. But I would still argue that it counts as speculative fiction, because I am contrary like that.

This is not the sort of collection I can imagine reading again. The stories are demanding, they’re frustrating, and I think they may only work once. But that once was pretty glorious.

Where Time Winds Blow

I have been a fan of Robert Holdstock for a while, both for the Mythago Wood series and his Merlin/Jason and the Argonauts books, which I still haven’t finished… oops… I’ve had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and as part of my effort to deplete the TBR pile I’ve finally got around to it.

Interestingly,  this reminded me of two books. Firstly, the idea of a planet with weird time distortions of course calls to mind Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos; this came first, and I can’t help wondering about influence.  Secondly, there’s also a similarity to Kress’ Steal Across the Sky, this time in its attitude toward the alien. Aliens were a means to an end for Kress, allowing her to explore different aspects of humanity or society; VanderZande’s World allows Holdstock to do the same. The people are there because of the time winds that rips ng things from the past and the future and deposits them in the present (and presumably other times as well, but let’s not think too hard about that)… but this oddity is mostly just a vehicle for Holdstock to explore humanity.

Humanity have settled on this world partly to explore, and learn to understand the time winds, and partly to colonise. The first is the focus of the story, although the second is touched on and is one of the most interesting issues. The main narrative focuses on a rifter – a man whose purpose is to investigate the stuff appearing after the time wind has blown through. His world starts to go a bit pear-shaped when a new recruit joins his team. Holdstock is interested in how people deal with stress, and how this impacts on relationships, and gradually reveals more of Leo’s life and issues. Of course, things aren’t even as normal-life complex as they initially appear, and Holdstock makes the issues of the past come through in such a way that makes complete sense with what has already been revealed.

Alongside this narrative, Holdstock gives tantalising hints at the world he imagines. It would be human-compatible, but its organic life creates pollens that are toxic. There are two responses to this issue (well, three, because there are also the people who don’t bother to try and settle there): the colonists who are hoping to eventually evolve to the point of unassisted survival; and the manchanged, colonists who have artificially intervened into themselves in order to live without assistance now. The hostility between them is barely examined, but adds depth to the overall narrative as well as depressing believability.

The one problem I had with this book was about the last 20 pages. They felt rushed and forced, and wrapped up an issue in a way that neither felt integral nor necessary. So that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate given I enjoyed the rest of it.

More mittens

photoI guess it’s possible I’m a little obsessed with fingerless gloves at the moment. But these ones aren’t for me! I guess this will be a test to see whether the recipient ever reads this blog…

 

From Russia with Love

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

UnknownSummary: Bond is lured to Istanbul to help SPECTRE steal a Russian encryption machine. Also, there is bellydancing. And stroking of a cat.

Alex: I’ll start by talking about the gender stuff, because the representation of women’s sexuality is quite interesting in this movie. Two women throw themselves at Bond – which is not exceptional in the canon, but in Dr No Honey Rider was quite reticent and Sylvia wasn’t immediately ripping his pants off, so in 1963 there’s no precedent. Additionally, Kerim Bey – Our Man in Istanbul, and not an especially handsome one – has women dragging him off to bed, and two women in the gypsy camp have a fist-fight over who gets to marry the chief’s son (who as far as I can tell, is never seen). So women are sexual creatures, mostly; the only other woman we really see is Rosa Klebb, but she’s old so clearly she doesn’t count (sarcasm!), because she sure doesn’t do sexy. The young women imagesare passionate; in fact, they can barely contain themselves. Bond is generally happy to go along with it; while he doesn’t really initiate anything he does take over when he goes along with it. Bey seems to see pleasing his women as a chore (he actually sighs and says “back to the salt mine” when he agrees to canoodle with one), but has an endless number of sons and extols the virtues of big families. From this I guess we learn that women are ruled by their passions and men are ruled by cool intellect? Or something to that effect. Also, of course, in Bond we have an example of the Magical Penis trope (I really wanted to find a link to explain that, but it wasn’t obvious on TVTropes and NO WAY was I going to google it) – he turns Tatiana into a Good Woman through sex.

The mechanics: we get a prologue! In which Bond appears to be hunted and killed, but it all turns out to be a training exercise for Scary People. From which we learn that Bond is already a force to be reckoned with. There is also clear continuity with past movies: Bond is canoodling with Sylvia, the woman from the opening of Dr No, in his first scene here; and SPECTRE are very keen for Bond to be the agent they lure to Istanbul not least to take revenge for his killing of Dr No. Also, SPECTRE! Whose name is not explained in this film so if you weren’t paying attention the one time the acronym was explained in Dr No, sucks be to you.

