Spy vs Spy Week, User Input

User Input: Fictional Espionage

In the UK, they made a series of James Bond stamps, featuring the novel covers. Expect the Americans to do the same thing with the Twilight novels.

We decided to run with Spy vs. Spy Week this week specifically because there have been a few things gathering dust on the tips line that we wanted to share, but we’ve had a little trouble making them work in context with anything else. And, with any luck, our theme will inspire you guys to send us a few tips of tidbits of awesomeness you’ve stumbled across that we should share with the rest of the class.

But in order to do that, we need to get the pressing question out of the way first.

Let’s face it, the greatest benefit of the whole espionage battle of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s was some great storytelling. Spy dramas make for great reading, and translate well into captivating movies. The first man to realize this — at least, the first one to be successful at it — was Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond novels. Fleming himself was actually involved in the British Intelligence Services during the Second World War, and was one of the pioneers in developing a new team of soldiers, trained in the black arts of intelligence gathering. These soldiers were British commandos with an extra set of skills surrounding covert entry and search techniques: lock-picking, surveillance, stealth, safe-cracking and silent or unarmed combat. It was these commandos that would eventually lead to much of the tradecraft used by MI6, the CIA, the KGB, and the rest of the intelligence services. So, while “real” spies like to pooh-pooh the James Bond novels as being unrealistic, and having little similarity to the real world of espionage, those officers should keep in mind that Bond’s creator was one of the men responsible for the intelligence world they live in, whether they like it or not.

Which, naturally, leads to today’s inquiry. There can be little doubt that Bond is the most successful fictional spy we’ve seen… but is he the greatest? And, if he’s not, then who is? Or, to put it another way, other than James Bond, who is the greatest fictional spy?

  • domino_vitali

    James Bond is definitely my favorite spy and his accomplishments are legendary, although even he needs a lady with a spear gun sometimes.

    the Jackal was an impressive fellow, and almost completed his mission. the combination of classic tradecraft and lack of empathy or conscience made him a chilling and worthy adversary of Claude Lebel, an exceptional man himself. despite being killed, the Jackal's identity and nationality remain a mystery, a true accomplishment for any agent.

    (i'm considering reading Ludlum's Bourne series if/when i have some free time. what do you think, fellow atomic toasterers? are they worth the time?)

    • The Professor

      Wasn't the Jackal an assassin, not a spy?

      • domino_vitali

        technically, but the combination of The Jackal's use of various covers, phone calls to get udates on information collected by the honeytrap, and countless other techniques that those who are familiar with the film or book can remember, make it one of my favorites. Label isn't a spy either, but the secretive nature of his investigation makes him operate in a way that is quite different than any "detective story" that i'm familiar with.
        i guess it's more of a thriller than a true spy novel, apologies. but i did warn you all recently about thread derailment. 😉

        • The Professor

          I read the novel and saw both of the movies (didn't care for the Bruce Willis version), and it's a great thriller. But the Jackal was a killer, cold and clever. He would have made a great spy had it paid enough.

          • domino_vitali

            the newer film is an abomination, and i say this having seen less than 10 minutes of it. the Jackal disguises himself as a police officer? please. i also saw the scene where he is negotiating his price, it's like watching a sketch show parody of the original film's scene.

    • TX_Stig

      The Bourne novels were pretty good. At least the original ones were. I don't know anything about the new ones that were created from some of Ludlum's notes and stuff.

      • SSurfer321

        I've heard good things about the newer ones, but haven't sat to read any of them yet.

    • I can certainly recommend the Bourne novels. I read them before watching the first movie. As is often the case, the excellent movie still pales in comparison with the novels. The same can be said of Jame Bond. If you have not read them, they are worth it.
      I'm not sure I would pay full retail price for any of these, but if you can get them at a used book store or borrow them from the library, go for it!

  • Number_Six

    My favourite fictional spy is a real spy named Sidney Reilly. His WW1 escapades were dramatized in the amazing Reilly: Ace of Spies tv miniseries. Sam Neill knocks it out of the park as Reilly and knowing it's a true story makes it that much more enjoyable.

