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Literature / Thunderball

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The ninth James Bond book by Ian Fleming, published in 1961.

Criminal organization SPECTRE has stolen two British nukes, and use them to demand a ransom of a hundred million pounds. Bond is send to Bahamas to investigate a possible link to SPECTRE.

The book is notable for being perhaps the first story about terrorists stealing nuclear weapons and holding the world to ransom— a common enough trope in modern spy and action thrillers, but a revolutionary idea at the time. Thats right, folks; James Bond invented nuclear terrorism.

The book was actually the novelization of a screenplay which wasn't adapted into film until 1965. Due to the copyrights involving other writers of the screenplay, several legal battles ensued and the book got another film adaptation in 1983.

This novel has the examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Blofeld kills Bourraud for raping a hostage, and refunds half of the ransom money to the victim's family as compensation for Bourraud's vile deed.
  • Blofeld Ploy: The meeting between SPECTRE agents has Blofeld chewing out someone in charge of a kidnapping that went awry when the kidnap victim was supposedly raped (Blofeld isn't sure if it was rape or consensual sex; he doesn't really care) as its a violation of self-discipline during captivity. He then kills another underling sitting nearby - the one who was responsible for the rape - revealing he was using the first agent as a distraction and let the real target get too comfortable sitting in his electrified chair...
  • Born in the Wrong Century: The novel narrates that Largo would have been right at home in the time of pirates, effectively calling him a murderous cut-throat.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: The Captain of Largo's yacht was kicked out from the Canadian Navy for being a drunk. He cleaned up his act after Largo smashed a chair over his head for not following his orders, and he is now completely loyal to him.
  • Cigarette Burns: Largo uses his cigar and ice cubes to torture Domino after she is caught spying on Bond's behalf on his yacht.
  • Consummate Professional: After Largo has given a tour on his yacht to Bond and Leiter, Bond finds it suspicious that nobody in Largo's crew smokes or drinks, as it is a sign of discipline that isn't usually met in a crew working for just some Wealthy Yacht Owner.
  • Continuity Nod: As they fly by a rocket base, Bond asks Leiter if he remembers the Moonraker launch and wonders what it looked like.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: SPECTRE uses the cover of an agency — Firco — that aims to "keep alive the ideals that flourished during the last war among members of all Resistance groups."
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Blofeld comes up with inventive and painful ways to dispose of subordinates who fail him. He electrocutes one in his chair (for sexually molesting a girl kidnapped by SPECTRE), and had previously strangled a second with a garrote and shot a third one through the heart with a compressed-air pistol.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Domino is the one to kill Largo, the man who tortured her and murdered her brother.
  • Empty Quiver: The novel is probably the first and most definite example of the trope. It is, however, subverted in that the nuke in question is British (while the code is American), and the terrorists attempt to portray it as an accident, that is, a "Broken Arrow" situation, instead of "Empty Quiver".
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Blofeld zaps a mook during the SPECTRE board meeting for sexually assaulting a hostage victim. In one of his rare Pet the Dog moments, he even refunds half the ransom money to the victim's family as compensation for his henchman's heinous actions. This shows that despite being the madman that he is, even he won't tolerate detestable actions such as rape.
  • Fake Charity: SPECTRE hides behind the front of a charitable organisation for the support of victims of World War 2; its public head office is situated at a prestigious address: 136, boulevard Haussmann in Paris.
  • Hate Sink: Pierre Borraud, who happens to be on SPECTRE's ruling panel as Number 12, establishes himself as a loathsome person for raping a hostage his organization took in exchange for ransom. Thankfully, Blofeld deals with Borraud's misconduct severely by subjecting him to a High-Voltage Death during the SPECTRE board meeting. Blofeld also returns a portion of the ransom to the victim's family as compensation for his henchman's devious actions.
  • High-Voltage Death: Pierre Borraud is electrocuted in his chair by Blofeld for raping a hostage. To compensate for his henchman's devious behaviour, Blofeld refunds a portion of the ransom money to the victim's family.
