It is not a James Bond film. Percival Everett’s “Dr. No” is a smart comedy about a math professor who specializes in the study of nothingness and whose research attracts the interest of a supervillain.
Below is an excerpt.
My competence in nothing, not exactly nothing, but definitely nothing, led me to work with, or rather for, one John Milton Bradley Sill, a self-made billionaire with one aim, a goal that was exciting to some, perplexing and bizarre to others, stupid to all, but at least plainly defined. John Milton Bradley Sill desired to be a Bond villain, despite James Bond being a fictional character. He stated, “I wish to be a Bond villain.” Simple.
We were seated in a Thayer Street coffee shop. The semester was winding down on a November Monday at eight o’clock in the morning, and the students who had dragged themselves in were virtually sleepwalking. I was comparable to them. I had only lately realized that I required a full twelve hours of sleep to function well, but I had spent the whole of the night awake, contemplating the meeting with Sill. The fact that I rarely recalled my everyday life during sleep mirrored the rarity with which I recalled my dreams.
What is your definition of a Bond villain?
Sill gripped the spoon as if it were a cigarette. “You know, the type of evildoer who would prompt the prime minister to assign a double-naught spy to foil my plans. You know, evil for the sake of evil.”
I stated, “A sort of modernist villain.”
I observed while stirring my tea. I did not want to look at him, but I did, and as he came into focus, I saw that he was a certified individual. But cheery. He had a pleasing appearance, was racially ambiguous, a horse-like face, and tightly curled hair. He was a diminutive man. I stated, “You appear too kind to be a villain.”
“Thank you,” he expressed. “Appearances are not everything.”
“Have you ever executed an awful deed?”
“In what way?”
“Have you ever killed anyone?” I asked. “Bond villains kill indiscriminately.” I was talking out of my rear end. I knew almost nothing about Bond villains.
“Some do, some don’t.” With his spoon, Sill prodded the air. “Have you ever watched Goldfinger?”
“I believe so. Let’s say no.”
“Goldfinger robs Fort Knox.”
I responded, “Where they keep the gold.”
Where the gold is kept. John Sill surveyed the room, evaluating each individual. “Are you aware of the exact contents of Fort Knox’s vault?”
As a lover or at least as someone who had known me for more than a quarter-hour, he leaned forward, resting his chin in the palm of his hand, and replied, “Nothing.”
You’re saying that there is no gold there?
That is to say, there is nothing there.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Exactly that. I am not denying the presence of gold there. I am stating that there is nothing present. That which you have been seeking.”
My hair stood up on the back of my neck. Nonetheless, I was persuaded that he meant the vault was empty.
“I assure you that the vault is not empty,” I say. As if reading my thoughts.
“You, my friend, will assist me in stealing it. I have conducted research. You know more than anyone else about nothing. How much power must someone with no possessions possess?”
Extraction from “Dr. No” Copyright reserved until 2022 by Percival Everett. Permission granted by Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.