on January 19, 2002
For fans of the literary James Bond, Thunderball is one of the most pivotal works of the series. It was in Thunderball that Bond creator Ian Fleming first introduced the world to perhaps the ultimate Bond villian -- Ernest Stavro Blofeld. Though Bond and Blofeld never actually meet in Thunderball, it is in this book that Bond first battles the schemes of SPECTRE, Blofeld's criminal organization.
The plot of the book (which, as with most of Fleming's best work, is disturbing plausible) deals with SPECTRE's theft of two nuclear missiles and their attempt to blackmail the world with atomic destruction. On little more than a hunch, M (Bond's superior, as gruffly humorous as ever) sends Bond down to the Bahamas to search for the missiles. (It is made clear that other intelligence agents are combing other locations as well. One thing that sets the book apart from the film is the portrayal of James Bond as not the absolute best secret agent in the world but instead as just a hardworking professional who, often times, resents the intrusion of work on his private life.) While in the Bahamas, Bond meets the book's main villian, Emilio Largo (well characterized as an almost likeable rogue), Largo's mistress Domino (who has a nicely vulnerable speech in which she analyzes a picture on a pack of cigarettes), and old allies like Felix Leiter. Along with the usual nonstop action and the vivid descriptions that Fleming was known for, Thunderball contains some of Fleming's most memorable characterizations. While little new is revealed of Bond, Largo and Domino grab hold of the reader's imagination and linger after the end of the book.
Famously, this book was inspired by Fleming and producer Kevin McClory's attempts to launch a pre-Connery James Bond film series. The plot was invented for the movies and occasionally, the book suffers for it. The final battle between Largo and the military, for instance, reads a bit flat and doesn't carry the same charge as the earlier, less epic scenes. Surprising as it may be to some of Fleming's detractors, the writer main strength was always his ability to create compelling one-on-one scenes between Bond and the various eccentrics populating his world. And it is here that Thunderball really shines. It's too often ignored that Fleming was a witty writer whose Bond books often carried a comedy-of-manners feel. This is certainly true in the first part of the book in which Bond finds himself sent to a health salon to recover from a life of hard living. Bond's attempts to quit smoking and drinking are hilariously lampooned by Fleming, who makes little secret that he's mocking the critics who complained that his books were immoral. (Indeed, when we are first introduced to Blofeld, we are quickly informed that this man doesn't smoke, drink, rarely eats, and is apparently a virgin. In short, he lacks all of Bond's vices and, Fleming seems to suggest, turns to the business of international villiany mostly because he doesn't have much else to do.) By the time this book came out, Fleming had certainly grown as a writer from the first Bond books. Gone are the occasional awkward passages that occasionally pop up in Casino Royale. Every character speaks in his own individual voice as opposed to everyone speaking like an upper class English gentleman. In short, Thunderball is an excellent adventure that should thrill Bond fans and non-Bond fans alike.
on December 2, 2004
If you've seen the movie you know the plot of Thunderball already so I won't get into that. Reading Thunderball is a great pleasure for Bond fans because the movie was so faithful to the book. There were a few things left out becuase they were considered too much for the big screen.
Ian Fleming must have had a marvelous sense of humor becuase the chapters where Bond finds himself stuck at Shrublands, drinking tea and vegatable broth and longing for spaghetti and chianti are extremely funny. Later when things get serious the reader gets wonderful scenes with M. who really was a fascinating character. The old man was even more ruthless than Bond.
The biggest thing Thunderball did was to introduce the world to Blofeld and nevermind the Austin Powers jokes, the original Blofeld was a very dangerous, very scary dude. The description of Largo and the scenes with Bond's old pal, Felix Leiter are also great.
I'm very happy that the old (real) Fleming books are being re-released in such good quality paper and with such snappy retro covers. My dad's old copies were literally crumbling whenever I touched them.
on February 13, 2014
‘Thunderball’ had its origins as a screenplay that Fleming was working on with two other writers so, in a sense, it would seem ready-made for film with Fleming’s book as the novelization of the screenplay. All of this took shortly before the famous film series was launched, with ‘Thunderball’ coming out over a year before the film ‘Dr. No.’ It is a fairly cinematic novel, although there is still much exposition and internal monologue that would need to be excised from any workable screenplay.
