Licence Renewed (published in American editions as License Renewed), first published in 1981, is the first novel by John Gardner featuring Ian Fleming's secret agent, James Bond. It was the first proper James Bond novel (not counting novelisations and a faux biography) since Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun in 1968. Carrying the Glidrose Publications copyright, it was first published in the United Kingdom by Jonathan Cape and in the United States by Richard Marek.
The release of Licence Renewed successfully relaunched the Bond literary franchise, being the first of 14 original novels by Gardner until his retirement in 1996. In that timeframe Gardner also wrote two novelisations.
Updating James Bond
When hired to begin a new series of James Bond novels, author John Gardner was tasked with updating James Bond and his allies and transporting them into the 1980s.
- "I described to the Glidrose Board how I wanted to put Bond to sleep where Fleming had left him in the sixties, waking him up now in the 80s having made sure he had not aged, but had accumulated modern thinking on the question of Intelligence and Security matters. Most of all I wanted him to have operational know-how: the reality of correct tradecraft and modern gee-whiz technology." — John Gardner
Updating the timeframe to the 1980s, Gardner's series picks up the career of James Bond some years after the Fleming novels ended. Due to the timeframe change Gardner's series suggests that Fleming's stories, took place in the 1960s and 70s, rather than the 1950s and 60s.
Likewise with James Bond, his companions and allies, specifically those working for the British Secret Service such as M, Bill Tanner, Miss Moneypenny, and Q are also all transported to the 1980s, although Q is rarely mentioned and is mostly substituted by Ann Reilly, a genius of gadgetry who is prompty nicknamed "Q'ute" by fellow workers as well as Bond, not long before being added to Bond's long list of romantic conquests.
When Licence Renewed begins, M reminds Bond that the 00 section has in fact been abolished; however, M retains Bond as a troubleshooter (pun intended), telling him "You'll always be 007 to me." Bond is assigned to investigate one Dr. Anton Murik, a brilliant nuclear physicist who is thought to have been having meetings with a terrorist named Franco. Franco is identified and tracked by MI5 to a villiage in Scotland called Murcaldy. Since Murcaldy is outside of MI5's jurisdiction, the Director-General of MI5, Richard Duggan requests that M send Bond to survey Murik. Relying on information that MI5 didn't have, M changes Bond's assignment to instead infiltrate Murik's Scottish castle, and gain Murik's confidence.
Bond makes contact with Murik at Ascot Racecourse where he feigns a coicidental meeting, mentioning to Murik that he is a mercenary looking for work. Later, Bond joins Murik in Scotland at Murik's behest and is hired to kill Franco, for reasoning at the time unknown. Franco in turn has been tasked by Murik to kill his young ward, Lavender Peacock because she was the true heir to the Murik fortune, which could only be proved by secret documents Anton kept in a hidden safe within his castle.
Murik's plan is to hijack six nuclear power plants around the world simultaneously with the aid of bands of terrorists supplied by Franco. To ensure that Murik can never be associated to this deal, he attempts to use Bond to assassinate Franco. Ultimately terrorists do take over six nuclear power plants, but are prevented from starting a meltdown when they are given an abort code by Bond, believing him to be Murik. Murik is eventually defeated by Bond and Lavender before his demands were met.
- An early segment of the book that takes place at the Ascot Racecourse, where Murik is shown cheating. The segment is similar to a scene in the 1985 Bond film, A View to a Kill, but it's not known if this was a deliberate nod to Gardner's book or a coincidence.
- John Gardner had initially asked Glidrose to title the book "Meltdown". In the end; however, Glidrose settled on Licence Renewed, a title that in actuality has little, if anything, to do with plot of the novel.
- Heavily influenced by the 1979 film The China Syndrome, the book's eponymous nuclear meltdown scenario was derived from the fanciful idea that a nuclear plant's super-heated core would tunnel its way to the other side of the world.