Review: “Flaming London” (the second story in the volume Flaming Zeppelins, The Adventures of Ned the Seal) by Joe R. Lansdale

If you are a cutting edge feminist of the 21st Century you will probably just want to skip this. There are almost no women characters in the story. The ones who are there, end up being pretty much about sex. There are a ton of dick jokes, big dongs, gigantic dongs, little dongs, average dongs, horse dongs, ape dongs, seal dongs, Native American dongs, old dongs, alien dongs, dongs from the future, pirate dongs, and double-assholed Martians. No, really. Just skip this one. Oh, and farts.

For the rest of us, probably mostly just the boys left now, I laughed a lot through this 150 page tale. Sometimes, just little chuckles, sometimes out loud guffaws. I’ll try to supply a couple of examples in the context of the following.

I had no way of knowing, but you will now, that the entire plot of this story is contained in a single paragraph before the story even starts. Turns out, that’s OK and me telling you isn’t even a spoiler.

From the Autobiography of Ned the Seal, Adventurer Extraordinaire: “And I was there when the Martians came, and all the horrors that accompanied them. I was a companion of Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as the great novelist Mark Twain. I knew his friend, Jules Verne. I knew H. G. Wells. I knew the Lost Island. And I knew London when it was in flames. In my life, I have eaten many fish.”

Well, various. Always on Earth (not all characters are so lucky). Always in the 19th Century (not all characters are so lucky). Mostly Europe although at least once on Mysterious Island and the coast of Africa (but that was an accident).

A bunch of boys with dongs, a sentient seal with a dong, a sentient giant red Ape from Mars with a giant dong, a forty foot mechanical man powered by steam with no dong. Passepartout (he’s about the same); The Flying Dutchman (about the same); pirates (particularly nasty, pyromaniacal and blood-thirsty ones); and more.

Ned the Seal. “I have thumbs, and I can do some things you wouldn’t imagine a seal might do, but the use of really fine motor skills in the area of grabbing and such is not a specialty. I can pull my dick. I do that well. But I’ve discovered that this isn’t an area of conversation that my companions wish to visit. They have, in fact, asked me not to do it while around them. I never learned that this whole yanking the tow line was a private matter… I’m a seal. I don’t wear britches. So, well, it’s out there when I get ready for it to be. I get the urge, it pokes out. I suppose, if I wore britches, I might not think about it as much.”

Twain.“…Twain noted that Jules’ depression…was passing. He was glad. Jules was a good man. A little more successful than himself…Well, a lot. But a good man. He just wished he were the one who was successful and Jules had a corn cob up his ass.”

Martians. (in conversation).
mine! ultu gets to kill.
no. mine. ultu can suck my asses

Rikwalk. “There was something different about the shape of (the ape’s) head, the very human eyes (which, later, in better light I saw to be green) the thin lips and full ears with lobes. He stood more upright, and unlike apes, who have small penises, this guy had a goober that looked like a four-foot switch handle hammer, testicles like grapefruits.”

Rikwalk is also from Mars but not the same Mars as the Martians…“a lush Mars, ripe as a nubile virgin in stretch pants.”

Jules Verne.  “Verne was on the second-floor landing, sitting with pen and paper, working on a dark novel about Paris, thinking about how old he felt, the loss of his wife and children, who had gone off to live somewhere in France with the explorer Phileas Fogg…He wished he had his children back, and his wife had a hot croissant up her ass, and Fogg had one too. Neither croissant buttered, and both day old and stiff.”

Herbert G. Wells. He says The Time Machine was not fiction but mere “reporting.”

Jumps around. And we forgive it. Some of it is written directly by Ned, the sentient seal in the first person. Sometimes it is in more conventional 3rd person. It’s OK, really. That part is probably written by Ned too. But once in a while it drifts over to 3rd person omniscient. See next paragraph.

There is also a frequent dissolution of the conceit that the reader is a passive voyeur of the story. Example:

“Passepartout, pushed upright, put a foot on the side of the basket, grabbed a cable, went up swift and nimble as a monkey this time. The basket shook like dice in an eager gambler’s hand. (Note these similes. I read a lot and am quite proud of it. I am, after all, a seal.)”

And, at one point, Lansdale knows he has overstepped the narrator’s place and he writes:

“Omniscient narrator is getting a headache, baby, so he’s gonna back off…”

All of this has to happen because Lansdale is also writing about the Multiverse. That’s just the kind of trouble a writer runs into writing about that stuff. I think he is ultimately saying that the Multiverse really does exist in our creative consciousness. It is the writer’s consciousness that allows us to hold multiple and sometimes contradictory realities in our minds at the same time.

Mmmm…adventure? Episodic? Picaresque? Yup, a lot like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, except it was a helium balloon and not a raft, and we were escaping invading Martians not slave hunters, and finding H. G. Wells was the destination instead of Aunt Sally’s. And we are not traveling with Jim, the runaway slave, but rather, with Samuel Clemens himself. Pretty clever really. Nice homage…with dongs.

I can’t wait for this to become a movie series like Guardians of the Galaxy. Groot!

PS I also downloaded and read the 19th Century Dime Novel entitled The Huge Hunter, or The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis. It is pretty horrible as you might imagine, but it gave me a sense of the kind of reading Lansdale did to get ready to write this story. Read about it here:
And if you want, download it for free here:

Historically, it was the first US science fiction dime novel. So add a little history to your consciousness. Note that this was a series whose intended audience was boys as well and featured most of the elements of the age of invention.

If you have more than a passing interest in science fiction, you should not pass Ned’s story up. It is such an amazing homage to the genre’s early work. For that, I give it 5 stars…unless you’re a feminist. If that is the case, just skip this one.