  • OA5599

    It was once said of Ginger Rogers that she not only had to match all of Fred Astaire's moves, she had to do them backwards and in high heels.

    For similar reasons, I'd choose Agent 99, circa LBJ administration.

    <img src="http://www.getsmartcarsite.com/images/overshoulder.jpg&quot; width=500>

  • P161911

    The James Bond movies are my favorites, but as far as books go, Tom Clancy's John Clark. is probably my favorite. It is sad to see Clancy go the way of Clive Cussler and other prolific authors and have "co-authors" for his last two books.

    Ian Fleming was a spy during the no-holds barred time of WWII and the immediate post-war period of Nazi hunting. I have heard stories of Allied commandos/spies making many Nazis "disappear" right after the war. Apparently a certain model of Tatra was popular for these squads because a body could be concealed under the rear seat. It is this type of thing that might make Mr. bond seem outlandish to some, but only a small exaggeration to someone like Fleming.

    • I think the co-authors are more a result of Clancy's health than anything.

      • P161911

        Bad health? I haven't heard anything. Details?

      • Deartháir

        The most recent one, just out in stores, doesn't appear to have a co-author byline on it. Is that an exception?

        • Then what is the "with Peter Telep"?

          Maybe the Canadian translation doesn't have that?

          • Deartháir

            Hm. Interesting. I had never looked it up online, just saw the softcover at the local Indigo, and there was no "with [Unknown Writer #2419]" tag to be seen. So obviously they're hiding it a little better, although I didn't look all that closely.

        • P161911

          Dead or Alive (2010) is "with Grant Blackwood" and Against All Enemies (2011) is "with Peter Telep". There is a third new one coming out next month, "Locked On", it is "with Mark Greaney". He went from an average of 2 years between books with up to 7 years in between to 3 in less than a year and a half. Also, 3 co-authors/ghostwrites in 3 books seems strange. Either he is trying to find a good one or he is really hard to work with.

          • I had read/heard somewhere that he was battling cancer when he wrote The Teeth of the Tiger. That explains the 7 year gap. I'm not too certain why he is coming out with so many books so fast, other than to fulfill a contract with Putnam or he needs the money. The former seems more plausible.

            Also, Clancy lending his name to books isn't anything new. Pretty much the entire OpCenter, Power Plays and Net Force series were written by co-authors with Clancy just lending his name for the royalties.

          • P161911

            The OpCenter, Power Plays, and Net Force series never claimed any authorship by Clancy. They were always "Tom Clany's….." by whoever.

    • Deartháir

      I had forgotten about John Clark. Good call. Everything Jack Ryan was supposed to be… but… just… wasn't. Clark felt so much like a re-boot of the whole spy concept, and I was really glad to see it. After that much had been heaped onto Ryan, it was good to take a fresh approach.

  • domino_vitali

    i forgot to add my favorite fictional female spy: Aeon Flux. possibly more sci-fi than espionage, but i think her outfits make up for it.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Did that show ever reach a conclusion? I watched when I was younger on Liquid TV I think it was called. Anyway Tony already had my top pick, best female for me was Salt in the film of the same name.

  • MrHowser

    On the popcorn-munching level, Cussler's Oregon Files novels are fun. I prefer them to the Pitt series.

    A tramp steamer full of guns, spy equipment, and the best personnel that government agencies couldn't afford? Great afternoon reading.

  • OA5599

    My kid would probably want to remind everybody that there were spies before the Cold War.

    <img src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_NjUov1-0KnU/SxMPlf-VrMI/AAAAAAAAKLo/s3khrRD96bU/s1600/1+91+Bob+Crane+and+Werner+Klemperer.jpg"&gt;

    • Number_Six

      I see nothing…


  • jeepjeff

    Not a book, but I'm a huge John Drake fan. Also, he may have the catchiest theme song (at least in the US).