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Literature / Moonraker

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The third James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published in 1955.

Bond is tasked to teach one Hugo Drax a lesson in a game of Bridge, so he'll stop cheating and avert a possible scandal. Afterwards, he has to investigate strange going-ons in Drax's project to develop a ballistic missile for the British Government.

The novel avoids several features of what would come to be regarded as the typical James Bond adventure. Instead of an exotic foreign location, it's set entirely in the Home Counties of England. The course of Bond's relationship with the main female character also doesn't go as one might expect.

All of which, along with the fact that the plot is built around a technology that was cutting-edge in 1955 but already behind the times when the film franchise started, goes some way toward explaining why the eleventh James Bond film has very little to do with the book, only sharing its title and the Big Bad's name. Some elements from the book would eventually make its way into the seventeenth film in the series, GoldenEye, and others into the twentieth film, Die Another Day.


Not to be confused with James Bond and Moonraker, the novelization of the aforementioned film.

This novel contains examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: A German technician's last actions before he commits suicide are to salute and yell "Heil!" It turns out that Hugo Drax and his men are in fact Nazi who have been hiding under new identities since World War II.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Subverted with the radiation example (no. 4) of the trope; the nuclear explosion is passed off as a conventional one to cover up Drax's plot. The radiation had blown north.
  • Ate His Gun: Egon Bartsch, the scientist who killed the original chief of security of Drax's base killed himself this way after the deed.
  • Beardness Protection Program:
    • Drax has his underlings shave their heads and grow moustaches, meaning they can later disguise themselves by shaving off their moustaches and letting their hair grow out.
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    • Also played straight, as the scientists working on Drax's rocket are all German, and former Nazis. Drax even mentions that with their heads shaved and with the mustaches in place, no one recognizes them.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Bond fakes one up to cover the fact that he and Gala are still in the base.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Hugo Drax's plan is circumvented, but there is still collateral damage in three-digit casualties and they're not all bad guys. James is surprised and disappointed to learn that Gala is already engaged.
  • Bottle Episode: This is the only novel to be set entirely inside the United Kingdom; in fact the action never leaves London and Kent.
  • Car Chase: A much more action-packed one than what Casino Royale offered, though it ends just as badly for Bond.
  • Commie Nazis: Drax turns out to be in league with the Soviets, more out of convenience than ideology however. Why the Soviets would trust a former Nazi with a nuclear weapon is not explained.
    • For a chance to entirely discredit the idea of Western nuclear missiles based out of Europe, at that time, they'd trust a monkey with a nuclear weapon. Although it is instructive to note that Drax's head rocket scientist was (although German) provided to Drax by the Russians, and Dr. Walter was the person in charge of designing and setting the guidance system for the Moonraker. So, Drax deciding to aim it at the Russians instead was not a possibility they had to seriously worry about.
  • Complexity Addiction: Drax’s entire plan of assembling an all-German team of scientists, using them to construct a highly experimental rocket missile and aiming it at London without arousing suspicion falls into this, especially considering the rocket could easily have malfunctioned and either exploded mid-air or landed off-course. Simply having a nuclear bomb smuggled into his Belgravia flat would have been less hassle. Justified however as Drax is trying to create an epic masterpiece in humiliating Britain and simply letting off a nuke out of nowhere wouldn't be nearly as satisfying.
  • Cool Car: Drax drives a Mercedes 300 S, which Bond describes as "ruthless and majestic". 007 himself owns a 1930 Bentley Coupé, in which he chases Drax towards the end of the book.
    • Also an automotive example of a National Weapon. Drax drives in a German Mercedes while 007 drives in a British Bentley.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Drax chooses to dispose of Bond and Gala Brand by leaving them to be incinerated by the Moonraker's exhaust on lift-off. Incidentally, this is one of the few bits that made it into the 1979 film.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Bond's bridge game against Drax. The chairman of Blades, upon seeing Bond's hand, declares the only possibility to be "sheer murder".
