BIBLIOMETRICS AND OPEN ACCESS: FIGHTING FOR COMMON SENSE

My topic today is the corporate hold on academic research on two different but closely interrelated fronts: open access and bibliometrics. Open access policies are very simple to understand: the publications generated by research funded with public money should be available for free to anyone interested. This is, simply, not happening. Bibliometrics used to be a system designed to aid university librarians to choose how to invest their meagre, or large, resources into the best journals available but became about ten years ago an Orwellian way of measuring what cannot be measured: scholarly reputation and impact.

I attended back in 2010 a one-day workshop, organized by the Catalan Agència per a la Qualitat del Sistema Universitari de Catalunya (AQU), to debate the best way to implement the, at the time, rather new bibliometric approach to research. I was on the side of the Catalan researchers who complained that if you work on a tiny corner of the world of knowledge (and in a minority language) you can hardly expect your research to have world-wide impact. Your specialized journals will always be on the C and D list, even for your own local Catalan universities. So why measure not only personal production but also whole areas of research by pitting them against each other? Who has the right to say that a journal in English about Milton is more relevant that one in Catalan about Pedrolo? Why should an article published in the former be automatically regarded as superior to one published in the latter?

The other main concern expressed had to do with how bibliometrics negatively affect new publications, as scholars have quickly learned that since newly-born journals take time to consolidate it is preferable to try to publish in older, fully consolidated B or A-list journals–the only ones that really count for assessment though it make take years to publish in them even when accepted. I believed all this was plain common sense but was totally flabbergasted when hearing the line defended by some of the Catalan colleagues present at the AQU workshop, who were truly convinced that where you publish and not what you publish is what matters. Since then I have learned to do as required by my employers, and, so, I made sure that my last research assessment exercise included at least one article in an A-listed journal. I am also flooding, however, the digital repository of my university with plenty of academic work which I am self-publishing, following my own version of open access.

I say my own version because what is usually meant by open access is not free self-publication, whether peer-reviewed (which can be easily done) or not, but the online liberation of work previously offered through an academic journal (occasionally in collective books). That is to say: even though most universities have set up digital repositories to guarantee their researchers easy access to a platform where they can publish their work (beyond Academia.edu or Research Gate, which are private), it turns out that this has had no major impact because our CVs are measured, more rigidly than ever, on the basis of journal bibliometrics. If, to give an imaginary example, I publish an article in an A-ranking journal available by subscription that gets read by 30 persons but the same article is downloaded 300 times from the DDD of my university, which has the higher impact? You might think it’s the DDD but, no, it’s the journal publication–officially, digital repositories contribute zero to academic CVs. I am not speaking here of peer-reviewing vs. self-publication, I’m speaking only about access, which is supposedly the basis of impact.

Open access, in short, cannot function unless all journals decide to act like repositories and offer their publications for free online. Many, of course, are doing that and even using, besides, open peer reviewing, which means that you can leave comments either as a plain reader or as a formal reviewer (not anonymously). In contrast, most of the A- listed journals (highly-ranked according to bibliometrics, not necessarily scholarly consensus) tend to be available only by subscription, which means that universities are spending most of their library budgets on publications that actually depend on the researchers’ giving their work away for free. As we all know, though we do not get payment for our articles, the main academic journal publishers do good business by charging money for each article independently and for the subscriptions, some truly expensive–I mean up to tens of thousands of dollars for one journal (in the sciences).

A recent article in The Guardian complains that the European Union, in charge of guaranteeing the growth of open access policies, has hired academic giant Elsevier to check its progress. As the author, Jon Tennant, protests, “That’s like having McDonald’s monitor the eating habits of a nation and then using that to guide policy decisions” (https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2018/jun/29/elsevier-are-corrupting-open-science-in-europe). Elsevier, naturally, very much disliked at the critique. See in Tennant’s own blog the letter that Elsevier sent him, defending their appointment, and his arguments (http://fossilsandshit.com/elsevier-open-science-monitor-response/).