  • Inside Job: SPECTRE co-opts a NATO officer to steal a pair of nuclear weapons. This was subverted in the film version of Thunderball, where SPECTRE replaces the officer with a double, but played straight again in the remake, Never Say Never Again, where the officer reprogams two nuclear missiles so the warheads can be recovered by SPECTRE.
  • Not Me This Time: Bond is skeptical about this whole SPECTRE business, and thinks it's just a False Flag Operation for the Soviets as usual.
  • Number Two: Subverted; the numbers assigned to the SPECTRE members does not indicate their importance in the organization.
  • One Last Job: The nuke heist caper is supposed to be SPECTRE's last big job before its members retire to enjoy their riches.
  • Pirate: Narration notes that if Largo had been born in the time of pirates, he would've fit right in with them. And he wouldn't have been the romantic swashbuclikng type, but a merciless cutthroat.
  • Pirate Booty: The SPECTRE members residing in Bahamas, led by Largo, are there under the guise of searching for sunken pirate treasure, conveniently explaining why they have a big yacht and a need for secrecy.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Bond is recipient of a several hits to the head from a Harpoon Gun when he fights the guard under the Disco Volante.
  • Red Right Hand: Largo's hands are twice as large than normal person's, and he has pointed ears.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: Plenty of pages go to depict the theft of nukes, which is then followed by Secret Service working to catch the one responsible.
  • Right Behind Me: Bond is overheard asking Moneypenny to check out the Tong symbol he'd seen tattooed on Count Lippe. Lippe wrongly assumes Bond is investigating him and tries to arrange a fatal accident.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The scene where Bond does an underwater swim to photograph the underside of the yacht was inspired by the Crabb affair.
  • Sauna of Death: Bond locks Count Lippe in a Turkish bath, which leaves him covered in second degree burns.
  • Sea Hurtchin: Domino emerges from the sea with some bits of black sea urchin in her foot and Bond very gently, very sensuously, sucks them out for her.
  • Shaped Like Itself: To describe the room that Bond was given in the Shrublands health clinic, Fleming words it thusly: "It was a room-shaped room with furniture-shaped furniture and dainty curtains."
  • Straight Edge Evil: Blofeld neither smokes nor drinks; furthermore "he had never been known to sleep with a member of either sex. He didn't even eat very much." And he's willing to nuke Miami if the US and UK don't pay him off.
  • Totally Radical: Bond indulges in a bit of this in order to get his taxi driver to chat to him. Somewhat implausibly, it works.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Count Lippe is part of a Tong society known as Red Lightning that resides in Macao.
  • Tuckerization:
    • The name Shrublands was taken from that of a house owned by the parents of Fleming's wife's friend, Peter Quennell.
    • Largo rents Palmyra from "an Englishman named Bryce", whose name was taken from Old Etonian Ivar Bryce, Fleming's friend, who had a beachside property in Jamaica called Xanadu.
    • Commissioner of Police Harling was named after Fleming's colleague at The Sunday Times Robert Harling, Hugo Pitman was named after a friend from his stockbroking days and Deputy Governor Roddick was named after his golfing friend Bunny Roddick.
  • Villain Ball: Count Lippe tries to kill Bond because he (mistakenly) believes that Bond has penetrated his cover and is in the Shrublands to take him out. However, he fails and is later "properly dealt with" for causing a delay to SPECTRE's Evil Plan. Ironically, Bond never figures out that Lippe was working for SPECTRE at all, although Felix Leiter eventually puts the pieces together.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: After he is let out from Shrublands, Bond starts doing work in the office with newfound vigor, which his secretary finds very annoying.
  • While You Were in Diapers: Leiter chastises a bartender who serves overpriced, watered-down martinis to him and Bond by telling him that people had been tricking him this way while the bartender was still drinking milk.
  • Women Drivers: Bond thinks to himself how dangerous women drivers are when other women are in their vehicles, since, in his mind, they won't stop looking at each other while talking.
  • You Are Number 6: Each main member of SPECTRE is assigned a number, which changes every month. Blofeld and Largo are currently No. 2 and No. 1, respectively.
  • You Have Failed Me: Blofeld has Count Lippe killed when his childish feud with Bond almost jepordizes SPECTRE's plan.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Largo has the pilot he bribed to steal two nukes killed, both to avoid having to pay him and so he doesn't start running his mouth to Domino.