  • Damsel in Distress: Gala Brand is a notable aversion; she proves to be as important to foiling Drax's plot as Bond (it's actually her that discovers that the rocket is to be fired at London) and while she does get captured, Bond also does shortly afterwards.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Drax, in reality a former Nazi soldier, has masqueraded as a proud, distinguishable Briton for the past several years after he was "rescued" in his British military disguise, stole the identity of a missing British soldier, and faked amnesia to justify not remembering his pre-World War II life.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Bond and M both note that Drax is so wealthy that he'd have absolutely no reason to cheat at cards. Bond theorizes that he suffers from an inferiority complex and feels a need to dominate others even in needless circumstances.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Bond does not get together with Gala at the end, because as it turns out, she's engaged to another man. This results in a Bittersweet Ending.
  • The Dragon: Willy Krebs, Drax's right-hand man.
  • Evil Gloating: Apart from peppering his Motive Rant with this, Drax also tells Bond he has left a detailed account of his real life with a Scottish law firm, intending it to be revealed to the British public the day after his nuclear attack on London.
  • Evil Is Petty: The first sign that Drax is a bad'un is when he cheats at cards even though the amounts involved are trivial to a man of his wealth. To him, the amounts are immaterial beside the fact that he just plain hates to be beaten.
  • Evil Plan: Nuke London.
  • Exact Words: When Drax asks Bond if he's read the files on his staff yet, Bond's response is "Didn't have the key to the filing cabinet" - technically correct, but neglecting to mention that he broke into the cabinet without needing the key.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Gala does the internal monologue version of this trope as she does the math and figures out the new coordinates for the Moonraker will drop it in the middle of London.
  • Fixing the Game: Drax cheats at bridge by using a device to sneak a look at the cards he deals to the other players. With the assent of the club's management, who want Drax put on notice without the embarrassment of a public accusation, Bond beats him with a stacked deck, carefully arranged so that the cards Drax will be able to see will mislead him as to their respective chances.
  • Gratuitous German: A lot of dubious German is (naturally) used, as ex-Nazi villains play a prominent part. Most memorably, Krebs and Drax's other henchmen will frequently address their boss as "Herr Kapitän," or "Captain." The problem is that Drax was an infantry captain in the Heer (army), and later Waffen-SS in his glory days, while Kapitän specifically denotes a naval captain in German. Better researched Nazis would have addressed Drax either as Herr Hauptmann (an army captain) or Hauptsturmführer (an SS captain).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Defied. Bond's initial plan to stop the Moonraker from nuking London is to manually sabotage and blow it up at the launch site, but with Gala's help, he's able to alter its launch coordinates instead.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Drax is killed when the Russian submarine he and his cohorts are escaping in is blown out of the water by the Moonraker, which Bond and Gala have redirected back onto its original North Sea target.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Bond does this to Hugo Drax in a desperate attempt to make him forget about a cigarette lighter and blowtorch on his desk (the latter intended to be used in torturing Bond and Gala). It works, and Bond uses the items to free himself and Gala.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Bond inflicts this on Krebs with a mineral-water bottle, but Krebs manages to escape before Bond can extract anything useful. Later, Drax plans a much nastier version for Bond and Gala, but Bond actually defies it by telling Drax everything he wants to know (this causes Drax to become overconfident and leave them alive for an elaborate Death Trap, instead of just shooting them).
  • Literal Asskicking: When Bond finds Krebs rummaging through his stuff, he gives a swift kick to the arse.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Walter.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Bond suspects the landslide he narrowly survives with Gala of being this trope. He spots a puff of smoke from an explosive detonation at the scene, and he later finds that Drax has "forgotten" to set places for him and Gala at dinner.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Two such crimes - Drax's cheating at Blades, and the murder of security chief Major Tallon - are the only reasons Bond gets involved with the Moonraker project at all.
  • Motive Rant: Drax gives Bond an epic one when he has him tied up and defenceless. Bond responds by taunting Drax into a Villainous Breakdown, which gives him the opportunity he needs to free himself and Gala.
  • New Era Speech: Drax gives one near the end before leaving the confused audience.
