MI6 rounds up reviews from around the USA in 1981 when John Gardner's first James Bond continuation novel was released

Retro Reviews: License Renewed

6th July 2011

Park City Daily News (Bowling Green, KY) - April 24th, 1981
It's been more than a decade since agent 007 appeared in print. Sure, there were a couple of novelizations based on the last two James Bond movies. But for many years Bond hasn't been seen in something intended from the start as a book, rather than a script.

Until now. Following the tradition of 007's creator, Ian Fleming, another English author has picked the Easter season to detail the further adventures of the British spy. Bond is older (he spends more time exercising to keep in shape) and a bit more mellow (his specially-made cigarettes are now low-tar and he has cut down quite a bit on his consumption of alcohol). But he is still 007 - still fiercely loyal to the crown, tough under pressure and ultimately relying on his wits and courage when faced with a powerful adversary with enormous resources.

The new book, "License Renewed," came about when Glidrose Publications Ltd - owners of the 007 literary copyright - asked author John Gardner to being anew the series of Bond books. To author Gardner's credit, he has not tried to write in Fleming's style, but he has grasped rather well the key elements of Fleming's work. Gardner's Bond does not relish killing, but accepts that as part of his profession. In fact, on more than on occasion, he could have killed one large brute named Caber who is working for the book's villain. But he does not until he has no choice.

And speaking of villains, Anton Murik, the sinister Laird of Murcaldy, is not quite up to the standards of Fleming's Auric Goldfinger or Ernest Stavro Blofeld. Still, he is a worthy adversary for 007. Murik doesn't have all sheer evil of those two, but is quite mad. Murik claims to have perfected a fail-safe nuclear reactor but can't find the money to build one. His scheme is to blackmail five governments (the United States, England, France, West and East Germany) with terrorists at six nuclear reactors.

While describing the plot in a sentence makes it sound far-fetched, Gardner builds up to it well and makes it seem credible while reading - a feat Fleming was able to do when writing plots about nuclear blackmail and germ warfare. The whole idea of Bond facing the 1980s is interesting in itself. The double-0-section had been formally abolished because of spy scandals, for example. Bond, as a result, hasn't been used as much as in the old days.

In all, "License Renewed" is a good first entry for Gardner. His tale is certainly an interesting one, and he draws the reader's interest well. He has taken the things that made an Ian Fleming Bond novel worth reading and used them in his own style without trying to copy the earlier work. It's a book a Bond fan or curious person would want to read.

Record Journal (Meriden, CT) - September 19th, 1981
This year an English author, John Gardner, was given the difficult task of bringing James Bond into the eighties and picking up where the late author Ian Fleming left off. He doesn't quite pull it off. In "License Renewed" published by Richard Merek Publishers, Bond is nowhere near as vigorous and undaunted as in the past. Naturally he's somewhat older, but fans expect miracles even of their aging heroes.

One credit for author Gardner is that all of the James Bond gadgets and hardware used in this story are claimed to be genuine, including modifications of 007's Saab 900 Turbo.

This story deals, as you might guess, with another deranged world scientist and his hired terrorist assassin. Bond naturally triumphs in the end over Franco the terrorist, and the nuclear physicist, the Laird of Murcaldy, but not without many a tremorous moment. There's the inevitable hand-to-hand combat with the Laird's champion free-for-all fighter, Caber, an the ever-present heroine Lavender Peacock. This name is a slight improvement over one of Fleming's earlier heroines by the name of Pussy Galore.

The Laird's castle in the Highlands of Scotland is the scene of most of the action and it undoubtedly will look well on the screen. In the end, the most diabolical plot of all, the control of the world's largest nuclear power plants by the demented Laird, is foiled by 007, the heroine inherits the family estate wrongfully withheld from her, and James has a delightful invitation to visit dangling in his future. Good-bye Fleming. Good-bye Gardner. I think we've heard enough from James Bond in this world.

The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA) - May 14th, 1981
I realize that this is kind of a goofy thing for a guy to get excited about, but I'm sitting here, happy as can be, and all because of the book I've got in my hands. The book is called "License Renewed," and it has just been published, and I can't quit smiling.

"License Renewed" is a James Bond book. The original 13 Bond books by the late Ian Fleming were the most wonderful spy adventures ever written. After Fleming dies in 1964, though, it seemed that there would never be another Bond novel. Now, though, Ian Fleming's estate has commissioned a British author named John Gardner to bring Bond back, and into the 1980s. It sounds like a dumb idea at first - having one author try to write about another author's hero - and I'm only 50 pages or so into the book, so I can't tell you about its objective literary merit.

But all I know is, by the time I got to Chapter Two, in which James Bond makes his first appearance in the novel, something strange was happening to me.

 

It was as if John Kennedy never got shot, and gas was 25 cents a gallon, and the evening was going to begin with the Huntley-Brinkley report. In this dreary, 1981 world, here was James Bond, older now, but flirting again with Miss Moneypenny. It's like discovering an old and dear friend you had thought was dead, and finding that he's added a few years just like you have, but that the things that made you like him so much have not changed at all. I'm already learning that James Bond is adapting to 191: He's not drinking as much, he exercises more, his specially-made cigarettes from Morelands of Grovesnor Street have a new low-tar tobacco.

