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Amadan na Briona

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Inherent Vice
Thomas Pynchon, Ron McLarty
The Best Horror of the Year Volume Five
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From Russia with Love (James Bond Series #5)

From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming Ian Fleming should get more credit than he does for writing fast-paced tightly-plotted thrillers. A little improbable at times? Sure, but the James Bond of the books is nothing like the superhero of the movies. This is adventure fiction that stays within the bounds of reason, and it's full of (almost) believable heroes and villains and not nearly as many outrageous gadgets as in the movies either. (Bond is actually given a cynanide pill dispenser in this book; he laughs and washes them down the drain.)

The plot is basically "Get Bond!" SMERSH wants to kill a prominent rival agent to send a message to all the other intelligence agencies, intimidate double agents, and impress the Kremlin. We get lots of Russian political machinations and the background of all the villains (and the love interest, Tatiana Romanova) before Bond is even introduced. Then to the story: SMERSH lures Bond to Turkey in what's an obvious trap, baited with Romanova and a Russian decoding device, but MI6 sends Bond anyway because the potential payoff is too good to pass up. Bond meets Romanova, is completely taken in by her, and makes several other blunders that will surprise anyone who's used to the cold, flawless cinematic Bond, before he confronts the real enemy, a psychopathic Irish defector who is now SMERSH's top assassin.

I like the original Bond stories; they're still fun despite being so dated. The literary 007 is a much more interesting character than he ever was on-screen. He's still a sexist pig, though, and he's usually one of the less misogynistic characters. Fleming was writing before Political Correctness was a blip on anyone's radar, so the books are chock-full of cringe-inducingly racist and sexist stereotypes. But if you can embrace them as the guilty pleasure they are, I think they are well worth reading, and From Russia with Love is a taut little thriller where the early chapters before Bond even appears are some of the most interesting. (But you'll want to read the rest for the naked gypsy catfight, the lesbian Soviet interrogation specialist and her poisoned knitting needles, the asexual pseudo-lycanthropic serial killer, the Istanbul dungeon crawl, and the Turkish spice merchant who tells Bond how he used his harem to raise his own personal spy ring.)