I was intrigued by SPECTRE, actually. I had forgotten that the face of Number 1 is never shown: just his hand, stroking the white cat, thus spawning ever so many copycats (Baron von Greenback in Danger Mouse, Claw in Inspector Gadget, the villain in Austin Powers… who have I forgotten?). We don’t know his name, and it’s not given in the credits. SPECTRE as an organisation is clearly well-organised (they have a secret training base! Number 5 is a chess champion! They use live targets in training!), and the movie wants us to be aware of their power: it devotes the prologue and then the first maybe 10 minutes to them, showing them as focussed and driven. Conversely, when we finally do get to Bond, he’s relaxing on the banks of a river with a woman. Where Tatiana has just said she is willing to use Feminine Wiles to serve Mother Russia (she’s an unwitting agent of SPECTRE), Bond is using Masculine Wiles just to enjoy himself. A nice dichotomy is set up, which is somewhat undercut by Bond’s willingness to jump at M/Moneypenny’s orders… until Sylvia persuades him to stay just a little longer.

It should of course also be mentioned that this movie sees the introduction, albeit all too briefly, of Q – the eQuipment Officer. Who gives Bond some gadgets, but they are disappointingly low tech and there is a tragic lack of snark from him.

Unknown-1Other things confirmed by this film: being Bond’s associate is a dangerous business, as Kerim Bey ends up dead. Hmmm… given Quarrel in the previous film, perhaps it’s only dangerous if you’re not white? OK, maybe two films isn’t quite enough to make this generalisation.

Things I did not know until I went to IMDB: Daniela Bianchi, who played Tatiana, was dubbed for this role because her English was so poor! But she was 1960’s Miss Rome so I guess that makes… no, it doesn’t make sense at all.

James: First a note to the editor, if the phrase ‘Magical Penis’ is used in another review my subscript notes will cease.

Alex: it’s a real trope! Happens all the time!!

James: Another tip of the hat to the negative restoration and transfer quality for the Blu Ray nerds.  So much of this film has been filmed on location in Istanbul and it really shows, much less blue screen etc.  Compared to future Bond the majority of the film centres around one city and few locations, the two embassies and some tourist highlights in Istanbul (The Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia and the Bazaar).  One thing that doesn’t really make sense is that all film the good guys know the bad guys are lurking and yet they are so casual about security … For example on the train Bond tells Tatiana ‘Lock the door, I’ll knock three times’ as the bad guys walk up and down the corridor and occupy the cabin at the end of their carriage.  I did enjoy that Bond marks the major villain who’s been stalking him all film by his choice of red wine with fish, and not a million other more obvious things he’s done.  2.5 Martinis (which curiously don’t feature in this film at all).

Lefebvre and the French Revolution

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Just look at that cover. Does this look like a history book to you? No it does not. But this is the first volume in Georges Lefebvre’s outstanding history of the French Revolution. Rather than, as the cover suggests, a cook book.

This book is definitely not one for beginners. Lefebvre assumes some knowledge of both the Revolution itself and the the late 18th century in Europe more generally, and if you either have no knowledge or aren’t quick on your feet when dealing with names and politics – well, this will be a hard book to read. Me, I’m pretty good on the French side of things, and that’s the only way I managed to read this without feeling like a complete idiot. There’s also no glossary, so woe betide the reader that misses a term that was explained early on… or wasn’t explained at all and you’re just meant to understand it, but maybe don’t.

One of the most awesome aspects of the book is the very fact that it places the Revolution in its broader European context. I had no idea of the Austrian/Prussian/Russian machinations that were going on at the same time as they were posturing about and around France; the controversy over Poland in particular made me realise just how much I have always viewed the French Revolution in isolation. That is, I know that the American Revolution had an impact, and so on; but I had forgotten that of course those countries who eventually invaded had other things on their mind than just an annoying neighbour. This is a common failing of mine, I have realised. So Lefebvre’s insistence on providing a really broad context – much broader than I would have thought necessary, with the internal politicking of Pitt etc – makes this a quite remarkable part of revolutionary historiography.

The most annoying thing about this is that it is part one of two. And this translator did not, apparently, do part 2 – which incorporates the Terror, and Thermidor, and Danton being his most awesome. Still, Lefebvre does give a succinct overview of the issues leading to the Revolution, as well as description of the early years. Perhaps the most amusing aspect is that he appears not to like anyone. He doesn’t seem to like the proletariat (as he terms them), nor the peasants, and the bourgeoisie quite often come in for disapproval. And let’s not talk about the aristocracy. The other thing of note for those of us who’ve done history more recently and have been forced to deal with issues of historiography and the post-modern/post-structuralist turn is Lefebvre’s utter conviction that his interpretation of events is right. In fact, it’s not even a conviction – that would suggest it was something he had given thought to. No; this is just the facts, and that’s all there is. Which is very appealing, if a little dangerous in the 21st century.

