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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Wed Feb 21st, 2007 12:57am Post subject: Espionage.
Having read some into the Paperweight tome and recalling back to The Liar and Hugh Laurie's "The Gun-Seller", which I've just finished yesterday, I can't help but notice that both he and Stephen are bloody obsessed with espionage, or at least used to be in their younger days. Is it really as alluring as all that for Brits? Westerners in general?

Growing up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, there were primarily two attitudes towards espionage among kids and adolescents that I can recall: mockery if they belonged to the proletariat, and a mixture of loathing and sheer bloody terror if they belonged to the intelligentsia. Hero-worship was reserved exclusively for those involved in espionage during The Great Patriotic War, and even that usually turned to mockery as soon as one heard enough jokes about Schtirlitz, the indomitable spy against the Nazis and a sort of Soviet analog to James Bond. In universities in the 1980s, the word seksot ("secret agent" or "secret colleague") were scribbled on walls as the worst sort of profanity. To be approach by the state and asked to assist in a secret operation would be just about the most shameful commentary on your character as could be. The only two options after such an offer would be to either agree and live in horrible disgrace from that point on or refuse and kill yourself to avoid having to fear everything and suspect everyone for the rest of your life.

I understand of course that the Britons attitude towards their government had nothing in common with that of the Soviets' attitude towards theirs, but still... such an odd thing to read. Even after spending half my life in the West I still can't get rid of a bone-deep feeling that all government mysteries and secret operations are essentially morally reprehensible and at *best* legally questionable.

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Lysander


Member

Posted Wed Feb 21st, 2007 4:09am Post subject: Espionage.
Interesting question. My own feeling is that the allure of espionage comes, at least for British people, from the writings of authors who tended to romanticise it ( exempli gratia, Ian Fleming). As you point out, there was a huge difference between the way in which the Soviets perceived their government and the perception that most western societies have of theirs; that perception seems to be changing however.

Espionage is still popularised in television, film and print but it is less romantic and far more "gritty" than it once was. It will be interesting to see whether this leads to a shift in opinion.

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Flossy


Member

Posted Sat Feb 24th, 2007 10:29pm Post subject: Espionage.
Indeed it is intriguing that Stephen does keep coming back to these espionage themes. I'm not sure that espionage is the constant here though! I think it is a tussle with political power which could be his preoccupation if indeed he recognises it as such. Making History for instance reflects, for me, an interesting meddling in the developement of history. Almost a longing to change the world, to rid history of the menace of facism, even if it's only inside ones head. The realisation dawns however that reality cannot be altered and that we have to address the world as it is and work to change society in this universe as we are, metaphorically speaking, stuck with it. The book deals with power, the power to change the world, to struggle against those forces, those powers which do harm to human beings and ultimatley the earth.

The Stars Tennis balls is the story of revenge. Getting your own back against those powerful forces which at times cannot be seen. To overcome these forces we have to learn how they, the rulers, think and adopt the right stratergies to destroy them. Understand your enemy, play their game and turn their rules against them. Espionage is there of course, behind the scenes, plotting, manipulating, but these are human symptoms of the corrupt and rotten system that enslaves and kills. The theme of political and economic power comes to the fore for me.

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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Mon Feb 26th, 2007 11:12pm Post subject: Espionage.
Well, the Stars' Tennis Balls has little to do with his own attitudes towards espionage - he didn't make up the story, Dumas-pere did. (And even that's questionable.)

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Flossy


Member

Posted Tue Feb 27th, 2007 5:54pm Post subject: Espionage.
Still!!


Dont know Who Dumas-pere is! Can you Explain? Give a synopsis perhaps?

The Liar does have some strong espionage themes though but I think his leading paradigm was paranoia if I remember correctly. It's about ten years since I read it and that is the imppresion I am left with!

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Soupy Twist


Member

Posted Tue Feb 27th, 2007 6:09pm Post subject: Espionage.
Dont know Who Dumas-pere is! Can you Explain? Give a synopsis perhaps?

Alexandre Dumas, père. He's named 'père' in order to distinguish him from his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils. 'The Stars' Tennis Balls' is based on Dumas' novel 'The Count of Monte Christo'.

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Flossy


Member

Posted Tue Feb 27th, 2007 8:09pm Post subject: Espionage.
Ah-Ha! The penny drops!

Thanks for the different perspective. I hadn't thought of the book in them terms.

I guess the modern spin on the original just lost me off! However the story for me stands on it's own as the similies, although present, are far enough apart to have been missed. Personaly speaking of course.