Unlike the film series, in which the terrorist organization SPECTRE and its master mind Ernst Stavro Blofeld were introduced from the beginning, ‘Thunderball’ is the first novel of the series that features this organization and its supervillain. The reason for the emergence of SPECTRE is partially because the Soviet organization Smersh was dismantled by Nikita Khrushchev in 1958. What are ex-foreign spies to do to stay in business? Blofeld provides them with a second career, assembling ex-Smersh, Gestapo, Mafiosi and other refugees from foreign intelligence. SPECTRE is an acronym for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The mission that will thrust them on the world stage is a blackmail plot involving the hijacking of a jet carrying two nuclear bombs. Ransom letters are sent both to the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of the United States giving them seven days to hand over $300,000,000. Or is that pounds? It’s a large amount (for 1961) regardless of the currency. This, of course, is Terrorism circa early 1960’s, where the terrorists issue warnings with escape clauses (at least on the surface), unlike their 21st century counterpart Al Qaeda.
By coincidence, Bond has already encountered a key player in the SPECTRE plot, whom he made an enemy with a vendetta by reporting him for his connection with the Red Lightning Tong criminal organization. Bond follows his hunches and suspects, rightly, that Emilio Largo, a rich Italian property owner in the Bahamas with a massive luxury yacht, is the agent responsible for executing the plan for removing the bombs from the sunken aircraft and transporting them to a location where they can be detonated. Bond is reunited with his old C.I.A. buddy Felix Leiter and they both make the acquaintance of Largo. Meanwhile, Bond also coincidentally makes the acquaintance of Largo’s mistress, Domino Vitali, who also happens to be the sister of the primary hijacker who was himself murdered by other SPECTRE agents.
Despite the grandiosity of the scenario and the megalomania of the villains, Fleming infuses ‘Thunderball’ with a convincing air of authenticity. The sadism of the villains is more understated than those from ‘Goldfinger,’ ‘Dr. No’ and ‘From Russia With Love’ and the hand to hand combat minimized (or at least confined to underwater battles).The characters are actually relatively believable and their motivations stem naturally from what we know of them. Even though the blackmail plot is far-fetched it holds together better than Goldfinger’s ludicrous Ft. Knox heist. Largo possesses a smooth, oily charm (merely the veneer for malevolent desires) that I can see not tipping off the unsuspecting. In other words, he doesn’t walk around like Dr. No and Goldfinger with a sign on his head stating ‘I’m a world class villain’.
Domino, the obligatory Bond girl (the only one in this novel as opposed to the three or four in most of the films), is also a fully dimensional person (at least within the dimensions of the world of Bond). She is tough and refuses to back down even when tortured. She is not demonstrative in her swooning to Bond’s animal charms and she also saves his life.
Felix Leiter, in some novels simply the C.I.A. sidekick whose presence signifies that Fleming is throwing the Americans a bone, is here in all his sarcastic glory. There is much more dialogue in this novel between him and Bond than in previous novels. His role in the case is almost as essential as Bond’s and he has a wry, cynical outlook that he never hesitates to express. Actually, he reminds me of Donald Hamilton’s American James Bond equivalent, Matt Helm (forget the absurd Dean Martin film depiction). This is probably as close as we will ever get to see what the experience of Bond and Helm working together would be like.
I see this novel as Fleming’s attempt to move James Bond forward in time—new decade, new villains. This is the international espionage of the future, he seemed to be saying, where spying can no longer be viewed as the opposition of nationalities but as the opposition of national world powers with freelance terrorist organizations. In a general sense, his prediction was on the nose even if the details differed significantly.
on June 29, 2014
This book made two of my favorite original Bond movies "Thunderball" and "Never Say Never Again". That said, I was disappointed in the book, it was just okay at best. In a style similar to "From Russia with Love" we are filled in on the Super-Villain plot early on and it is left up to Bond to figure it out. We are also introduced to the arch Super-Villain 'Bloefeld'. Were this goes so terribly wrong I think; was the 'evil plot' portion on "From Russia with Love" was really a vehicle to introduce a HUGE cast of interesting and evil villains for the plot (and a love interest of course). In "Thunderball" the 'evil plot' reveal is just that.... a plot device and a plot about a device. The actual event was anti-climactic and the rest just went downhill (steeply) form there. Even the excitement over finding the missing plane, wasn't.
