"There's a man who leads a life of danger
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes another chance he takes
Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow"
Related to the Action Series
, although not necessarily a series, it's any work in which the main character or characters are spies, secret agents, double agents
, or some other form of espionage professional. Spy Fiction
tends to come in two flavors: "Martini" and "Stale Beer".
(shaken, not stirred) Spy Fiction
is what you might call the Tuxedo
Approach. This involves glamorous parties, fast cars, hot women, cool gadgets, brutal fights involving guns and fists and big explosions (swap those adjectives around as you wish). Despite the glamor, spying is not for the faint heart and is fraught with danger and the stakes are massive. A Death Trap
is par for the course. The main example here is of course James Bond
(the movies in particular). This is the Hotter and Sexier
spy game, with Spy Catsuits
and Sex Face Turns
by the dozen. The Tuxedo Approach as a whole is more glamorized and idealistic with clearly defined "good guys" and "bad guys", they often have a bit of an "action movie" feel.
Stale Beer Flavored Spy Fiction
could also be called the Trenchcoat
Approach. "More realistic," pre-dating the other approach but seeing a resurgence as a deconstruction
of it, this is the more gritty style of espionage. It involves dead-drops, brush-pasts, blackmail and morally iffy things
. Spying is stressful and you may end up an alcoholic or worse. This is the approach taken by Len Deighton
and the Bourne series (the books
alike), John le Carré
, and by Callan
, the classic counterpoint to James Bond. This is the Darker and Edgier
spy game. Ironically, the original James Bond
novels are like this and both Timothy Dalton
and Daniel Craig
played the character this way. The Stale Beer approach as a whole is more gritty and morally ambiguous, spying reflects power politics between whichever nations or organizations are involved and other nations and people are caught in the crossfire.
In other words, the Tuxedo Approach would have a Soviet defector be a gorgeous, aloof Slavic beauty
with whom the hero will probably elope at some point; the Stale Beer Approach would have a Soviet defector be a shaken, morally gray individual looking probably more for personal profit than for any virtues of right or wrong.
Stale Beer Served in a Martini Glass Spy Fiction
is the gritty style of espionage taking place in glamorous international or domestic locations, such as Tokyo, Italy, Spain, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Hawaii, etc. I Spy
and the Daniel Craig James Bond films exemplify this trope.
Bathtub Gin Flavored Spy Fiction
applies to civilians drawn knowingly or unwittingly into the world of espionage that is either "martini flavored," "stale beer flavored," or a "dirty martini." They may have or not have transferable skills to help them survive, and they may or may not become realized agents at some point. Examples include: Mrs. Peel, The Avengers
(in the opening voiceover intro, she is introduced as a "talented amateur"), Chuck, Chuck
; Amanda King, Scarecrow and Mrs. King
; the show Masquerade (where civilians with special occupational or avocational expertise are drafted to help the government on one-off missions; and Tom Hank's character in The Man With One Red Shoe
. Alfred Hitchcock also exemplified this to a tee in his earlier films, especially in such stories as North By Northwest
, The Man Who Knew Too Much
, and The 39 Steps
The Martini Flavored and Stale Beer Flavored tropes as well as the various trope permutations (Stale Beer Served in a Martini Glass and Bathtub Gin Flavored) may involve a Cloak & Dagger
agency, Agents Dating
, or any of the full gamut of Espionage Tropes
See Spy Literature
for an index of literature
in the Spy Fiction
A note: the examples do not have to fit EXCLUSIVELY into their category, but they must fit most of the category's criteria. - Something that is "Martini with hints of stale beer" will fit into Martini, but something that is "Martini with strong elements of Stale Beer" will fit into Dirty Martini. Of course, as always, this is a wiki, feel free to correct/edit.
- Alias — Martini
- The Avengers — Martini, or rather Champagne.
- Burkes Law — In its incarnation as Amos Burke, Secret Agent.
- Cars 2 — Martini, though the first film wasn't even a spy film at all.
