LICENCE EXPIRED: THE UNAUTHORIZED JAMES BOND
Ed. by Madeline Ashby and David Nickle
In our culture what is profitable endures, and so the James Bond franchise keeps right on rolling. The original twelve novels and two short story collections by Ian Fleming have been added to over the years by such big names as Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, and Jeffrey Deaver, and been adapted, however loosely, into over twenty movies.
Licence Expired is exceptional in that it is an unauthorized expansion of the franchise, exclusively available in Canada due to a quirk in copyright law landing Fleming’s creation in the public domain.
The editors were looking for a new Bond rendered in diverse voices, but one still anchored in the Fleming canon. It’s a sort of professional fan fiction, but with a twist.
As Madeline Ashby puts it, “As we face an era of almost continuous reboots, sequels, prequels, tentpoles, and seamless transmedia franchises, it’s important to realize that the only way to keep the machine running is to feed it new blood once in a while.”
This new blood is expressed in a wonderful variety of stories, with some authors taking their Bond neat while others preferring him mixed and stirred.
We begin with a sinister young Bond at Eton and end with a retiree in a nursing home suffering from dementia. In between you’ll find a lot of what you’d expect: glamorous girls, exotic locations, violent action, and old familiar faces (M, Moneypenny, Pussy Galore). But there’s also Bond in a post-nuclear war Canadian arctic, a metafictional Bond in letters, and even a story where our hero travels to H. P. Lovecraft’s Arkham to take on the many-tentacled Old Ones.
The question of what it is that keeps Bond going when he was so much the creation of a particular time and place continues to absorb fans and critics alike. Perhaps it can be attributed to the way his generic blankness allows for infinite adaptability, or the fact that style never goes out of style.
But whatever the reason for his longevity, Bond seems perfectly at home in Canada in the twenty-first century, his licence indefinitely renewed.
Review first published online June 21, 2016. For more entries in the extended (non-canonical) Bond franchise, see my reviews of Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche and Anthony Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis. I also recommend Simon Winder’s cultural history of the Bond phenomenon, The Man Who Saved Britain.