25 Years since the publication of Raymond Benson's first Bond novel, Zero Minus Ten (1997)

Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,899MI6 Agent
edited April 3 in James Bond Literature

As Raymond Benson has pointed out today on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, tomorrow, Monday 4th April 2022 marks the 25th Anniversary of the UK publication of his debut James Bond continuation novel, Zero Minus Ten (1997). In total, Benson wrote six original Bond continuation novels, three Bond short stories and three film novelisations from 1997 to 2002. It would be timely to hear from literary Bond fans here about what they thought of Zero Minus Ten and, by extension, their thoughts or retrospectives on the Benson era of Bond novels and film novelisations?


"The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).

Comments

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 33,458Chief of Staff

    I've always liked Benson's series, more than others here, and I think he got off to a good start with this one. Others are better (I really like "The Facts Of Death" which is more influenced by the films) but this one really worked for me.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,899MI6 Agent

    Yes, I've always liked Benson's Bond works too and feel most at home as a literary Bond fan in that traditional Fleming-Amis-Gardner-Benson contemporary set continuity. That's mainly because that was what I grew up with and I see see that as bread and butter Bond. Zero Minus Ten was a good start to his series and I thought that Guy Thackeray was a good villain and that Australia was a good, previously unused, setting.

    I liked The Facts of Death too and I thought that the Decada was a good attempt at a one-off SPECTRE type organisation. It was also good to see the literary Bond back in Greece for the first time since Colonel Sun. Benson tended to focus in on real geopolitical events and conflicts in his Bond novels which helped to at least partially offset the more outlandish gadget and action inherited from the Bond films. Of course Benson went on to have his own SPECTRE clone in the form of the Union that featured as the villainous organisation in the next three novels. I agree that his novels often felt more influenced by the films but that was his brief from Glidrose/IFP, namely to bring the books into line with the concurrent Brosnan Bond films. The same could be said of the Gardner Bond novels too, though I think it was much more prominent in the Benson novels. Personally I think that High Time to Kill is my favourite of the Benson Bond novels though I'd have to reread them all to be sure as it's been a while! 🙂

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 33,458Chief of Staff

    I thought "Never Send Flowers" was your favourite?

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 7,899MI6 Agent
    edited April 4

    Yes, it is my favourite of the John Gardner Bond novels but High Time to Kill is my favourite of the Benson Bond novels. I'm also very fond of Icebreaker, Scorpius and Cold too from Gardner. Colonel Sun is my favourite Bond continuation novel overall. I rank only Amis above Gardner in terms of continuation authors.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,767MI6 Agent

    I’m in the “don’t like” camp, I’m afraid. I find his writing poor and his grasp on the character weak. Maybe because I don’t like the Brosnan version of Bond, and it’s written too much like him, I’m not sure, but to be fair, apart from Christopher Wood books, I’m not keen on any of the other authors so I’m not the best judge.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 3,267Quartermasters

    Raymond Benson's post about the 25th anniversary of Zero Minus Ten did make smile a bit, as Zero Minus Ten and his novelisation of Tomorrow Never Dies were the first two Bond books I ever read - borrowed from my high school's library. They may not be amongst the best the literary Bond canon has to offer, but they did a good job of getting me started on reading Bond novels and from then on I couldn't get enough. Curiously, Fleming novels were initially very hard for me to track down, so I got started primarily on Benson and Gardner. Perhaps that is why I have more of a liking for the continuation novels than many other fans.

    A few years ago I got hold of a hardcover edition of Zero Minus Ten for my collection, and re-read the novel. I did still find it an enjoyable book to re-read, although my preferred continuation author remains John Gardner, with honourable mention to Amis and Horowitz.

  • The Red KindThe Red Kind EnglandPosts: 2,636MI6 Agent

    25 years since Zero Minus Ten makes me feel very old!

    I actually enjoyed all of the Benson novels. Perhaps it was my age and that period of Brosnan's tenure, they just worked for me. I appreciate they fell short in some areas for many but they're just good action adventure novels with our beloved James Bond doing all the things he should.