- Fortune Hunter — Martini
- The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. — Martini
- James Bond — Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred. In the newer Daniel Craig movies, it isn't shaken quite as much, and some Stale Beer has found its way in, but there is still no doubt it is Martini.
- La Femme Nikita — Martini with hints of stale beer
- LEGO Agents — Martini
- LEGO Alpha Team — Martini
- The Man From UNCLE — Martini, mixed with Bathtub Gin in that civilians often get mixed up in the heroes' adventures.
- Mata Hari — A Very Loosely Based on a True Story film about the famous dancer/spy, here played by Greta Garbo
- Mission: Impossible — Definitely martini
- Najica Blitz Tactics — Martini, complete with a soundtrack straight out of a 60s spy TV series.
- Necessary Monsters — Martini, though you really don't want to know what the hell they put in instead of an olive.
- Nikita — Martini with hints of stale beer.
- The Six Million Dollar Man — as Martini as the 70s TV series budget allowed.
- Spies — silent film directed by Fritz Lang
- Spy Kids — Martini, non-alcoholic of course (let's call it Kool-Aid or fruit punch).
- The Champions — Spies with Psychic Powers.
- TimeSplitters — Has Harry Tipper, a Martini that's served in the disco, man!
- True Lies — Martini all the way, by way of Affectionate Parody.
- The Wild Wild West — Martini all the way. Don't let the setting fool you.
- Spy Fiction — Martini; otherwise, well, where would the game be?
- The Man From CAMP — Martini, with one of those absolutely fabulous little umbrellas, darling...
- Sly Spy — Blatant Americanization of James Bond.
- Operation Double 007 — The Poor Man's Substitute for Sean Connery as James Bond.
- Agent for H.A.R.M. — Martini
- Our Man Flint — Martini, almost to the point of parody
- Dominic Flandry with the protagonist an aristocratic gentleman spy. A hint of sourness is given by the inevitable collapse of the empire the hero serves.
- Dune given that it starts from the point of view of interstellar overlords it would be surprising if it did not have fabulous luxury involved.
- Vorkosigan Saga: Given that a number of the characters are on a first name basis with the ruler of a multi-world empire, yeah.
- Secret Agent Men — A fan-made spinoff of two breakout characters from Niels, one of whom started off as a Shallow Parody of James Bond, the other of whom was a Stale Beer spy from the start.
- If Looks Could Kill
- Cat Planet Cuties, when it's not being a harem comedy, is a show about the intelligence community's chaotic response to First Contact. This is a show with catgirls in catsuits, Otherkin who steal misplaced Russian missiles, and dog aliens selling arms to the CIA.
- 24 — Stale Beer
- Atomsk by Cordwainer Smith — Stale Beer
- Brotherhood Of The Rose — Stale Beer
- The Bourne series (and anything else by Robert Ludlum) — Stale Beer.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops — Stale beer.
- Callan — Extremely bitter Stale Beer.
- Catherine Ling — Dark and gritty, dealing with the modern CIA and organized crime such as The Triads and the Tongs.
- Danger Man aka Secret Agent — Mostly Stale Beer, at the insistence of star and co-producer Patrick McGoohan; he found the Martini style both unrealistic and ethically questionable.
- The Debt —Focuses on the mental challenges of operating undercover, and the emotional scars left by making the morally ambiguous decisions spy work demands.
- James Bond — Ironically the novels are more Stale Beer, while the movies tend to glamorize or parody the novels. Timothy Dalton read the novels and took his character in this direction. The first two Sean Connery Bond films, Dr. No and From Russia with Love could probably also be considered Stale Beer. They are quite gritty (Bond is not above executing enemy agents and roughing up women to get information) and more down to earth than the later films. Casino Royale was a return to Stale Beer in full for the series, which shows just how cyclical tropes can get.
- From Eroica with Love — Stale Beer with occasional Martini flavoring. Specifically, the spy character enjoys stale beer while the thief he's after drinks his martinis from diamond glasses.
