Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities

I've finished Thrilling Cities, by Ian Fleming, one of his two non-fiction books. I talk about his other, The Diamond Smugglers, here.

Fleming was commissioned by the Sunday Times of London to take two trips - one through the Orient and United States and the other through Europe - and write of his experiences in each one. The collected columns are here in this book.

First published in the early 1960s, Thrilling Cities is certainly outdated, and I'm sure it wouldn't do anyone any good as a guidebook. But as a travelogue it is certainly interesting. Fleming does hit a few of the must-see tourist sites, but for the most part he hits up the underground joints, off-the-beaten-path eateries, and after-hours clubs. Fleming was of course famous at the time for James Bond and if he told of these thrilling cities with a thriller-writer's touch, who can blame him?

I'm glad I read this book for two reasons. One, travelogue is not a genre I'm overly familiar with, and I enjoyed this one. I'd like to try more. Two, I tend to look at the tabletop gaming applications for pretty much everything I read, and Thrilling Cities could easily serve as a "spy locale" sourcebook. I recently reacquired the old Top Secret, S.I. game from TSR. If I wanted to run a Cold War era campaign and needed a great sourcebook for the world's thrilling cities, what could be better than a first-hand account from the creator of James Bond himself? It might be a bit dated for games set in the 1970s or 80s, but if you weren't overly concerned with exact historic accuracy, this book would have everything you needed to describe exotic cities. Even if you were a stickler for historic accuracy, you can certainly soak up a lot of atmosphere from this book. And if you set the game in the 1960s, you'd have one hell of a realistic and accurate backdrop.

Speaking of travelogues, next up is The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which I'm about a fourth of the way through. Oddly, certain parts of it resonate with Fleming's book. I guess that stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling is the same no matter what era you live in.

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