Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fleming, Mocking

It's been a long time since I wrote about any audiobooks.

Lately I have been listening to James Bond books from the local library. They are great as audiobooks: not too many characters, fast pace, and pleasant balance of plot and setting.

I especially enjoyed one I recently finished, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

It had the normal elements of a James Bond novel: our hero has to travel, falls for a beautiful girl, is menaced by a thug of stereotyped nationality, gets captured but escapes, and returns for an exciting final clash with the evil mastermind. (Note the lack of gadgets, car chases, and other traits found only of the films. Also, in this novel the beautiful girl is a genuinely strong woman and Bond gets happily married, which would never happen with the film Bond.)

Moreover, the novel also contains a terrific parody of the College of Arms that must have been the inspiration for Pratchett's similar scene in Feet of Clay. Besides being entertaining, this chapter was encouraging because Ian Fleming was clearly mocking his own country and enjoying doing so.

As I mentioned above, part of the formula for a Bond novel is a henchman to the evil mastermind whose merciless thuggishness is "explained" by invoking a racial-national stereotype, the spy story equivalent of how in a fantasy setting Tolkein has Saruman employ orcs that are inherently brutish. This literary device is unquestionably out of date and politically incorrect. But I'm willing to go along since the author also enjoys fictional parodies of his own culture and leaves no evidence that he himself believes any of his novels' insulting generalizations.

My next audiobook is Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I hope it works. I have only read Snow Crash by that author, which I enjoyed, but that is no evidence that the new novel will work well as an audiobook.

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