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Spy-fi is a subset of spy fiction, which usually has a very specific type of plotline. As the name spy suggests, most spy-fi focuses on characters gifted at espionage, and there are some well-known ones that fit this genre, such as James Bond. The second element tends to mean that plots don’t only surround the efforts of a spy or two, but also concern themselves with science fiction plot themes. In the James Bond work for instance, there is almost always a villain bent on taking over the world or extorting money from world leaders, usually through the advent of some fantastically horrible invention that can blow up the planet. It is often up to the “good guy” to end the villain’s overwrought schemes through superior skills as an investigator and through plenty of daring.
The James Bond series, written by Ian Fleming and then the subject of numerous films is one of the earliest examples of the spy-fi genre. With the popularity of James Bond, many other writers, television producers and movie producers noticed the great interest in the genre and capitalized on it. A string of American television shows in the 1970s reflect some of the spy-fi elements, including programs like The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and 1960s programs include the American The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the popular British camp series Doctor Who.
Early expressions of spy-fi TV shows were not always serious. Get Smart for instance, lampooned the genre as much as it loved it. Spy-fi proved to have broad-based appeal and there were even some 1970s kids’ cartoons, like Secret Squirrel, where the title character waged wits with the evil Yellow Pinky
One element of spy-fi that many people enjoyed was the use of gadgets by both spies and their archenemies. James Bond’s gadgets are perhaps a favorite, including cars that could turn into boats, watches that could blow up people and a variety of others. Get Smart the TV series is much remembered for its use of the shoe phone, on which Maxwell Smart would receive important communications, simply by listening to his shoe.
There has been little recession in interest in this genre, whether it’s taken seriously or not. Films in the James Bond series continue to be box office hits, and other spy-fi movies are very popular. These include remakes of certain TV series, like the 2008 Get Smart, Mission Impossible, and The Avengers. The Austin Powers series has been a popular comic take on the genre, and there are many standalone films such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Matrix, and Minority Report that are considered of this genre, though some may lean more heavily on science fiction details.
A stream of television shows in the genre continue to be produced including 24, Doll’s House, and Chuck. Some of these are notably more realistic than others, and less focused on the glamor of espionage or fancy gadgets. Some argue whether a show like 24 really deserves inclusion in the genre. Others argue for its place in the world of spy-fi, since the premise that Jack Bauer must save the world in 24 hours on a regular basis is rather far flung.
Spy fi is gaining popularity in books as well. I think that in addition to the English writer Ian Fleming, who invented James Bond, you could count John le Carre, who wrote The Constant Gardener among other novels and even some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writings as similar to spy fi.