Maybe its because this book was so boring that the movie producers 'jazzing it up' made for good summer film... But this is the second time I have ever recommended "to just watch the movie".
on October 23, 2003
THUNDERBALL is a very interesting Ian Fleming James Bond novel. I found the first two thirds of the novel very well written. The final third of the novel seems to lose all its steam and sinks into literary mediocrity and that's what really interests me. The first third of this novel contains some of the best prose that Fleming ever put on paper. It is rich in detail and thoroughly engrossing. It is a true delight to read and savor. As the novel enters the second the third it still remains engrossing but seems to lack some of Fleming's usual drive and coherency. The final third falls below what could even be considered commonplaceness for Fleming. Fleming seems to have just given up on this project at some point and just finished it out to get it into publication. Yet THUNDERBALL remains one of my favorite Fleming novels. The first third truly is brilliant and I enjoy reading it and examining at what point Fleming became disinterested.
on August 19, 2011
After wrapping up Goldfinger, seems like Fleming had an odd creative spell. I don't know this history here, but just looking at the book releases, the next three are all unique: For Your Eyes Only is a short story collection; Thunderball is based on a screen treatment co-created by two other people; and The Spy Who Loved Me is a minor adventure told in first-person by the heroine. At first glance, Thunderball is quintessential Bond. But there are several elements to it that sort of bother me, and maybe could be attributed to the origin as a screen treatment.
First, the Shrublands sequence is ridiculous and hammy comedy. It was more grounded and sinister in the eventual film, and that's saying something. M is made out as a buffoon, and the countless healthy living cliche jokes about carrots and "nut cutlets" are tiresome. Even Bond's altercation with Lippe is lighthearted. There are no teeth in these chapters.
Second, Felix Leiter, usually a welcome breath of fresh air, is relentlessly annoying in Thunderball. Many, many pages are given over to just Bond and Leiter complaining (mostly about food) and sort of endlessly conjecturing about their situation. Also, Leiter goes from being an amusingly gruff American to being more hamfisted comic relief. He's a caricature of his previous self, and has far too much "screentime," making this more of a buddy picture.
Third, Bond is lost in the climax. For the first time, on an epic, cinematic level, Bond leads an army instead of just solving things himself. Very movie-ish, and ultimately as boring as the final reel of the EON film itself.
Finally, I like how Thunderball is almost a mystery. But it's lazy of Fleming and a hollow read the way everything just coincidentally falls into place. Going to the Bahamas is a stretch which happens to pan out. Once there, identifying Largo as a suspect is just luck. In perhaps the only instance ever, the EON film is a vast improvement on the novel. There is motivation, and there is logic in the film. Bond goes to the Bahamas BECAUSE they know Domino is the pilot's sister, and the suspicions are just far more plausible.
This is probably my least favorite Fleming novel. It's not bad though. It has a pretty classic general plot, introduces Blofeld and SPECTRE, and is still well-written.
Many people are familiar with the films about James Bond, the British spy with the `license to kill' running around in a world of glamour and high tech toys but in reading the books you enter a whole new world. The books bring to life the times and culture of the 50's and 60's that has since faded and also have the virtue of giving the reader insight into the mind of Bond, The doubts, fears and self recriminations that film can never capture.
Both book and film start with Bond being sent to Shrublands health Clinic for a detox' program. The film makes it look like a spa. In the book the reader feels the hunger pangs of people living on a grapefruit and carrot juice diet and a small feud with a former Chinese Tong member only serves to keep Bond's wits sharp. Then the criminal organization SPECTRE plans to steal 2 nuclear weapons from the RAF and then blackmail the world into paying them $100 million dollars. On only the thinnest of leads, M send his best man to the Bahamas with the hope he can find the bombs before the deadline is reached to pay up or else.
