Moonraker is the third novel by British author Ian Fleming, based on the fictional British Secret Service agent Commander James Bond, first published by Jonathan Cape on April 7, 1955. Set completely in England, it follows Bond's mission to stop an industrialist Sir Hugo Drax from destroying London with a nuclear weapon.
The novel's name was used in 1979 for the eleventh official film in the EON Productions Bond franchise and the fourth to star Roger Moore as James Bond. However, the story of the film was significantly modified so as to include outer space.
MI6 Chief M asks James Bond to observe Sir Hugo Drax, who is winning a lot of money playing bridge at M's favorite club, Blades. M suspects Drax to be a cheat. Although M claims indifference, he is concerned why a multi-millionaire and national hero, such as Sir Hugo would cheat at a card game. Later, Bond confirms Drax's deception and manages to 'cheat the cheater' - aided by a cocktail of powdered Benzedrine mixed with non-vintage champagne — winning £15,000 and infuriating the out-smarted Drax.
As it turns out, Drax is the backer of the 'Moonraker' missile project being built to defend the UK against its Cold War enemies (c.f. the real Blue Streak missile). Essentially, the Moonraker rocket is an upgraded V-2 rocket using liquid hydrogen and fluorine as propellants. It can withstand the ultra-high combustion temperatures in its engine thanks to the use of columbite, which Drax has a monopoly. Therefore, because the rocket's engine can withstand higher heat, the Moonraker can use more powerful fuels, greatly expanding its effective range.
After reporting suspicious activities at the Moonraker site, a Ministry of Supply official working on the project is killed in a murder-suicide. M orders Bond to infiltrate Drax's missile-building organization on Romney marsh on the coast of England. After making peace with losing £15,000 to Bond, Drax introduces his all-German scientific crew who are bald but have unique mustaches. Bond also meets a beautiful agent called Gala Brand, working as Drax's personal secretary.
Bond investigates the murder, assuming the suspicious activities were attempted sabotage attemps. Drax's henchman Krebs is caught by Bond while he snoops through his room and is put on house-arrest by Drax. The next day, while investigating the exhaust ports, a controlled landslide nearly kills Bond and Gala. Back at Drax's mansion, Krebs, Drax and others poorly hide their surprise to see them alive.
The next day, Drax takes Gala to London where she discovers the full plot to destroy London with an atomic warhead placed on the Moonraker. After realizing Gala has gone missing, Bond chases after her Drax in his Bentley Mark IV but is outwitted by Drax and Krebs and crashes. Bond and Gala are placed under the Moonraker so as to leave no trace of them once the Moonraker is launched.
Drax explains his motivations to Bond while interrogating him. Drax was a German-born but English-educated man before WWII, during which he fought for Germany. He was severely disfigured during a bombing and was mistaken for an English soldier. After recovering and assuming a false identity, Draw reunited with some war comrades and worked with SMERSH to secure a nuclear warhead for the Moonraker.
Before the Moonraker is launched, Bond and Gala escape. Gala gives Bond the proper coordinates to reprogram the gyros and send the Moonraker into the sea. Drax and his henchman attempt to escape in a Russian submarine, but are killed because of their own deceptions, as the Moonraker has now been fired to the very location they are fleeing to.
Later, Bond meets up with Gala, expecting her company for a holiday leave. They part ways after Gala reveals that she is engaged to be married.
Many suggested titles existed for the novel. These included:
- The Moonraker
- Mondays are Hell
- The Moonraker Sense
- The Infernal Machine
- The Moonraker Secret
- The Inhuman Element
- Wide of the Mark
- The Moonraker Plan
- Hell is Here
- Bond and The Moonraker
- The Moonraker Plot
- Too Hot to Handle.
For an unknown reason, Moonraker's title for the first U.S. paperback publication by Permabooks in 1956 was changed to Too Hot to Handle. One possible reason might have been to avoid confusion with the then-current stage play The Moonraker by Arthur Watkin (which was made into a film of the same title in 1958). Similar to Casino Royale, however, the novel was subtitled (Moonraker) on the cover. Too Hot To Handle is notable for being the only Fleming Bond novel that was "Americanized", exchanging American idioms for British ones such as "jack of hearts" for "knave of hearts", "elevator" for "lift", etc.. The title was later changed back to Moonraker in 1960. Discounting magazine publication of some of Fleming's short stories and the novel The Spy Who Loved Me, this was the last time a Bond novel was retitled for American book publication until John Gardner's COLD in 1996.
The novel was praised to have established Fleming's skill and said to be "mercilessly readable". The New Statesman stated that "Fleming is splendid; he stops at nothing" while a Daily Telegraph reviewer said "I couldn't put this book down." According to The Scotsman "James's companion is as smashing a lovely as any predecessor in the role, the villain as sulphurously infernal, the declaration of war as dramatic". The Oxford Mail appreciated the writing and story development. Raymond Chandler described Bond as what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets. The Washington Post said that Bond is "back with the old derring-do in Penguin's dazzling new reprints"
The first adaption of Moonraker was on South African radio in 1956, with Bob Holness providing the voice of Bond.
"Moonraker" was used as the title for the eleventh James Bond film, produced by EON Productions and released in 1979. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, the film featured Roger Moore in his fourth appearance as Bond. Only the original character of Hugo Drax and the term "Moonraker" were retained, while the rest of the film had a completely different screenplay. It is widely believed that Broccoli had decided to take advantage of the success of the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and accordingly, the plot of Moonraker was modified so as to involve outer space.
Some concepts from the book that were reused include the profession of the Bond girls, both undercover agents inside Drax's organization, and that a launch of a rocket plays a significant role to the story. Since the screenplay was original, EON Productions and Glidrose Publications authorized the film's screenwriter, Christopher Wood to write his second novelisation based upon the film. It was titled James Bond and Moonraker, and became a best-seller in 1979.
Several elements of Moonraker were seen in other Bond films. Drax's warning to Bond to spend the prize money quickly after being defeated in a gamble was quoted in the 1983 film Octopussy. The 2002 film Die Another Day used some of the novel's content, such as the Blades club.
Moonraker was adapted as a daily comic strip which was published in the British Daily Express newspaper and syndicated worldwide. The adaptation was written by Henry Gammidge and illustrated by John McLusky, and ran from March 30 to August 8, 1959. Titan Books reprinted the strip in 2005 along with Casino Royale and Live and Let Die as a part of the Casino Royale anthology.