Business is business and corporations will do their best to go on accruing power over us, academics, as well as they can–just as Amazon, Apple and company do. What you should be wondering at this point is why this state of affairs is tolerated. If most of us, researchers, agree that open access is the way to go, why is this so hard to implement? Well, one answer is that open access is not free in the sense that if you want to set up a respectable online journal you still need extensive resources: a platform funded by your university, the know-how to operate it as editor (a time-consuming task), and lots of stamina to send regular cfps and manage peer reviewers, that unruly lot. It seems easier to let others do the job or, to be more specific, help to give the job you’re anyway willing to do more resonance.

Also, and this is the main point, for whatever reasons the political authorities, from the European Union down to each regional government, including the university admin teams, are upholding an assessment system that benefits the major academic publishers. We are assessed on the basis of their impact and reputation not of ours and, one way or the other, we have ended up working not quite for the good of knowledge but mainly for the benefit of our publishers. Let me give you an example of things that are beginning to scare me very much: I was planning to reuse a chapter that I wrote for a collective volume issued by a very well-known academic publisher in a monograph for another publishing house; I found out, however, that I was expected to pay 1000$ to get their permission. Needless to say, I’m writing a completely new chapter for the monograph. A doubt now corroding me is whether I can use the arguments without repeating my own text verbatim, for I’m not even sure that I can. What exactly do we give away with copyright?

Concerned specifically about the Journal Impact Factor, The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) published in 2012 a document known as the “San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment” (https://sfdora.org/read/). JIF, a product of Thomson Reuters now published by Clarivate Analytics, is being used to measure academic CVs at all levels and beyond the USA. Incidentally: Clarivate Analytics is owned by the Onex Corporation (a Canada-based private equity or investment fund) and by the London-based Barings Bank, now in the hands of ING. Draw your own conclusions. Anyway, the San Francisco Declaration couldn’t be clearer: its general recommendation is “Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions”. What should you use, then?: “assessments based on scientific content rather than publication metrics”. As an alternative, Altmetrics is proposed (http://altmetrics.org/tools/). For the British view of the matter, see James Wildon’s article which, among other matters, announces the establishment of the UK Forum for Responsible Research Metrics (https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2018/jul/10/has-the-tide-turned-towards-responsible-metrics-in-research).

I cannot find (sorry) another article in which a scientist working on an emerging field (possibly big data) explained that although researchers have organized themselves competently through open-access networks and publications, a major publisher has announced the launch of a journal specializing in their little patch of the academic quilt. This researcher was positively furious at what he regarded as an unwanted interference. I seem to recall that a number of the leading researchers in his field have signed a manifesto vowing not to publish in that corporate-owned journal but the question, obviously, is whether they will be able to stick to their resolve, or risk being pushed out of the fierce competition for funding and jobs by those who publish in the new journal.

Let me explain something I am doing. Since early 2017 I have been co-editor of the online journal Hélice (www.revistahelice.com), which specializes in science fiction. My co-editors, Mariano Martín and Mikel Peregrina, and myself had the intention of transforming the journal, originally founded by Asociación Xatafi in 2007, into a proper academic publication. Hélice certainly is an academic publication because we three are scholars and we publish in it scholarly work. What I mean is that we intended to introduce peer reviewing and bibliometrics into Hélice, and publish through my university’s online platform. We have decided, however, to post-pone indefinitely the decision for several reasons: one is that we do enjoy being editors in the classic style of many SF-related publications; another is that we are publishing work by rooky undergrad researchers not necessarily interested in an academic career; also, that we simply don’t have sufficient time to meet the demands of a university-endorsed journal. This may change in the future but we find ourselves interested in filling in the gap between fandom and academia, and in doing that beyond what counts or not academically speaking. And we need not worry about any major academic publisher wanting to steal the limelight from us. Perhaps we’re being Quixotic but, then, why not?

