The Anti-Bond

I’m not necessarily convinced that reading the blurbs on the inside of a book’s dust cover is a valuable use of your time, but I did find myself reading the blurb for Hurricane Fever, and in the first paragraph the copy writer says that “Roo is an anti-James Bond for a new generation.” I think that’s a useful idea, and it’s stuck with me, because most of how I feel about the book can kind of be revolved around that idea. I mean, in theory Hurricane Fever is a novel I should like a good deal: it’s an action-packed genre piece with thoughtful worldbuilding, a meaningful engagement with real-world issues, and a responsible approach to the social problems endemic to its source material. Even so, actually reading the book I never really managed to feel much more for it than “yeah, it’s okay.” There’s something about it that isn’t quite there, and the novel sometimes feels on-the-nose and easy in a way that just isn’t quite satisfying.

The most thorough and insightful book-length series of columns about James Bond written by a man pretending to be The Incredible Hulk you’ll ever read is Film Crit Hulk’s four-part overview of every single James Bond film. It’s a lengthy but very engaging series of articles that addresses just about every conversation you could want to have about James Bond and has a lot of thoughtful reflection on the nature of James Bond, his legacy, and what he says about masculinity and modern society as a whole. The author is extremely pointed in his analysis of Bond and what that character stands for, and I think that breakdown of Bond is a good place to start in terms of this idea of Roo as “anti-Bond.”

THE THING THAT MAKES JAMES BOND UNIQUE IS THAT WE CAN TRULY CLASSIFY HIM AS THE MOST UNAPOLOGETICALLY MALE SUPERHERO IN OUR MODERN MYTHOS. THINK ABOUT IT. POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE, HE’S ALL THE CLICHÉS: HE’S STRONG. HE’S POWERFUL. HE IS THAT CLASSIC ARCHETYPE OF “THE PROTECTOR” – ONLY WHAT HE PROTECTS, FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS ENGLISH SOVEREIGNTY. HE EVEN BEHAVES IN A WAY THAT IS SELF-INTERESTED TO THE POINT OF VIGILANTISM. BUT IN ALL THIS CRITICISM, LET US NOT FORGET THAT HE’S ALSO SMART AND CAPABLE. DESPITE HIS OVER-CONFIDENCE, HE CAN HANDLE ANY SCENARIO AT A GIVEN MOMENT. HE’S CULTURED AND DEBONAIR. HE CAN TRAVEL ABOUT THE WORLD WITH EASE. HE ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE FRIENDS WITH EVERY KIND OF LOCAL, NO MATTER THEIR RACE OR NATIONALITY (THIS CAN ALSO HAVE ITS PROBLEMS AS THE FILMS ARE OBVIOUSLY GOING OUT OF THEIR WAY TO SHOW THIS ENGLISH SQUARE GUY IS COOL AND DOWN WITH ALL THE LOCALS. BUT OF COURSE HE WOULD BE, AS THAT’S THE MOST INDULGENT CHOICE). SO IN MANY WAYS, JAMES BOND REPRESENTS AN OUTRIGHT CELEBRATION OF TRADITIONAL MALENESS, WITH ALL THE GOOD AND BAD THAT COMES ALONG WITH IT, BUT THE KEY DIFFERENCE IS THAT REPRESENTATION TREATS BAD AS GOOD TOO. IT’S THE UTTER EMPOWERMENT OF EVERYTHING MALE.

When you pull back and look at it, there are a lot of things about Roo that pattern themselves quite closely on the Bond model. He’s got the contacts, the technology, the ability to do violence, the inclination to use that capacity for violence as a means of problem-solving, the loyalty to his country, the narrow escapes, the superhuman endurance. There are differences, of course–the fact that Roo is a black man from the Caribbean and not the whitest British-ist Brit who was ever a white British guy is a big one–but the fundamental difference, the thing that makes Roo an “anti-Bond,” is that Roo isn’t a chauvinist. Buckell is very deliberate about avoiding “Bond girl” tropes; the female characters in Hurricane Fever are competent, assertive, and self-motivated. They’re never “broken women” who need to be healed by Roo’s sexual prowess, they’re never trophies to be won by him, and the plot never pushes them out of the way to make room for a man to do all the real work. Kit’s even allowed to shut down the doomsday machine while Roo is busy breaking every bone in his body. It’s clear that Bucknell was thinking about the kind of spy-fiction hero typified by James Bond, recognized the ways in which that character is inappropriate and even monstrous in the modern world, and made a point of addressing the social issues in a way that dodges a lot of the upsetting and problematic subtext that inevitably creeps into, say, most James Bond films.

And I think that’s where the novel doesn’t quite come together for me, because while it addresses a lot of those problematic elements of the genre, that’s kind of all it does. It avoids repeating the same sins, but it doesn’t really engage with those sins. There isn’t really any kind of deeper statement or reflection on the sexism that unavoidably taints the genre’s legacy, there’s just some Strong Female Characters to let you know that we know better now. There isn’t any real engagement with racism, there’s just a crazy “Hitler 2.0 wannabe” who drops a couple of racist conservative talking points. There’s no real examination of violence, there’s just a couple of scenes where Roo feels bad about how his actions have consequences before running off to blow up a yacht. The one area where the book really does a good job of seriously engaging with an issue is in its pervasive, matter-of-fact depiction of climate change, but even that is treated as more of a worldbuilding detail. And the end result of all this is a novel that has a lot of themes and motifs and approaches I really like, but that for the most part doesn’t really live up to those themes in a way that I personally found completely satisfying. There’s sort of a campy undertone running through the novel, which is another thing that I normally appreciate, but in this case I think the action-movie goofiness ended up undermining the story more than anything.

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