- The Good Shepherd— Stale Beer. It chronicles the life and career of an OSS and CIA agent, with his work depicted as particularely unglamorous and the main character being downright apathetic in general.
- I Spy — Stale Beer Served In a Martini Glass. The "Stale Beer" element comes from the grittiness of espionage work coupled with the main characters often discussing and wrestling with their consciences regarding the moral ambiguity and the ethics of their profession. The "Served In a Martini Glass" element is that the assignments occur in glamorous international and domestic locations: Tokyo, Italy, Spain, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, etc.
- Halting State — Stale Scottish Beer.
- Hanna— Stale Beer in the way of The Bourne Series, but with a teenage girl as the protagonist. (Hey, if she's old enough to fight, she's old enough to have a beer.)
- Hopscotch— Stale Beer, the writer wanted to take a James Bond story and take out all the sex, gadgets and over the top action.
- The Ipcress File — Probably the Ur Example for Stale Beer, but it's significantly less stale than the beer served by Le Carre. Later works by Deighton (e.g. Funeral in Berlin) aren't so much Stale Beer as rather What Gets Wrung Out Of The Bar Mat (which has occasionally been used as well to wipe the boots of this or the other spy coming in from the cold).
- "Madras Cafe" — Bollywood variety (without even any typical Filmi Music to distract the beleaguered agents from the betrayals and conspiracies, which makes it staler). Beverages served: toddy ( moonshine), not so exotic in Jaffna, and cheap roadside rum (when in India).
- Mr Palfrey of Westminster — Stale Beer. Not as stale as Callan, but no Martini.
- The Sandbaggers — extremely Stale Beer (characters often comment, "this isn't James Bond.")
- The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad — Stale Beer
- Three Days Of The Condor — thriller with Robert Redford as a CIA analyst
- The works of Tom Clancy tend more towards Stale Beer; it's even taught in his version of the CIA.
- It tends to get considerably less stale as time goes on. Later works are a nice fresh American Lager. Or maybe a Bourbon?
- In Clear and Present Danger CIA Operative John Clark even lampshades the fact that he's not in martini-flavored spy fiction by saying to another CIA agent "Larson, if this were a movie, you'd be a blonde with big tits and a loose blouse."
- The Quest for Karla — Stale Beer to the max, along with most other John le Carré works and particularly the trend setter for this: The spy who came in from the cold.
- Declare by Tim Powers is Stale Beer spy fiction — with a secret occult war.
- The Laundry Series by Charles Stross involve spies as they exist in the real world. Most of your time is spent doing paperwork and what jobs you have are generally very boring and mundane. Kind of stale beer, but more "generic bar beer".
- Except for the bit with the Eldritch Abominations — that doesn't generally happen to real-world spies. Ergo, generic bar beer spiked with a liberal helping of LSD.
- Subverted in the second book, The Jennifer Morgue, where the main character starts exhibiting all of the Bond martini tropes because the Big Bad is employing an Evil Plan which involves using a spell to make our hero a Bond hero right up until the moment where the plans would usually be foiled.
- The November Man — Stale Beer, which is surprising because Pierce Brosnan plays the lead agent
- The Quiller novels by Adam Hall.
- Everything by Anthony Price — Stale Beer
- Spy Game — Scotch, and never less than 12 years old.
- Intelligence (2006)
- The Agency
- The Splinter Cell series of video games are stale beer spy fiction, and every installment gets progressively darker and grittier as time goes on. It should be no surprise it's a Tom Clancy property.
- John Wells
- Charles Cumming
- Spy of Darkness
- The Company (2007 mini-series)
- Robert Littell's novels in general (including this one) are Stale Beer.
- Ronin — The film was largely responsible for making Stale Beer popular again (and possibly revitalizing Spy Fiction in general at the time). No heroes, no flashy technology (there is some high-technology monitoring involved, mostly during a car ambush, but that's it) the two main protagonists are easily approaching retirement age, tons of moral ambiguity.