I think I am calling everyone to change the way we make research available. Establish your own online resources though blogs and websites, question your university’s investment into expensive subscriptions rather than full-time jobs, cite colleagues’ work because you find it relevant not because it is published in A-list journals, use peer reviewing wisely but also welcome other editorial approaches, don’t let yourself be consumed by your CV, that hungry monster. I personally know that I’m doing my most important academic work here in this blog yet, you see?, I have never counted who is reading it and whether it has an impact or not at all. It adds, by the way, zero points to my CV.

Some might think that doing academic work at any level which is not officially measurable is a waste of time but, believe me, though I feel enormous satisfaction when I see my academic work in relevant publications, I also feel much happiness when working outside the rather inflexible lines of current academia. That the words ‘inflexible’ and ‘academia’ may appear in the same sentence gives me, and should give you, much cause for concern. Let’s vindicate common sense instead and re-imagine how we approach reputation.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

DEATH OF THE NOVEL, DEATH OF THE READER: A DEBATE (WITH AIs)

This post is inspired by two articles about novelists considering whether the novel is in its dying throes. The interview by Vicent Bosch of Guillem López (Castelló, 1975) for JotDown bears the heading “No creo que la novela sobreviva medio siglo” (https://www.jotdown.es/2018/06/guillem-lopez-no-creo-que-la-novela-sobreviva-medio-siglo-la-literatura-si-pero-sera-otra-cosa-tal-vez-un-videojuego/). The Guardian’s article about the BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking talk by novelist Howard Jacobson (Manchester, 1942) is titled “‘The Problem is the Reader’”.

Guillem López is one of the most important Spanish fantasy writers, and Challenger (2015)–which does deal with the space shuttle disaster of 1986–his most acclaimed novel. Here is an anecdote. López novel won the 2016 Ignotus for best fiction, the main award for fantasy fiction in Spain (apart from Planeta’s Minotauro). The awards ceremony is usually celebrated within Hispacon, which that year coincided with Barcelona’s Eurocon–and there I was. López was not in the room and his publisher, Cisco Bellabestia of Aristas Martínez (Badajoz, active since 2010) collected the award. He then launched into the total opposite of the thanks speech you might expect, shaming everyone in the room into considering sheepishly the charms of the floor tiles. His main point was that it was no use giving awards and clapping authors on the shoulder if sales remained so low–he mentioned having sold only 100 copies of Challenger in its first year. My, he was angry… The JotDown interview mentions an iron ceiling of 2000 copies at most for Spanish fiction (not just fantasy), and other editors and authors I know put habitual sales figures between 150 and 450 copies. In contrast, top YouTuber El Rubius has 30 million subscribers worldwide–yes, that is correct. There is a series of books presenting him as a superhero. No wonder…

Towards the end of the JotDown interview, López is invited to speculate on the future of the novel. He notes that even though the foundations of the genre remain quite static, innovation is still possible, as shown by Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000)–most likely, the only truly post-postmodern novel I have come across and an admirable text but also a one-off eccentric beauty. López remarks next that, in his view, novels will have probably disappeared in about fifty years, with only a small circle of committed readers keeping them alive at the end of the 21st century. If, I add, pastoral poetry went out of fashion why shouldn’t the novel go out of fashion, too? If, furthermore, you can date the birth of a genre then why couldn’t you imagine its death?

In López’s view, and this is what gives the interview its controversial subtitle, “Perhaps we should all be writing videogames because videogames are the literature of the end of the 21st century”. For López literature will survive, then, though not necessarily the novel. I must clarify that López does not mean that videogames are literature as they are right now but that they offer a model to explore. He stresses that the novel should fit the world awaiting us round the corner and not the other way round, and we need to start thinking of novels amenable to virtual and augmented reality, transmedia contents, etc rather than just the book. Why he assumes that ‘literature’ is a synonym for ‘narrative’ is an issue that I’ll leave aside for the time being.

