Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

How About A Little 19, Moneypenny?

Ranking the James Bond movie songs! Start at the beginning, or check out 22, 21, 20

19. Thunderball, Tom Jones. I should note that I am a big fan of Tom Jones and a moderate fan of his music. You might give him a pass, this being the fourth James Bond film, so the precedent had been set for the theme songs to be named after the title (Dr. No, the first, has no theme song). And I can see Tom Jones scratching his head, saying, “What the hell is a ‘Thunderball’?” But that’s no excuse for inserting the James Bond stinger every verse, nor for lyrics that feel generic when they aren’t ridiculous (“he knows the meaning of success / his needs are more so he gives less”). I will give it that it kind of fits with the movie, but the movie itself is bombastic and a bit ridiculous and not among Connery’s finer work (though you can argue that sub-par Connery is still above-average Bond and I wouldn’t disagree).

Fiction: Thunderball

The sight is terrifying, but the sound is worse. It starts with a pulsing rumble, like a giant bull in the ring, circling, its heart beating faster, danger and death already upon it faster than its awareness can process. Already the weaker buildings in the ghost town have trembled and succumbed, sliding downward as their last breath rises in a cloud of dust. And still the noise goes on and grows, and even through the deadening earphones the watchers can hear it, can feel it in their bodies. The taller buildings of the ghost town hold on grimly, and the rumble becomes a scream that issues from the earth itself, and now eyes turn toward the calm woman at the front of the room, her hands tight on the railing, her gaze never wavering. Has she miscalculated? Are they, supposedly a safe distance away, also to be torn to pieces by this blast of noise?

Six buildings remain. The scream is unendurable. Now five. Now the fourth topples into the third, the second collapses in on itself. Several watchers close their eyes against the noise. Finally the last building gives up.

The noise does not cut off abruptly–that would be dangerous, she’s told them–but fades quickly. Within forty-five seconds, she’s taken off her earphones. Slowly, the others follow suit. To one side, a young man ejects a thumb drive from his laptop and brings it over. She takes it from him and holds it up to the large man with two dozen medals on his uniform.

He follows her to a side room and shuts the door behind them. “We’ll take it,” he says, accepting the thumb drive from her.

She looks at him curiously. “You already have it,” she says.

The general squints. “The plans are on that?”

“The video is on it.” She waves at the closed door. “All the international delegates here will testify to its veracity, and all are welcome to inspect the site afterwards.”

“But the weapon,” the general insists. “We want the weapon.”

She looks at him steadily. “That weapon is not for sale.”

He throws the thumb drive to the floor. “It has to be. Why are you wasting my time?”

“General,” she says, “do you know why I called this device the ‘Thunderball’?”

“Scientist sense of humor? James Bond fan? I don’t give a shit. I want–”

“Back when Jane Goodall was studying chimp societies–patience, I assure you that this is relevant to your understanding–there was a chimp who learned how to roll oil drums down a slope. It made a terrific racket and the other chimps couldn’t understand how he did it. He became the top male in the group.” She eyed the general. “You understand that, right?”

“I love being compared to apes,” he said. “If your point is deterrence, we already understand that. I grew up during the Cold War.”

“The point is,” she went on, “that the oil drums just made a terrific noise. They weren’t actually dangerous. But the others didn’t know that. As you astutely pointed out, humans are not chimps. We’re a little more sophisticated. So we have had to develop weapons that do more than just make noise. Cannons, submarines, atomic bombs. They are true deterrents because they actually have power; they are more than just thunder.”

His eyes narrowed. “You telling me this is all just a trick?”

“The technology is real. The deployment is a trick.” She smiled. “What is critical is that nobody else understands it. A deterrent that can be replicated is short-lived.”

“A deterrent that can’t be replicated is useless.”

“We can replicate it just often enough. It takes a good deal more preparation than I’ve been letting on, but it’s not impossible. However…” She bent to pick up the thumb drive. “This should keep people quiet for a while.”

“And I guess when we need another deployment, we come to you.”

She smiled. “I do have the Thunderball.”

“For now.” The general’s lips remained set in a straight light, his eyes hard and cold.

“Everything is temporary.” She brushed black hair out of her face and smiled. “But by the time you’ve cracked this one, I’ll be working on the next one.”

He took the thumb drive as she held it out. “You’re damn close to treason.”

“I’m not selling the technology to anyone.” She released the small drive. “And I’ve given you the leverage to be the world bully again. I hardly see how that’s treason.”

He turned, and then stopped, his hand on the door. “What happened to that ape? The one with the oil cans?”

“Oh, he was deposed after a year or two. But he had a good time at the top.”

“Right.” The general pocketed the thumb drive. “Enjoy yours.”

When the door had closed behind him, she sighed and said, “You too.”


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