Are any of Stephen's other novels re-writes or re-workings in any way?

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Thu Apr 12th, 2007 2:48pm Post subject: Espionage.
Growing up on the other side of the Iron Curtain...

Where are you from, originally?

By the way, I think the British attitude to espionage was perfectly summed up by General Melchett in the Blackadder Goes Forth episode General Hospital.

Darling: So you see, Blackadder, Field Marshal Haig is most anxious to
eliminate all these German spies.

Melchett: Filthy Hun weasels fighting their dirty underhand war!

Darling: And, fortunately, one of *our* spies--

Melchett: Splendid fellows, brave heroes, risking life and limb for Blighty!

Darling: ...has discovered that the leak is coming from the Field Hospital.

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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Thu Apr 12th, 2007 2:59pm Post subject: Espionage.
Moscow.

Maybe when it comes to war espionage, yes, but I think the Cold War espionage attitudes were rather better summed up by Pratchett and Gaiman, whne they wrote "Good Omens."

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Thu Apr 12th, 2007 8:10pm Post subject: Espionage.
Actually, I may be wrong here, but I believe most British spy fiction is about counter-espionage. The Eastern bloc villains were spies, but the "heroes" were those trying to stop them.
There was an interesting portrayal in an episode of the Ben Elton/Rowan Atkinson police comedy show "The Thin Blue Line". There was a suave, tuxedoed British agent (obviously an imitation of James Bond) whose role was to infiltrate an environmentalists' road protest and provoke them into action which would get them arrested. It was not a superb show, but that episode showed an awareness of the dirtier side of British intelligence in recent years.

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AxmxZ


Moderator

Posted Thu Apr 12th, 2007 9:35pm Post subject: Espionage.
Actually, I may be wrong here, but I believe most British spy fiction is about counter-espionage. The Eastern bloc villains were spies, but the "heroes" were those trying to stop them.

Ditto for Moscow. It's infinitely easier to invent an evil foreign spy and put him where *you* live than to go visit evil foreigner abroad in cities you've never been allowed to visit or even read that much about.

There was an interesting portrayal in an episode of the Ben Elton/Rowan Atkinson police comedy show "The Thin Blue Line". There was a suave, tuxedoed British agent (obviously an imitation of James Bond) whose role was to infiltrate an environmentalists' road protest and provoke them into action which would get them arrested. It was not a superb show, but that episode showed an awareness of the dirtier side of British intelligence in recent years.

I take such issue with Bond portrayals... don't even get me started. People just don't seem to get that a good agent - a really, really good agent - will be almost by default a) short or of average height, b) possibly overweight, c) very probably female and dowdy. Why, that's not very spy-like at all, you might say. That sounds more like my mum or the organist from my church. EXACTLY! The point of the spy isn't to be dashing and athletic - it's to be under everyone's radar!

Not that the Russian "Bond" was any less guilty of this. The most popular fictional spy in USSR, Colonel Isaev/ Standartenführer Stirlitz, was just as "Bondy" as Bond, another tall, lithe, handsome brunet with a piercing gaze. The wiki has a good run-down of his character:

"Stirlitz was regarded as the ideal KGB agent. Born in Russian heartland (a town of Gorokhovets mistakenly placed "on the Volga river" in the feature), he was a renaissance man who knew how to complete missions but was also familiar with high culture. He spoke all European languages except Irish and Albanian. He favored the intellectual approach over violence and is believed to have killed only one time in his fifty year career as an agent. Like James Bond, he had a favorite drink, cognac. He drove a Horch car and was not as taken by women as Bond, declining the offer of some supposedly attractive prostitutes with the rejoinder "I'd rather drink some coffee." During his constant travels, Stirlitz missed Russia and longed to return."

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Fri Apr 13th, 2007 9:25am Post subject: Espionage.
I appreciate your point, but the "Bondy" character in that episode came across as smarmy and manipulative because his brief was to get environmentalists to incriminate themselves - hardly an honourable mission, yet he seemed to relish it as much as Bond enjoys his missions.
By the way, are you aware of the Polish TV character "Kapitan Kloss", a Polish intelligence agent posing as a Wehrmacht officer while passing information to the Russians during the war? The present Polish government wishes to ban this classic 1960s TV show on the grounds that it was pro-communist propaganda, but I found it nothing more than a bit of fun in the style of the pre-Mrs Peel Avengers with a touch of realism.

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