What is in question, then, is not so much the novel’s survival but the convention according to which the novel must be read between the covers of a book and transmitted in printed text. This is not at all a new argument, though so far the constant obsolescence of computers has prevented most of the hypertextual fictional experiments to make it into any kind of canon (popular or otherwise). I still wonder that we don’t have hypertextual editions of the classics, with ‘footnotes’ popping up windows with all kinds of information. And, though I’m not sure this will ever happen, I have no problems imagining the use of virtual reality technology in immersive versions of novels, as if you could insert yourself in a BBC adaptation as you listen to Charles Dickens, to name an example. The videogame format that López alludes to suggests, however, something more interactive but, then, I’m not sure how that would still be a novel rather than an enhanced film.

In Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 (1953) the protagonist’s wife, Mildred, is totally addicted to a soap opera she can interact with through the four screens in her living room, a sort of predecessor of immersive virtual reality. This might be the kind of novel most valued in the 22nd century. Of course, in Bradbury’s dark tale books are banned and firemen are, ironically, in charge of burning them–the texts survive in the wondrous memories of volunteers who recall them verbatim for future generations, that is to say, the literary works survive as oral artefacts. Perhaps audiobooks and not videogame books are the future, one way or another, for even Bradbury grants that while books need to be written they needn’t be read.

Jacobson’s talk was given at the Man Booker festival (Southbank Centre, London) at a time when the award itself is under fire for not generating the enthusiasm of past decades. Incidentally, Michael Ondatjee’s The English Patient (1992) has been voted the best Man Booker novel in the 50 years of the award’s history, which sounds a bit suspicious to me for this in an extremely demanding novel and I would think that many voters were thinking of the far more accessible film. Maybe I’m wrong… Anyway, Jacobson’s argument is the opposite of López’: for him, the screen is the enemy to beat (he forgets e-book readers, as usual). Instead of the “infinite distractions of the Jumpin’ Jack Flash screen” Jacobson praises the “the nun-like stillness of the page” and, above all, of the page that requires concentration. “To say that reading more closely resembles study is not to be a killjoy: concentration and enjoyment are not opposites”. To reinforce his point, he offers a comparison: “Strange that when everyone’s running marathons and otherwise raising sweat for the hell of it, working hard at a novel is thought to take the fun away”. Um, perhaps that explains why few keen readers are also keen athletes: our sport is reading.

“Until people fall out of love with the screen, I don’t know what will win them back to writing”, Jacobson sentences. We are, then, lost because unless nuclear Armageddon or alien invasion wipes out electricity-based civilization, the reign of the screen in all its multiple forms is here to stay. Jacobson, the way I see it, is a combination luddite/print Taliban, not much to my taste. I love screens (cinema, TV and computer) and I don’t see that this love has affected in any way my passion for reading. Neither the screen nor the page are monogamous affections for a great percentage of individuals, though I agree that the youngest age demographic is where the real problem lies. People change and, thus, my father who had not read more than ten books before he hit 80 is now reading a thick novel every two days–boredom has unexpected effects. It is, however, much harder for me to imagine my 17-year-old nephew suddenly dropping his iPhone for a bunch of printed papers between covers. The last book I bought him was an exercise in self-defeat for both author and aunt: it explained, in print, why young people like him do not find enjoyment in reading and studying.

I grant, then, Jacobson one major point: concentration is going the way of the Titanic and the iceberg is not so much the screen itself but the downsizing of dialogue and discourse to the tweet and the Instagram post. Influencers’ blogs are all photos, no need to go through much text. And why read if YouTube can teach you all you need to know? Just imagine what I am thinking these days, now that I know that next year I’ll have to teach Romantic Literature (the main poets, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen) at 8:30 in the morning, and on Fridays. I can feel already the waves of enthusiastic concentration…

The problem which the reader has become for the writer is a consequence of the ambitious US white guys, now billionaires, who have peddled their wares to the most vulnerable age segment: Google, YouTube, Instagram, Whatsapp (add whatever you wish) have their uses but they are heavily undermining the more productive revolution which Johannes Guttenberg brought about (I’m not sure whether he would like the idea of the online repository of e-books Project Guttenberg being named after him…). Many defend the idea that reading is at no risk because we are continuously reading what reaches us though the screens (like my posts!) but nobody should claim that reading thousands of words in tweets is the same as reading longer, monographic pieces of writing.

