Books & Literature

Book Review: Superspy Science, by Kathryn Harkup

NON-FICTION: Kathryn Harkup turns her expert eye on the world’s favourite secret agent, using the hook of Bond’s enduring popularity to discuss the realities behind the silver screen.

A new perspective on an old trope.

Feature image credit: Bloomsbury

The character of James Bond should be familiar to most. After his popular emergence in the 1950s in 12 novels by Ian Fleming, the suave, urbane British spy with the licence to kill made his way to the big screen in 1962’s Dr No. Since then there have been 26 more films, almost 30 more novels (by several authors), several long-running comic series, and a couple of computer games. The character of Bond has been portrayed by five actors, from the iconic Sean Connery to the current Daniel Craig. Many authors have tried their hand at a Bond novel, including Kingsley Amis (under a pseudonym), John Gardner, Anthony Horowitz, and Jeffrey Deaver, to name but a few.

Superspy Science by Kathryn Harkup is not so much an in-depth look at Bond by a fan but rather a document written by a scientist who had the idea for a book that looked into the science behind the stories, then watched all the movies. Harkup has written similar books about the works of Agatha Christie and Shakespeare, and the concept is a good one.

Harkup could not be more different from Ian Fleming, being a scientifically literate modern female author to Fleming’s staid post-war gentleman. Reading the book, it is difficult to imagine Harkup insisting on how a martini should be made, or smoking cigarettes especially made by Morlands. What this gives us is a new and fresh, modern female perspective on Bond, delivered without any fanboying or hero worship, and a level-headed examination of the scientific concepts raised and relied upon by the plots of each movie. Harkup is a chemist, and explains the chemistry required for the various nerve toxins and atomic bombs used in the series, along with a smattering of the physics and some social commentary.

Fans of media other than film may find themselves disappointed. While Harkup has read the Fleming books and mentions them in comparison to the films of the same names, the only other media to get a mention is Colonel Sun by Martin Pearson (Kingsley Amis). The Fleming novels are used as a counterpoint to some of the more outlandish scenarios in the films (the differences are sometimes profound). This adds an element of depth to what could have otherwise been a repetitive narrative. 

The book is arranged in chapters with each relating to a separate Bond film and also a distinct scientific concept. The prose is light and may be readily understood by any reader. This is, after all, popular science for the masses, not a dry, dusty textbook.

Reviewed by DC White

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: November 2022
RRP: $29.99

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