The translation is superb; there was no point at which I thought that it was convoluted or messy.

James Bond in pictures

You think we’re crazy for watching all of the James Bond films in a year? This guy is watching them in a much, much shorter space of time than we are, and is using the artistic prowess that neither of us possesses to capture each film in one picture. He’s not going into enormous depth with his reviews, but is including lots of screen caps with entertaining captions for those of you who prefer more graphic-oriented overviews. His stuff is definitely worth checking out.

Project Bond involves us watching every James Bond movie over the course of 2014. You can find our reviews here

Steal Across the Sky

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There are interesting parallels between this and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Both deal with humanity’s contact with aliens, and with the repercussions for humanity especially in the realm of religion. There are vast differences, of course – how contact is achieved, the type of people involved, and so on. I think Russell’s is better, overall; I appreciated the characters more, and I think it’s overall a more sober look at the repercussions for humanity. But I also think the two books are trying to do different things, and Kress has achieved something impressive in her novel.

Aliens have contacted humanity with the sole intention of Atoning for some crime they committed against us… ten thousand years ago. They don’t reveal what that crime is, nor how they intend to atone for it. Instead, they talk to anyone who can get the bandwidth to reach the moon, and set up a boring website asking for volunteers to act as Witnesses. Predictably, they get millions of applicants, of whom 21 are chosen to go to seven different planets – planets inhabited by the descendants of humanity kidnapped ten thousand years ago (cue Stargate music). This, however, is not the crime. Almost the first half of the novel focusses on Cam and Lucca, Witnesses sent to a binary planet system to live with their many-times-removed cousins in order to discover the thing that they will ‘know when they see it’, according to the Atoners. Intriguingly, numerous chapters are also given to one of those whom the Witnesses interact with, providing an at time painful glimpse into the arrogance and cluelessness of one Witness. Slight spoiler, which really isn’t: they discover the thing. They don’t really know it when they first see it. But, as the blurb promises – or threatens – the knowledge does change them, and at least some people back on Earth. The rest of the novel is working through the repercussions of that knowledge, this time largely switching focus to other Witnesses, and only occasionally returning to Cam and Lucca. And, similar to Kim Stanley Robinson so gloriously in 2312, chapters are punctuated with ephemera: conversation transcripts, Oprah interviews, advertisements, etc. These add a wonderful verisimilitude to the world that Kress imagines, only a decade away from now: many thing similar (yes, Oprah; also internet trolls); and some different. Kress throws in some lovely SF-ish moments – just enough to be incongruent, to remind the reader that this is not today.

What this book is not is an alien contact story. Yes, it deals with first contact, and yes the aliens are pivotal. But that’s exactly what they are: a pivot, a lever, a fulcrum. They are a point about which the plot revolves, but not the focus. They are almost completely opaque and don’t exist as characters at all. Rather, the focus is on humanity: how humans react, how humans interact. For an SF novel involving aliens and space travel this is a distinctly earthly novel. It’s also a bit depressing, but perhaps that’s a reflection of a near-future novel published in 2009. That’s not to say that it’s without hope, but… it’s not especially upbeat. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it overall. As mentioned above, Kress deals with the repercussions of the Witness discoveries on religion, as well as on other aspects of society. For this, and the fact that she treats religion seriously (even if it is only through Catholicism, which isn’t completely representative of Christianity let alone all religions on the planet… perhaps it is the most prevalent religion in the US, where it’s largely set? I don’t know), definite kudos. I still think Russell did it in a more nuanced manner, but it was also more of a focus for Russell than for Kress, who is writing a story that’s closer to thriller than philosophical treatise, whereas Russell is the opposite. And Kress does what I presume she set out to do: write an engaging, enjoyable, intriguing novel that combines off-beat characters – not all of whom are likeable – with a plot that keeps you flicking pages (I read it in a day…) and, cliches ahoy, a serious kicker at the end.

Steal Across the Sky can be bought at Fishpond. 

Battlestar Galactica

… the third run-through.

My husband is, amazingly enough, an even bigger fan of BSG than I am (even though he hates Felix, which is SO WRONG). He had been pushing for a re-watch since the start of last year, and I kept claiming that it was TOO SOON – and it really was. I eventually gave in around… October maybe? Something like that. And last night we watched the last three episodes. And we are done. Again.