I myself do not fear very much for the novel but I do fear for the book-length essay, as I see more and more of us, academics in Literary and Cultural Studies, publishing collective books rather than monographs. The short essay has its place in journals and volumes of this kind but, again, it aims at a short burst of attention both from writer and reader. There are days when it seems to me that only doctoral students will ever produce monographs–unless they start producing, as my university wants, theses which actually compile three or four articles.

Is the novel dead or dying, then? I think the answer is ‘it depends on which novel you mean’. The books that are dying, whether they are fiction or not, are those that demand, as Jacobson notes, concentration and attention. Ulysses will die faster than The Pillars of Earth, if anyone under 35 can recognize either of the titles. Conquering The Magic Mountain, still a badge of honour in my time as an undergrad in the mid-1980s, now means nothing. And I’m sorry to say that Howard Jacobson’s own novels are not really that thrilling as a readerly challenge. We may be going towards a world without difficult books, which is not the same as a world without novels.

I read yesterday that AIs are already writing fiction and perhaps our hope is that our machines will generate a new fashion for the exquisitely crafted page though, so far, the snag seems to be that they’re not very good at characterizing human beings. Perhaps the new Jane Austen, the new Noam Chomsky will be born from AI talent and computers will be not only the truly sophisticated authors of the future but also the only accomplished readers left, while human beings continue wasting their lifetime and the precious gifts of the human brain in inane messaging in the social networks.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

ANATOMY OF THE BOND GIRL: THE CASE OF SOLITAIRE

In one of those bouts of curiosity that may overpower even the most cautious reader, I have gone through the twelve James Bond novels by Ian Fleming (there are two more books, with short fiction, and other novels by living authors). I am by no means a Bond fan but, like many others who don’t particularly care, I end up seeing all the new releases and even (mildly) bothering about who should play the MI6 spy next. Blame the nagging advertising campaigns.

Bond functions much like Dr. Who in the sense that every few years he is played by a new actor, thus remaining perpetually in the 35-45 age bracket, roughly corresponding to the novels. I found Daniel Craig’s proposal that Idris Elba should be the next Bond appealing and was appalled by the subsequent racist reaction. I suppose that Tom Hiddleston will play Bond eventually (I’d much rather have Tom Hardy play a villain) but, really, it’s all the same. There is also some debate about whether the seventh official Bond actor should be a woman, inspired, precisely, by Dr. Who. The current one, number twelve, is played by Joddie Whitaker, a choice that caused some ripples in the misogynistic waters but that has been on the whole welcome. If it were up to me, I would simply bury the Bond franchise.

The James Bond series has been a relic of the past for decades. In our better enlightened times its racism, homophobia, misogyny and ridiculous British patriotism can only be approached in the spirit of an archaeologist digging up ancient tombs. The film franchise is pretending to correct the novels in all these fronts by, for instance, turning Bond’s boss M into a woman, or his American colleague Felix Leiter into an African-American. Much was written about the casting of 50-year-old Monica Bellucci in Spectre (2015) as a Bond girl, the oldest ever (Craig was 47 at the time). Although this might seem an improvement over the archaic, the ‘Bond girl’ is not yet a woman. This is a typical pseudo-feminist trap: you change some details to get progressive kudos but the bottom line remains the same. Indeed, the girl’s bottom still must be pert and pleasing to Bond’s touch.