- The Osterman Weekend — A messy stale beer with something floating in it.
- Vladimir Vasilyev's Wolfish Nature duology is of the stale beer variety with a twist: the events take place in an alternate world where humans have evolved from dogs not apes.
- Homeland a gritty and dramatic take on post 9/11 intelligence.
- KGB aka Conspiracy - extremely stale beer produced in state-owned Soviet brewery struggling with constant shortages of raw materials.
- Aubrey-Maturin The hardships of the spy life are well explored (derision from friends and confidants, inability to discuss work, torture, living on the run), and while Stephen is a capable assassin, his biggest successes are always the result of paperwork and manipulation (the best example being a "dropped" notebook, which contained "evidence" that a number of key assets in the French intelligence service had gone rogue).
- The Americans focuses on the dangers and stresses of living a double life as KGB agents in 1980s USA and how far one can go for one's country.
- The Kremlin Letter focuses on espionage, cloak and dagger, and the other darker parts of the job including drugging retired spies to recruit them back, assassination orders for innocent civilians, and betrayal.
- Turn is set during the American Revolution and focuses on the Culper Spy Ring in New York City.
- The Assets is a Based on a True Story miniseries about Aldrich Ames.
Dirty Martini (A Mixture)
Parodies (Typically Martini Parodies)
- "Our Man in Havana" - homebrew beer that's gone off. The other books by Graham Greene that involve intelligence and espionage are similarly serving beer that's been brewed based on half-remembered recipes and substituting missing ingredients by whatever is available locally. Most of the times, the first sips even taste pretty much like real beer.
- The League Of Magi stories feature a strange variant of the Stale Beer variety. While the stories feature magic, monsters, and paranormal beings, the actual spy work being done more closely conforms with reality. One of the stories is even called "Dead Drop."
subverting the Martini line.
- It Takes a Thief (1968)—Whatever's in the fridge.
- The Matt Helm series varies depending on medium. The original books were Stale Beer with Helm being a ruthless Professional Killer working for an intelligence agency that seemed to specialize in the morally dubious. The movies with Dean Martin are a martini-flavored parody of James Bond. The little seen television show made Helm a Private Detective.
- Metal Gear — friggin' Absinthe.
- To elaborate - Metal Gear Solid is pure Stale Beer, with a few fantastic elements. Metal Gear Solid 2 amped up the fantastic elements to Magic Realism levels, while pushing the Stale Beer elements to breaking point. Metal Gear Solid 3 was far more straightforward, deliberately using Martini tropes in the style of Stale Beer. Metal Gear Solid 4 is much more solidly Stale Beer than the others, and it rejects most of the fantastical elements in favor of amping up the science-fiction elements, becoming more of a techno-thriller (albeit a very mind-screwy one).
- Casanova is Martini and Absinthe. Psychic duels, paratime shenanigans, hidden ultra-advanced civilizations and helicasinos for the win.
- xXx: Four Loko. Or a Jägerbomb. The opening scene contains a Take That at the "Martini" style, with a James Bond expy getting killed at a Rammstein concert due to how he stuck out in the crowd.
- The Hunchback Assignments
- Kim : One of the first spy stories ever written, it is something of an oddball having a formless plot and a protagonist who starts not even knowing which side he is on. The protagonist is too low of rank to go to the Fancy Dinners that would be expected of a Martini type spy, however his life as a street informer is rather romanticized.
- The Saint
- Secret Histories
- Fur Fighters
- No One Lives Forever
- Perfect Dark
- The Secret Service
- SPY Fox
- Syphon Filter
- Pigeon: Impossible - No actual spying, but a CIA agent's eventful first day on the job.
- Danger Mouse
- Kim Possible — Lemonade
- Spy by night, high school student by day. A bowdlerized James Bond. Cool gadgets, big explosions, no one dies.
- Young Justice — Bane Venom or Reach. It's covert superheroics