    I enjoyed the mountaineering pieces in High Time To Kill as we don't see enough of Bond climbing in the series.

    "Any of the opposition around..?"
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,394MI6 Agent
    edited April 5

    I've never read any of his BondNovels, and don't see them used in shops as much as I used to (whereas the Gardners were all reprinted a few years back)

    I do have a digital copy of his James Bond Bedside Companion book I found somewhere on line, and I'd buy the actual book on sight if I ever found a copy in the real world. Excellent reference book, full of information on Fleming, the books, and the films all in one place and neatly organised.

  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 3,267Quartermasters
    edited April 5

    Benson's novels are the only Bond novels that I have found really difficult to find here in South Africa. I remember seeing The Man With The Red Tattoo and Die Another Day in a bookshop back in 2003, but I don't think many copies made it to South Africa because unlike the Gardner books or the later 'celebrity' continuation authors which are easily found in second hand bookshops, Benson barely ever appears on those shelves. Doubleshot and The Man With The Tattoo remain the only Bond novels that I don't own a printed copy of.

  • Miles MesservyMiles Messervy Posts: 1,647MI6 Agent
    edited April 5

    I re-read Zero Minus Ten (and High Time to Kill) about 4-6 months ago. I found both fairly enjoyable. Maybe I’ll revisit Facts of Death next.

    Benson, overall, is probably the weakest continuation author from a literary perspective (although Boyd and Faulks somehow managed to produce worse Bond novels). Benson does okay with his villains, but his characterization of Bond is, as we all know, straight from the films with bits of Fleming sprinkled in. That just never sits well with me, despite my efforts to overlook it. His women are also poorly written across the board (although this critique applies to Gardner as well)

    That said, Benson was my introduction to the literary Bond. Like Golrush007, these led me to Fleming and the rest is history! So kudos to Benson for that.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 2,072MI6 Agent

    Benson wrote Fan Fiction.

  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 411MI6 Agent
    edited April 5


    Yes, for me Benson's claim to fame and excellence will always be the James Bond Bedside Companion, by far the best literary/film Bond reference book from an otherwise lean period for Fleming fans. Even fans who don't like Benson's novels should tip their hats at his fine reference book, with its wise judgments and fact-filled pages.

    I only read Benson's first Bond novel and remember liking the Mahjong game and Bond getting stranded in the outback--both scenes felt like something Fleming would devise. But the style was far from Fleming--I recall wincing when Benson referred to Bond having an erection ("his hardness"). When I finished I decided there was no more point in reading Bond continuations than in Sherlock Holmes continuations. What made those characters come alive on the page was the quirky individuality of the men who created them. Anyone who comes afterward is merely a tribute band. The only exception was Kingsley Amis, because he was a rare one-off: a deep fan of Fleming who fully understood Bond and a master novelist.

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 4,777MI6 Agent

    Bedside Companion was very enjoyable.

  • Miles MesservyMiles Messervy Posts: 1,647MI6 Agent
    edited April 6

    You should read Wood‘s TSWLM if you can get your hands on a copy. The plot is, obviously, not Fleming, but his writing is up there with Amis in terms of approximating the style and flavor of the originals.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 4,767MI6 Agent
    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,394MI6 Agent

    I'd be surprised if @Revelator never read the Christopher Wood novelizations.

    and they are very good, especially the first one. He definitely knows how to mimick Fleming's prose style and structural tricks better than any other continuation author I've read, maybe even moreso than Amis. And its amazing to read such an unFleming-like plot rewritten so itll fit seamleselly into Flemings canon. The second one he doesn't quite attempt the same trick so completely, though there's a couple of good passages worth reading that arent in the film (Bonds Amazon journey, and the Defense Minister's internal monolog)

    Amis definitely knew how to replicate Fleming if he wanted to, but I think he had his own story he wanted to tell so did some things a bit differently. Fleming's characters would never have spent chapters debating like Poli-Sci undergrads, for example.