A complication in any analysis of the Bond saga is that there is actually very little analysis of the original works because they are obscured by the far more popular films. The original fiction was published between 1953 (Casino Royale) and 1966 (Octopussy and The Living Daylights) and is, then, a product of the time right before the onset of Second Wave feminism (officially begun in 1963 with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique). The women in the Bond novels are, thus, stranded between the traditional homemaker model and the liberated girl of 1960s Swinging London; above all, the are the figments of a male imagination that sees them primarily as sexual objects. All are extremely beautiful and never past thirty. I’ll leave aside the preposterous names that Fleming came up with, some elegant (Vesper Lynd), some inexcusable (Pussy Galore), to explain that perhaps what most surprised me is that, for despite the deep misogyny, Fleming prefers his ‘girls’ to be fond of sex and not just passive dolls; none is stupid, and, on the whole, all are much better balanced people than Bond.

James Bond, himself an insatiable womanizer, never criticises the promiscuity of the women he beds (he even often justifies it as freedom) and if he consumes the ‘girls’ as he consumes his gourmet food, drink and cigarettes, it can equally be said that he is consumed by his sexual partners. This does not mean that the women are empowered in any way–not at all! Some are literal slaves of a specific villain and are more than willing to grant Bond power over them as soon as he shows any interest. For he is, here is the key word again, handsome.

The basic formula is this: he meets a truly interesting sexy and clever girl who seems unconquerable, she is eventually conquered to their mutual sexual satisfaction; next, either the relationship is soon over with no mutual grief, or love complicates matters so much that it needs to be over. When Tracy, Bond’s wife of one day, is murdered by the villain Bloefeld, Bond is hypocritically devastated–he seems, rather, relieved that he does not have to play husband and, God forbid!, become a father. Maybe this is the key to his characterization: Bond might settle down with a woman who loves sex as much as he does but could never accept her becoming a mother and himself a father. That would mean the end of his perpetual adultescence.

Let me focus on one of these women (I’m making an effort not to call them ‘girls’), a bit at random: Solitaire in the second Bond novel, Live and Let Die (1954).

This young woman is introduced in a scene with her master, Mr. Big, who is holding Bond captive. Buonaparte Ignace Gallia is unusual in Fleming’s gallery of villains because he is black. The absurd plot supposes that this Harlem boss gangster is interested in aiding “the Soviet organ of vengeance, SMERSH, short for Smyert Spionam–Death to Spies” by funding it with the earnings of the illicit traffic in the colonial treasure lost in the Caribbean. Jurisdiction problems are habitual in the Bond novels and, so, this one is set mainly in Jamaica, a colony until 1962, to justify the alliance between the MI6, the CIA and the FBI.

Back to Solitaire: she is, like all the others that appeal to him, “One of the most beautiful women Bond had ever seen (…)”, in this case, a black-haired white woman born in Haiti with “The face of the daughter of a French Colonial slave-owner”. Frigid Solitaire bears that name because, Mr. Big explains, “For the time being she is difficult. She will have nothing to do with men”. Actually, this is the bogus excuse which Fleming uses not to present this woman as the villain’s mistress for, as I am supposing here, inter-racial sex enslavement would have been too much for his readers. Unlike the other Bond women she is not, then, so openly sexualized.

Mr. Big, who does want to marry Solitaire but has not forced despite being a most cruel villain…, presents her as “my inquisitor”. He dislikes torture (at least at this point in the story) and uses the woman’s mental powers to deduce whether his prisoners are lying–the silly man. Solitaire has, then, a strange kind of power for although she really has no supernatural abilities, she classes Mr. Big’s prisoners “according to whether she sensed these people were good or evil”. She knows “that her verdict might often be a death sentence” but she cannot care–until she sees Bond and is smitten at once. Like all the other women in his life.

Naturally, she lies about Bond to Mr. Big, sending to the spy the message that she is his ally by “nonchalantly” drawing “her forearms together in her lap so that the valley between her breasts deepened”. He quickly gets that “He had a friend in the enemy’s camp” and rescues her as soon as both can fool Mr. Big. Grateful, Solitaire warms up to Bond: “You’ve given me a new life. I’ve been shut up with him and his nigger gangsters for nearly a year. This is heaven”. Bond, typically, never hesitates about his capacity to undo Solitaire’s dislike of men: “She seemed open to love and to desire. At any rate he knew that she was not closed to him”.