But what does that matter? James Bond is alive! And in a way it's appropriate that he should be coming back at precisely this time. When Ian Fleming dies in '64, the world was just beginning to go into its mass nervous breakdown, which made society so schizoid for so many years. In the late '60s and '70s, there was really no place for a mn like Bond.

Somehow, though, 1981 appears to be the year in which heroes are welcome again. People seem to be a little less cynical, perhaps even less selfish, that they have been for a while. Who better to step into this new world than James Bond himself, the last great hero from the pre-craziness era? Already in the book I have learned that the famous "Double O" section of the British Secret Service - the section whose spys have a license to kill - has officially been abolished, the victim of more "rational" political times. But Bond's boss, the legendary M, is quick to tell Bond that as far as he's concerned, the restrictions do not apply to 007.

It's impossible to know what Ian Fleming would have though of his hero continuing into the '80s, but surely he would have approved if he'd known how hungry we were going to be for Bond. I've got work to do tonight, but I know it's not going to get done. There are these problems being raised in "License Renewed" that, prior to a few hours ago, seemed to me to be just abstract phrases from the headlines. International terrorists, nuclear blackmail. But they're abstract no longer - James Bond is on the case. The work can wait. I have a book to read.

The New York Times (New York City, NY) - June 14th, 1981
He was just rubbing ''a small amount of Guerlain's Imperial Cologne into his skin before putting on a pair of lightweight worsted navy slacks and a white Sea Island cotton shirt'' when the red phone rang. Yes. James Bond is back.

John Gardner, the British author of some score of books with titles like ''The Liquidator,'' has won from Ian Fleming's literary board of directors the license to renew the adventures of that pubescent daydream of omnipotence, J.F.K.'s favorite spy, 007. In re-creating Bond's world of urbane intrigue, Mr. Gardner gives us a minuscule mad physicist, the bogus Laird of Murcaldy, and ''girls'' with names like Lavender Peacock; he takes us to festivals in exotic places such as Royal Ascot, the Games at Loch Carron, the Feast of St. John in Perpignan, France and, of course, there is Dom Perignon 1955 and fegato alla veneziana.

But, alas, the times have tightened. Fuel costs have forced Bond to trade his Mark II Continental Bentley for a Saab 900 Turbo, albeit customized with gunport. Bond has cut back his alcohol intake too, and he's down from 60 Balkan cigarettes a day to a dole of some lowtar brand.

In fact, in ''License Renewed,'' the whole world seems scantier and blander, as if Bond could not shake off the malaise of those intervening years when the Government abolished his license to kill and stuck him in a desk job. He has less wit, less wardrobe and less sex drive. Miss Moneypenny even has difficulty arousing him.

 

Above Left: British 1st edition Coronet paperback. Above Right: British 5th edition Coronet paperback.

Above Left: American 1st edition Richard Marek hardback. Above Right: American 1st edition Berkley paperback.

Of course, Bond does thwart the Laird's diabolical Operation Meltdown and saves the world's nuclear power stations from international terrorists, and in the process he continually confronts the madman's minions. But where's the extravagant superflux needed to float the cartoon characters of a Bond thriller? Where are Dr. No's giant squids, Largo's sharks and Col. Rosa Klebb of SMERSH? Where's Pussy Galore? With his mechanized swashbuckling and elegant machismo, Bond was so suited to his time, so right in that age of astronauts and Thunderbirds, perhaps he should have decided you only live once. The new head of Q branch, a leggy girl engineer, warns him, ''Fantasies should change with the times.'' For Bond to be worrying about gas mileage is like shipping the Scarlet Pimpernel to Plymouth Colony.

TIME Magazine (New York City, NY) - July 6th, 1981
The dark hair is minutely necked with gray these days. Martinis and Balkan Sobranies are pretty much out; Perrier and filter tips are in. The Mark II Continental Bentley has been replaced by a more fuel-efficient supercar, a Saab 900 Turbo. Otherwise, since the last adventure appeared in print 16 years ago, he seems unchanged. The icy eyes and reflexes remain as quick as a cobra's; the jawline is taut, and the ability to attract supple and delectable females remains as potent as before. And while the Service has undergone reforms and shakeups as sanguinary as any that have afflicted the CIA, James Bond still covertly retains the Double0 prefix, the license to kill in the line of duty.

As literature's most celebrated spy (more than 91 million copies in 36 languages), Her Majesty's superagent continues to do what he knows best: intrigue and seduction. Bond redivivus has been entrusted to John Gardner, a British writer who knows his way around military hardware, neo-villainy and a plot whose absurdity even Ian Fleming might admire. Bond's adversary this time is Anton Murik, nuclear physicist, megamillionaire and major loon. Convinced that all nuclear power plants are hazardous, Murik wants to replace them with a design of his own. If the world complies, fine. If not, he will cause a worldwide China Syndrome. In classic style, Gardner piles picaresque on bizarre: Neanderthal henchmen, a medieval castle equipped with radar, cars that repel attackers with clouds of tear gas. Some of Bond's more ingenious widgets have been prepared by a newcomer to the Service's Q Branch: Ann Reilly, referred to by her colleagues as Q'ute. Bond fans can be assured of two things: 007 will be back, only slightly more gray-flecked. And so will Ann Reilly, only Q'uter.

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