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 4,777MI6 Agent

    Or indeed saving a whole conference full of Russians! :)

  • RevelatorRevelator Posts: 411MI6 Agent
    edited April 7

    I hate to disappoint a friend, but you have good cause to be surprised. I've owned a copy of Wood's TSWLM for many years but have yet to open it because I made the mistake of reading Wood's memoir James Bond, the Spy I Loved and came away deeply disliking the book and its author. My reason for buying the book was to get a detailed idea of what Wood contributed to the notoriously complicated script history of TSWLM, and to see if the film of MR departed much from his script. Wood's memoir was barely any help--it was like he barely remembered his own script work. He spent more time bashing Fleming's TSWLM than discussing his additions to the film script, and his tone was so condescending and snarky that I began hating the man. I know Fleming's TSWLM is a divisive book and an easy target, but Wood gave the impression of wanting to prove how superior he was, apparently because his concept of Bond was far less adventurous and far more formulaic. All that said, I still need to read Wood's TSWLM, because there are plenty of cases of unlikable people who have written good books.

    I also need to revise my earlier post--Kingsley Amis is NOT the only post-Fleming author I know of who wrote a great continuation novel. John Pearson did too! James Bond: The Authorized Biography is a delightful book, because its author had a sense style and he not only understood but also knew and worked for Fleming. Conceptually it might be the most interesting of all the continuations, because instead of trying to create another Bond adventure in the Fleming mold, Pearson adds another dimension to the entire saga, allowing himself to acknowledge Fleming's Bond while creating his own version of the character at the same time. It's a daringly metafictional work that honors and blows up continuity and tradition.

  • Miles MesservyMiles Messervy Posts: 1,647MI6 Agent

    Will be interested to hear your thoughts if you crack it open. It’s a quick read because Wood is effectively able to pull off the Fleming sweep!

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 4,777MI6 Agent
    edited April 8

    I remember reading a bit of TSWLM and Wood has Bond looking out of the window of MI6 over London and getting angry that someone could threaten this England “that he loved”, and it made me think he didn’t really get Bond at all. He also has Bond doing the breast stroke to propel himself through the air like Bananaman in the Moonraker skydive PTS 😄

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,394MI6 Agent

    revelator said:

     I made the mistake of reading Wood's memoir James Bond, the Spy I Loved and came away deeply disliking the book and its author. My reason for buying the book was to get a detailed idea of what Wood contributed to the notoriously complicated script history of TSWLM, and to see if the film of MR departed much from his script. Wood's memoir was barely any help--it was like he barely remembered his own script work. He spent more time bashing Fleming's TSWLM than discussing his additions to the film script, and his tone was so condescending and snarky that I began hating the man. I know Fleming's TSWLM is a divisive book and an easy target, but Wood gave the impression of wanting to prove how superior he was, apparently because his concept of Bond was far less adventurous and far more formulaic.

    eww, that would put me off too, I didnt know all that. probably best to read them in the opposite order then. For someone who doesnt like Fleming, he made an impressive effort to write like Fleming.

    (an irony, since this is a thread about a writer who really did like Fleming, yet his own writing was apparently so good we all stopped talking about his books 7 posts ago!)


    Pearsons's Bond Biography is great too, I overanalysed it a few years back in another thread. Not discussed nearly enough, perhaps because its almost impossible to find. I saw a copy in one store for I think $20-, first copy I've seen in over a decade, but I'm only going to pay that money for the PAN "messy desk" edition, not a generic 80s cover.

    it came up in discussion here a couple weeks back, when someone (emtiem?) mentioned CraigBond is supposed to be born in Berlin. Bond being born in Germany was an idea Pearson introduced, not Fleming so fars I know. so the fimmakers may remember this book even if is otherwise forgotten.

    it may be about an alternate universe's James Bond, but once he starts telling those short story style reminiscences of Unseen Missions, most of them could fit seamlessly into Fleming's continuity should you choose to believe them

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