He imagines for her a ‘romantic’ colonial background (later recycled for Honeychile in Dr. No): the lonely white child in Haiti that becomes an orphan and is raised by a devoted servant, then the “struggle against the shady propositions” as beauty is her only asset. Next, “the dubious, unknown steps into the world of entertainment”, where she gains fame by exploiting her mentalist tricks, until she is charmed by Mr. Big’s promise of a Broadway career. Simone Latrelle, her real name, age 25, is a ‘solitaire’ virgin because Fleming cannot imagine a white partner for her in Haiti, much less a black one.

Soon Bond sees Solitaire as part of his professional rewards, “the ultimate personal prize”. The reward, however, takes a while to reap because both are kidnapped by Mr. Big and, this being a Caribbean tale, exposed to the sharks and to the nasty consequences of being dragged through a coral reef. Fleming, always the sadist, puts the pair naked together in a sort of alternative sexual encounter–guess which part of women’s anatomy he was obsessed by: “Their bodies were pressed together, face to face, and their arms held round each other’s waists and then bound tightly again. Bond felt Solitaire’s soft breasts pressed against him. She leant her chin on his right shoulder. ‘I didn’t want it to be like this,’ she whispered tremulously”. Are you sick yet…? Bond, logically, rescues himself and Solitaire, the villain get his come-uppance. In the chapter called “Passionate Leave” Bond gets finally his reward, once she learns to mix martinis to his taste. When Solitaire (never once called Simone) looks at him there is “open sensuality” in her eyes. How could it be otherwise?

Bond is not, then, a blunt sexual predator but a man actually capable of connecting with the willing, pliable women he meets, if only for the time his cases last. Whether she is sexually active or less so, the pattern is similar: the relationship with the women is always presented as a reward for Bond as a protector in one way or another. Perhaps what is incongruous is that although Fleming seems incapable of showing Bond’s deeper emotions he tends to involve his hero in relationships beyond the merely sexual. Nevertheless, one must wonder why if everything is so satisfactory the women disappear to easily from Bond’s life. Simone is simply gone by the next novel and when Bond wonders whatever became of her, we, the readers, also wonder.

Bond only proposes to one of his many women, Tracy, yet all seem good potential partners for him. You can see, then, that the problem lies in the seriality of the novels. If Bond were the protagonist of just one novel, then the plot would be straightforward: the hero slays the dragon and marries the princess. Seriality, however, turned Bond into a combination of the classic rake that will not reform and the modern serial monogamist. The ‘Bond girl’, excuse me!, is a stereotype (Bond’s preferred type) that must also be a variation, always within the pattern of the extremely beautiful, sexy, clever woman. Once Bond succeeds in bonding with them, excuse the silly pun, the problem for Fleming is how the end the relationship: some die, others leave or let Bond go, for who can imagine Bond married for life?

On the other hand, arguably the Bond women embody the beginning of the late 1960s rebellion. Tiffany Case, the strongest among Bond’s women, abandons him, which suggests that the real question is: who would want to marry someone like Bond? Fleming possibly understood that a change was coming, this is why he fantasised in his novels about how Bond conquers all these active women–though for that he had to transform them into passive princesses. Still, with Domino Vitali of Thunderball, his first 1960s woman, Fleming even came close to presenting a better hero than Bond, which would have made him superfluous.

Even so, no, thanks, I don’t care for a renewal of the franchise with a Jane Bond in the main role–and a string of Bond boys, what a terrible thought. As far as I am concerned, it is about time to let bygones be bygones and allow Commander Bond to retire. After all, if he were alive the guy would be nearing his hundredth birthday. Time to move on (or to start ignoring the films!).

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/