    "Your majesty, men and women of England", the voice was a velvet snarl. "I am about to change the course of England's history." A pause. "In a few minutes' time the lives of all of you will be altered, in some cases, ahem, drastically, by the, er, impact of the Moonraker. I am very proud and pleased that fate has singled me out, from amongst all my fellow countrymen, to fire this great arrow of vengeance into the skies and thus to proclaim for all time, and for all the world to witness, the might of my fatherland. I hope this occasion will be forever a warning that the fate of my country's enemies will be written in dust, in ashes, in tears and", a pause, "in blood. And now thank you all for listening and I sincerely hope that those of you who are able will repeat my words to your children, if you have any, tonight".
  • Ransacked Room: Both Bond and Gala are victims of Krebs' ransacking during their stay at the Moonraker base, with Gala noting that her mail has been tampered with.
  • The Reveal: Drax is revealed to be a Nazi working for the Communists, with plans to nuke London.
  • Serious Business: M gets Bond to beat Drax at cards as a way of deterring him from further cheating, because Drax is a national hero and such a scandal over petty fraud could ruin him.
  • Signs of Disrepair: Bond sees a neon sign from a viewpoint that partially obscures it: SUMMER SHELL IS HERE.
  • Smart People Play Chess: M describes a character at Blades who's an absolute killer at the cards — playing against other members of the club — and "used to play chess for England".
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: It gets several pages' worth of backstory, lots more Scenery Porn descriptions, and according to M, there are so many varieties of food available that only people who have no imagination bother looking at the menus.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: While in Blades, Bond ponders whether his job as a Professional Killer makes him somehow different from his fellow countrymen, and feels that the people in the club can somehow sense this about him
  • Technology Porn: The natural conclusion of Fleming's love for detail, combined with fifties Britain's anxiety about maintaining power (especially nuclear power) on the international stage. The Moonraker gets page after page dedicated to explaining how it works, even though The Professor explaining it to Bond promises he'll keep it short because Bond isn't a scientist.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Bond and Willy Krebs are compared to Hoagy Carmichael and Peter Lorre, respectively.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Drax is in fact a Nazi, who was part of the Werwolf unit. This also goes for his men.
  • Torture Technician: Krebs and possibly Dr. Walter, as described by Drax. Fortunately, we never get to see them exercising their talents.
  • Treachery Cover Up: Bond's unofficial "mission" at Blades, as mentioned, is a small-scale version of this. A full-sized one is later initiated with Hugo Drax's whole identity and plot to nuke London kept out of the press, so to not panic the public.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: The first chapter has Bond in a quick-drawing training. He puts the other "guy" (a cardboard target) in hospital, but is "killed". The whole thing is designed to put the shooter at as much of a disadvantage as possible, using poor lighting and a target that pops up for only a few seconds before "shooting" back.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Drax is revered by the British public as a great patriot, who is using his enormous wealth to gift Britain her own nuclear defence system. In fact, he is a Nazi in the guise of a British citizen who plans to use the missile to destroy London.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The Blades sequence has no impact on the main rocket missile plot, although it does serve as an extended intro for Sir Hugo Drax, as well as giving M some much-needed characterisation.
  • You're Insane!: Drax has Bond tied up at the base of his rocket to be incinerated during its launch. Bond takes the opportunity to recount Drax's life as he's gathered the info, in all its ugly, humiliating detail, to conclude how it's made him such a mental case. Bond's intent is to enrage Drax enough to overlook what Bond needs to escape (a blowtorch and cigarette lighter). It works.
    Bond: It's a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge. Curiously enough, it may have something to do with your teeth. Diastema, they call it. Comes from sucking your thumb when you're a child. Yes. I expect that's what the psychologists will say when they get you into the lunatic asylum. "Ogre's teeth." Being bullied at school and so on. Extraordinary the effect it has on a child. Then Nazism helped to fan the flames and then came the crack on your ugly head. The crack you engineered yourself. I expect that settled it. From then on you were really mad. Same sort of thing as people who think they're God. Extraordinary what tenacity they have. Absolute fanatics. You're almost a genius. Lombroso would have been delighted with you. As it is you're just a mad dog that'll have to be shot. Or else you'll commit suicide. Paranoiacs generally do. Too bad. Sad business. And now let's get on with this farce, you great hairy-faced lunatic.


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