Friday, February 21, 2014

Solo -- A James Bond Novel by William Boyd

Can 007 Only Live Twice?

Since the death of Ian Fleming 50 years ago, there  have be attempts to continue the James Bond legacy by various authors. Until now, according to a recent review I read in the Week, no one have been able to breathe life into 007.  Until now. 

Now finally, William Boyd, a Brit writer, have come remarkably close to creating a legitimate successor to Fleming’s novels. Being a dormant Bond aficionado for some 50 years, I had to buy the book.

Bond is, once again, on her majesty’s secret service.  The writer has constructed timeline of events for Mr Bond and determines it is James’ 45th birthday at the onset of this story.  

Every Bond story by Fleming always had common elements.  Here are a few that Boyd continues in this book.
  • Bond always meets beautiful women willing to “share” almost immediately,
  • Bond consumes hard liquor aplenty, wherever and whenever. His weakness here is bourbon by the bottle, not the glass.  
  • Bond is continually prissy about the details of what he is to eat, how it is to be prepared, and how it is to be served.
  • Bond always must have the top of the line auto wherever he goes. Even when he is undercover, he still rents the most powerful, fastest, most obvious car..  
  • Bond is also finicky by what he smokes and a big deal about the brand he chooses. 
  • Bond has a penchant for meeting people with unusual names. In this book we meet Christmas and Blessing.  
  • Bond’s missions always involve taking super organizations down. In this book, it’s a country that this single agent must beat!
  • Bond encounters a truly horrible bad guy that cannot be defeated. 
  • Bond finds himself facing inescapable, imminent death. 
  • Luckily, the bad guys leave the room as James is within seconds of dying.  Don’t they ever learn?
As you can see, all the elements are in place and this should be a book that carries on a great tradition.  For me, it doesn’t. For one thing, many of the Bondisms that I admired as a youth seem like unsavory excesses to me now.  Such as indiscriminant liaisons with so many women. Who goes into a bar for a drink and orders a whole bottle of bourbon? Smoking constantly. A tux for dinner?  A car that can go 200 mph in a city like DC?   All of this sounded super appealing to me in my 20's. Or maybe even 30's. Now,enough, Bond. Settle down a bit..
Also, I find the story itself to be choppy and in some regards, hard to make sense. The segues sre tough to follow at tines. I didn't "get" some of it because the story was a bit over the top. I should read the book twice to clarify some of these puzzles but the book doesn’t warrant a second reading, as far as I am concerned.  

The bottom line: Author Boyd churned up a good bit of nostalgia for me, when I wanted to be like a Bond myself.  But at 67, I believe that anyone who lived like Bond would be long dead now from too many cigarettes, whiskey, women, fast cars or super rich food.  I can only live this once.  Read it for old times sake. Skip it if your old times don't need summoning.   

BTW, the Bond movies still carry the legend on for me.  They have always been entertaining.  Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What's the Difference Between Having A Baby and a Great Idea?

"Where do these great ideas come from and who thinks them up?" the young, curious recently newly minted MBA asked me, an old and wizened corporate dude. The MBA guy was referring to a new process our corporation just put into place that actually wasn't working too well.  
A Great Idea?
I thought for a moment, wondering how much of the truth he could handle. "Many of the ideas are spawned in the executive offices on the top floor. When they are conceived, I believe that there are at least two people involved, but there can be many more," says I.  His eyes widen. I watch as some of his youthful academic beliefs shatter.

"What about the Great Man theory?" he asks, referring to the theory was popularized in the 1840s by Thomas Carlyle.  Ignoring his masters degree, I answer, "In the corporate world, there can be many fathers-- and mothers -- to an great idea. "

"Once the seed is successfully planted, more executives start noticing and encouraging the idea to take form. When enough time goes by, and a majority approve its potential, it's officially born."

"It then becomes an official member of the corporate environment, and communal teams swoop in from law, compliance, operations, systems and other areas to help raise it in in the corporate form it needs to be. They will nurture the idea, putting form and fabric on it so it can be tested. "

"The idea then morphs into a project," I press on. "At this point, it literally has a life of its own. It will grow up becoming either a product or a process and in all likelihood, will look nothing like the original idea."