The book and movie follow almost parallel threads with a couple of significant differences. The movie has more violence and less reason for Bond to take an interest in the villain. In the movie he has an attractive mistress and is really a creepy guy. In the book Bond has more developed reasons for looking into Emil Largo and deeper issues with why Bond can't just shoot him and go home. Reader know that Largo is the bad guy but bond doesn't and he also has to deal with the fact he might be wrong and chasing a false lead.
The book also goes into detail of the wonderful scenery of the Bahamas in the early 1960's, the land of yachts and private beaches and nightclubs that you wish you could visit today. There are also well written scenes of scuba diving and a lecture from Bond's CIA contact to a cheating bartender on the proper way to mix a drink that is sterling.
Fleming truly knew the espionage business and his books, written during the cold war, reflect this, the dark gritty world of professional thugs just behind the glittering world of jet setting millionaires and estate houses. The film has more sex and violence the book, more color and atmosphere. The film may let you see the girls in bikinis on the beach, the book with let you feel the heat of the sun and the cool of the drinks while you watch them.
on April 5, 2013
James Bond has been abusing his body for a long time. The doctor is worried about him. Bond doesn't care about all of these concerns. That is until M, who is on a health kick, decides to send him off to a health resort to get himself back in shape. While there Bond's curious nature gets him in trouble with another patient. When the patient fails in an attempt to kill Bond, Bond feels bound to extract some revenge and the man ends up in the hospital. Bond is unaware of it, but he just changed the timetable in a series of events. A new organization called SPECTRE has stolen two nuclear bombs. The US and Britain have to pay up, or the bombs will be detonated. Bond finds himself in the Caribbean once again and teamed up with his old buddy Felix Leiter. Can they stop the mysterious Blofeld before he detonates a bomb? The fate of the free world depends on Bond. At least he is in better shape for this misson.
The Bond novels are great classic spy novels from the 50's and 60's. Unlike the films Bond is not constantly using gadgets. Instead he uses his skills and intuition. In this novel As always Bond stories are a lot of fun. The good guys win and the bad guys get their due.
on July 2, 2014
This is an OK book but it is far from the best in the series. I felt that the beginning of it seemed like it was padding to make the book longer. Although in the novel there is more of a reason for him to go to Shrublands than there is in the movie (the 1st one not the second one). And, while the plot was good, the main story seemed to drag. The final battle was more exciting in the movie than in the book. In the book it seemed anti-climatic. Overall, if you like Bond than you should like this but there are better Bond books out there.
on January 4, 2013
Ian Fleming’s Bond books in general, though fanciful and romantic when compared with the works of John LeCarré or Len Deighton, seem almost mundane next to the continuously escalating madcap extravagance of the films, which lapsed into self-parody for more than a decade in the seventies and early eighties (still ruefully known as “The Roger Moore Years”).
Fleming’s James Bond was grounded and practical, a sybarite but also an ascetic, equally fond of sea-island cotton shirts and cold showers. And he had an imagination, which no film has ever managed to portray and no film-maker seems to have noticed.
The James Bond movies relentlessly update the character and his world with the cold war dissolving into the war on terror, new actors taking over the role, the gadgets and gizmos becoming ever grander, the tech ever higher, the tropes and traps more topical. The villains use parkour and iPads now; the text has replaced the cable. This is necessary in the big-ticket Hollywood that feeds the international film market, where everything must take place in the immediate, indeed the imperative, present tense.
But the charm of Fleming’s novels is the precise reverse of this passion for the up-to-date. Moldering on the used book store shelf, or awkwardly clustered in the cloud-based queue of my Kindle e-reader, they remain unapologetically documents of their own time, endearing period pieces from an era that baby-boomers like myself regard with a fierce wounding nostalgia.
Thunderball is a perfect example, though not the best place to start. begin where Fleming did, with Casino Royale. You won't regret it.