It would appear that I am in the minority as regards my opinions regarding Moonraker, the third James Bond novel by Sir Ian Fleming.
I didn’t much enjoy it.
Moonraker is back to the three-act structure we found in Casino Royale, and the three acts are decidedly similar. Act one is background knowledge via gambling, act two is the discovery of the mission and its true scope, act three is the part where Bond makes his moves and recovers from the physical cost of the mission (Fleming should be commended for not flinching from the realities of the physical suffering).
There are people, and people I trust (our own Halbs!), who rank this book as “the platonic ideal of a Bond novel”. In fairness, I see their arguments, I respect their arguments, but I simply do not agree that the final product should rank anything above three stars.
Arguments in favor of this book are usually based around these points. I have opinions:
- The Baddie. Sure, there’s a believable, larger than life baddie with an amazing name. But he’s cartoonish.
- It’s a classic Cold War anxiety plot about the lurking nuclear threat. Okay, this one they get.
- Our heroine: she’s calm, cool, collected, and an intelligence agent that Bond respects, but also puts the moves on (spoiler: he fails!). Gala did nothing for me except for the brief scenes when she is trying to extract crucial information about the Moonraker launch and gets caught. It’s the only time I felt she had distinguishable characterization. I’ll admit she’s more like Vesper from Casino Royale than Solitaire from Live and Let Die but she’s still nowhere as good as Vesper.
- Henchmen whose uniformity makes sense. But, everything about them felt off to me and only made sense after the preposterous explanation of the cartoonish baddie.
- A gambling scene, which as a demonstration of understanding and of Bond’s skills works, but it stalls the book.
I’m listening to these, so some of Fleming’s wordcraft hits me differently, but my goodness Bill Nighy might be the best match yet to voice to Bond. Even when the story was loosing my interest Nighy’s voice pulled me back in.
Also, it should be noted I am a fan of the complete ridiculousness that is the movie version of Moonraker. What can I say, I love Jaws and ridiculous Roger Moore as Bond action. You can judge for yourself whether to trust my opinions.