"Then it can go through years of growing up. It gets tested, usually by people it won't ever have to use it. If the project fails a test or two, and may have to go back a step or two for more study," I inform.  "The idea either finally grows up, or unfortunately dies in the testing phase.  The life of an idea is extremely fragile and could even have passed away earlier."

"I’m not certain why this one didn’t," the young now-not-so-curious writer mutters as he walks away. "It sucks."

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Red Renault

by Bob Beardsley

Simulated Photo of the Actual Renault!
I once bought a 1965 Renault R8 for $300.  The paint on the 1965 Renault was a dull, burnt red-pink.  Really burnt because the original red had oxidized into its present unappealing condition. The paint even felt rutted to the touch. Not that a Renault with a good paint job would ever be characterized as good looking.  I inspected the engine -- which was located in the rear of the car -- looking for serviceable life. As soon as I popped the hood latch I sniffed gas. The engine’s fittings and fissures were spotted with rust and oil.   The car did not look roadworthy.

Once in the car, the smell of old, weathered seats – I think they were made of a type of a leather  -- filled my nostrils.  A relaxing odor reminiscent of very old leather chairs you might imagine in a British men’s club  It gave me the sense this vehicle had provided years of comforting and faithful service. I was surprised that the driver’s seat felt very accommodating; warm, soft and welcoming. The entire interior, including the seats, carpeting, paneling and dash, displayed an non-offensive tan color.

The small dashboard peered out from behind the steering wheel. The odometer permanently registered 87,000 miles and never advanced, while the speedometer only registered speed in kilometers. The gas gauge appeared to be functional.  There were no more instruments. This minimalist approach did not trouble me, and I found it rather reassuring that I didn't have to bother with much data. Driving the Renault would be like discarding your watch, freeing oneself from the conventions of society.

The black wooden gear knob rose from the center floorboard on a gangly metal stalk. This is where I discovered that the heart and soul of this Renault. The rounder, wooden knob was worn and soothingly smooth to my touch. Any instructive gear patterns stamped on the top of the knob were long ago rubbed out, but no matter.  The shifter and transmission worked flawlessly together. Driving this apparent wreck of an auto was a pleasure. The car gave me years of good service.
In all the years since and considering all the cars I have owned, I never felt more safe or more at peace than in this unlikely auto that I paid $300 for in 1971.

P.S. The car served me well for three years and I only parted with it after a major accident.  A young lady ran a light and smashed into the front of the Renault, squishing and collapsing the trunk like an accordion closing. This absorbed most to the energy and spun the car around for 150 feet. I was uninjured because this odd duck of an auto had the engine in the back.  Had it been in the front, the impact and result would have been much worse.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

They Served with Honor, Pride and Sacrifice

Thanks to all the veterans who served and especially to the ones that gave up all their tomorrows that we may still enjoy our todays.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Everyday Heroes Who Can't Be Seen

I came across this modern Helen Keller story and although I know many of you have heard of her before, I thought you might enjoy meeting Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin didn't talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating her frustration instead by screaming, peeping, and humming. She is autistic.

Today she is world renowned as a scientist and speaker. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment is that she has been credited as the person who has provided the greatest insights into understanding autism to date.

Grandin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was diagnosed with "brain damage" at age two. Her parents placed her in a structured nursery school with what she considers to have been good teachers. Grandin's mother spoke to a doctor who suggested speech therapy, and she hired a nanny who spent hours playing turn-based games with Grandin and her sister.

At age four, Grandin began talking, and she began making progress. She considers herself lucky to have had supportive mentors from primary school onwards. However, Grandin has said that middle school and high school were the worst parts of her life. She was the "nerdy kid", the one whom everyone teased and picked on. She would be walking down the street and people would say "tape recorder", because she would repeat things over and over again. Kinda like Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man.

After graduating from Hampshire Country School, a boarding school for gifted children in Rindge, New Hampshire in 1966, Grandin went on to college. She received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce College (also located in Rindge) in 1970, her master's degree in animal science from Arizona State University in 1975, and her Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989.

There are many heroes in this story. Her parents did not give up on her at a time when many brain damaged children were not understood or even tolerated. With the help of teachers, mentors, doctors, speech therapists, nannies and family, she overcame great odds to become who she is today.

For your enjoyment, here is a video of her speaking at a convention. Although she is standing alone on this stage, and although you can't see them, there are many, many average, everyday people that stand behind her.