It’s not an easy show to watch, even when you’ve seen all four seasons more than once in the past and you KNOW what’s coming up. In fact, for a show with as much emotional manipulation and as many highs and lows as BSG, knowing what’s coming up may actually make it more excruciating to watch. And even though I remembered most of the beats, I still refused to watch that spoiler bit at the start of every episode – partly from habit, and partly from a desire to have at least a few surprises.

… Of course, there were fewer surprises for me than might have been, because not only have I seen it all before, I’ve also been following The Mary Sue as an SF-fan watches and reviews each episode for the first time. Which has given me some new insights, as well as a new appreciation of some aspects. Like Gaeta. And Tigh. Tigh’s giggle is one of the best parts of the whole show.

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There are a lot of best parts, actually. I adore Starbuck in all her screwed-up-ness; one of my favourite scenes is just her standing with her thumbs in belt loops, with one eyebrow saying “bring it.” I also love Roslin. Well, I don’t love her, a lot of the time; but I do appreciate just how imagescomplicated and complex and light/dark she is as a character. I think she’s far more rounded and intriguing than Bill Adama – and Starbuck is way more interesting than Lee. Just saying. (Also, how similar is she to the original Starbuck?? Very clever.) I even – gasp – appreciated Baltar more this time around. He is truly fascinating, and through all his reinventions he was totally believable. Also, the hair.

Of course, there are bits that I don’t like. Last time we did a watch-through I remember reading somewhere about how many girls die. And I did a count-back last night, and… well, ALL of the girls die. Like, actually all of the female characters. Dead. The only females alive at the end are two who have already died (oops, spoilers! They’re cylons!). Literally NO other women that the show has focussed on get to live. That… is crap. Utter, utter bollocks. And makes me very sad about this show that otherwise counts as some of the greatest tv ever.

Will I watch BSG again? … I dunno. It sure won’t be this year. I am definitely over it for now. In 18 months? Well… maybe. The cool thing about this show is that it looks like it should age well. I’m sure people said that of the original Star Trek, too, but hear me out. It doesn’t rely on a lot of fancy SFX. The Galactica is meant to look beat up and old – because it is. I don’t think there are too many social assumptions implicit (as opposed to explicit and explored) that will make it cringeworthy – although hey, I’m living in it and part of the dominant culture, so maybe I’m totally wrong there (yes there could and should have been more non-white characters, but racism – or colony-ism in this context – IS dealt with, if briefly). So it may well be that I watch it again. But not any time soon, dear, so don’t ask for another twelve months.

Gloves

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Made me some fingerless gloves.
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Pretty happy with these. Looking forward to wearing them when it gets cooler. Which, given this city, could well be next week.

Doctor No

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

UnknownSummary: Bond is sent to Jamaica after the MI6 agent there (Strangways) is killed. It turns out that he was investigating Crab Key and its mysterious inhabitant, Dr No, as possibly being the source of interference that has Cape Canaveral and NASA all het up. Bond continues this investigation, ending up on the island and eventually foiling Dr No’s dastardly plan. Which involves an atomic reactor. Along the way Bond sleeps with a few ladies, gets one ally killed, and kills several people himself. And he has a shower.

Alex: It was interesting to see how many of the elements that define Bond in the cultural mind are present from the outset. The opening scene has Bond gambling with a beautiful woman, whom he ends up sleeping with (this is a mutual seduction); he drinks a martini that’s been shaken; he flirts outrageously with Moneypenny (and throws his hat on the hatstand), and M is also present; there are car chases galore, and even Felix Leiter and SPECTRE. The one aspect missing is Q, and any sort of technogadgetr (Geiger counters don’t count). The other thing that’s really different is the opening credits: there’s no prologue before them! But there are some dancing-lady silhouettes, so that foreshadows later developments, as does the man-in-gun-barrel shot. Also the theme music; I love this original score. Interestingly, there is no mention of “James Bond”; there are some “007”s plastered on the screen, but that’s it – the movie is “Ian Fleming’s Dr No”.

The introduction of Bond as a character says a lot. As mentioned, Bond is first seen gambling in a club. Someone is looking for him, so we already know his name (that would never happen in a film today), but when the camera gets to the card table we don’t see his face for ages. We see the back of his head… then his (well-manicured) fingernails… then his face, as he lights a cigarette and gives his name as “Bond. James Bond” in reply to the woman asking. I have no idea how popular Connery already was by this stage, but he can’t have been an unknown – not to get that sort of treatment. Bond’s character is relatively nuanced throughout the film. He goes from gambling and flirting with a stranger, to flirting with Moneypenny, to being deadly serious with his boss (and being petulant when told his Beretta is a sissy gun). In Jamaica he Gets Things Done: turns the tables on would-be murderers, orders people around, deals with a nasty spider, and kills with (apparently) absolutely no qualms. He’s cold and hard when it’s required, but warm and flirty when he can; he’s calm while the spider crawls all the way up him (if he’d been a woman this would have happened with the sheet  off, rather than wrapped around him) – but then jumps out of the bed, clearly panicky. This characterisation surprised and pleased me.

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The supporting cast left a lot to be desired, although there were some good bits.

Quarrel, the local Jamaican boatie who was helping Strangways has some good moments: suspicious of Bond, he manages (briefly) to have him at a disadvantage; his local knowledge and boating skills are clearly valued by Bond and Leiter. At the start he clearly

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sees himself as Bond’s equal, although this seems to disappear over the course of their partnership. Annoyingly, when they get to Crab Key Quarrel is depicted as superstitious and needing to drink rum to bolster his confidence – the former I could cope with because Honey Ryder also believes in the dragon, but the latter is totally unnecessary. Also, he dies an unnecessary death and is then forgotten. Boo.

I tried to keep track of the non-white characters throughout the film, expecting it to be pretty dire. They do mostly appear as murderers and servants, and often as totally under Do No’s sway… but there are a few white characters who fit this bill, too, so it’s not a racially clear-cut thing. The worst bit, race-wise, is that as far as I can tell two of the characters are in ‘yellow-face’: Miss Taro and Dr No himself are played by white actors. (I may be wrong about Miss Taro – perhaps she’s not meant to be of Asian descent – but the eye-liner and hair seem to be suggesting it…). 

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Dr No says that his father is German while his mother is Chinese, so I guess there’s an excuse for not using a Chinese actor, but still…. I was also reminded of Stella Young’s comments at the Splendid Chaps podcast about villains and disability. Dr No has something wrong his hands – we’re not told what, although Bond assumes his hands are fake. In the book I think he also has weird eyes. The point being, he’s not right somehow. Bond is the epitome of Manliness, and is Defending Humanity; his opponent is somehow less than/different from human (I mean all of this in the context of the movie of course), and is therefore deserving of being taken down.

Honey Ryder (in the book, she’s Honeychile) – played by Ursula Andress – is the most famous part of the movie, I think; her walking out of the ocean must be one of the more iconic moments in popular cinema. Like Quarrel, her best moments are at the start of her relationship with Bond. She’s suspicious of him, afraid that he’s going to steal her shells; she’s defiant and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. She’s confident of her own abilities and indeed proves herself very useful – taking Bond and Quarrel somewhere to hide, showing Bond how to stop the mosquitoes from biting, and so on. Sadly, this utility and resourcefulness do not survive under the weight of James Bond. She quickly becomes fearful and a bit useless – dressed up as a doll, taken to dinner then dismissed while the men talk of great things, and then chained up so she can be rescued. Sad.

There is a good case for arguing that this is a science fiction movie. Dr No is being investigated because he is somehow interfering with the Mercury missions being launched from Cape Canaveral – Leiter says they’re about to try moon fly-bys, which by 1962 standards are absolutely SF. Additionally, Dr No’s evilness is driven by atomic power, also SF-nal for 1962. And there are automatic sliding doors.

I enjoyed this more than I had expected. The fights are cheesy, the car chases involve a lot of blue screen, and some of the dialogue is dreadful. But a lot of it was actually shot in Jamaica, which is beautiful; it’s well-paced – no extended fights or chases; and I liked that Dr No isn’t completely transparent. This was definitely a good start to Project Bond.

James: Well, what has Alex left unsaid? I enjoyed that right from the gun (see what I did there) we’re off and racing with the traditional Bond theme blaring out on trumpets… Classic and colourful lettering … Dr No, Ian Fleming and then the short credits.  The quality of the blu-ray transfer is striking.  Having watched these films growing up on VHS etc to see them re-scanned from the original first generation camera films is a treat.  Film’s look is timeless, the colour is beautiful and of course the technology dates it but otherwise it could be any modern film.

If I had one observation it’s that the whole film somehow seems more dated and cheesy the longer it goes on.  It’s still from that era when cinema seems overacted compared to more modern films.  I loved how many of the key Bond elements are firmly in place, the booze, the women and the regular supporting cast and yet somehow the cliche doesn’t feel tired? How many books had Fleming written before this film was made?  I rate this Bond 3 Martinis.