Review: Zeppelins West, Joe R. Lansdale

For clarity, this volume contains two longish novellas. This review is of only one, the first: Zeppelins West. It is approximately half of the volume Flaming Zeppelins, The Adventures of Ned the Seal by Joe R. Lansdale.

If you come to Joe Lansdale via his Hap and Leonard series, as I did, you might not recognize this weird volume. It is the oddest and funniest thing of Lansdale’s that I have read.

Go ahead, other lesser writers. Try to put a novel together that uses characters from history, embellishments from fiction and more than one homage to other writers of certain genres. You can’t do it like this.

The head of Buffalo Bill Cody
Ned Buntline, author of dime novels about Wild Bill Hickok
(of course) Wild Bill Hickok
Annie Oakley
Sitting Bull
Captain Jack Crawford, the poet scout
Japanese biplane pilots
A fleet of zeppelins
A midget named Goober
Frank Reade (and his steam man)
Takeda Sokaku

And a bunch of others all make appearances in the first ten pages of this story. As if trying to place all of these historical characters next to each other weren’t disjointing enough, later he sends in Dr. Moreau (Dr. Momo), Captain Nemo (Captain Bemo), Frankenstein’s monster (Bert), Tin the Wizard of Oz Tin Man and others.

All of them are in interaction with Ned the Seal who doesn’t speak but who writes notes in a notebook hung around his neck.

A lot of things happen one after the other

Kind of a love story???

Let me just give you a series of quotes:

Sitting Bull, in conversation with Wild Bill Hickok.

“Howdy, Bull,” Hickok said…the earth went by in black and green patches, the Pacific Ocean swelled into view, dark blue and forever.
“Been across big water many times,” Bull said. “Still fucks me over.”
“Me too,” Hickok said.
“Deep. Big fish with teeth. Makes Bull’s tent peg small.”

Performance poets, please consider this:

“Captain Jack Crawford, the poet scout, appeared on deck. He was dressed in his beaded buckskins and wore a tan hat, the brim of which snapped in the wind. He was seldom seen without his hat. What most didn’t know was that his hair, though long on the sides, was bald on top. Scalped by Cheyenne summer of ’76 was the story he told, but in actuality he had been held down after a poetry reading by some miners, and with the help of Oscar Wilde, who was touring the West at the time, they had scalped him as punishment for his poetry. Literary criticism at its most brutal.”

Later, Crawford says:

“Well, I doubt I’ll be doing any recitations in Japan,” Jack said. “They don’t speak English.”
“How bad of Japanese not speak English, “ Bull said. “Like dirty Indians who speak Indian words, not English.”
“Custer killer,” Captain Jack said.
“White eye motherfucker in wrong place at wrong time,” Bull said. “Know Custer your friend, Hickok, but Custer still a motherfucker.”

Later Tin and Bert, Frankenstein’s monster, fall in love and we are given peeks into their love life. In fact, the end of the story concludes with their romance as they are whisked away to a foreign world with two moons through the use of Dorothy’s (Dot) magic slippers. That’s why I think this is a love story.

“Tin and Bert live there.
Bert has fish and fruit to eat.
Tin uses oil made from plants and fish to keep himself functional.
All day they talk and walk and at night they lie together.
The sun comes up. The sun goes down.
The moons come up. The moons go down.
The Tin Man’s chest feels warm, as if a heart beats there.
Bert, the monster Frankenstein built of dead bodies, feels very much alive.
And the two of them together, feel rich and full of soul.”

Review: Prisoner 489 by Joe R. Lansdale

I asked my family for all the Joe Lansdale titles I had not yet collected for Christmas presents this year. They came through just fine!

Joe Lansdale is a master of modern writing. He does not pigeon-hole himself into one genre or another. Thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, detectives, short stories, novellas, longer novels, series writing. This guy is a modern master. I look up to him.

This little novella is hardly more than a very long short story. It begins on page 11 and it finishes on page 82. It contains 8 pages of illustration inside that range. I’m certain it is intended to be read in a single sitting, although I ended up breaking it into two pieces. I’m kind of happy I finished it in the daylight. This is a creepy story.

It is written in third person past tense. Only four human characters engage in all the action. (There is, of course, the “other” dark force and, although it clearly has intent and will, it does not speak.) All characters are associated with a prison and all may be prisoners on special assignment. Or they may not. It doesn’t really matter since they all have some good in them and are just trying to do their jobs. I’m about 88% sure that good prevails at the end of this story.

The action all takes place on an island. Lansdale refers to actions which take place on a neighboring island where the prison is located. The use of an island is excellent because we know no one is coming to save the day. In fact, we know that the protagonist(s) cannot escape to save themselves. Pretty smart writing.

I won’t tell you the story; that wouldn’t be fair. I will tell you that there are passages of excellent horror and moments that, if read before bed, might induce some disturbing sleep images. Here’s a favorite.

“…Slowly, it lifted its head to the cloud-touched moon, and that howl, that dreadful howl, that sound that uncoiled from inside the (bad guy), came out. It was both frightening and depressing. It was like the howl of something or someone that had just realized it was missing something important, and that the lack of it was an awareness so dark and deep there was no crawling out of it. It was a sound that made Bernard feel all the evil in the world, all the futility and disappointment of life, of his own life. It was a howl that reached down deep inside of him and touched a hidden nerve so buried, causing it to throb. Bernard felt that his life and all the lives that were being lived, had lived or would be lived were nothing more than desperation personified.”


One other thing that Lansdale does as well as anyone, and better than almost all, is the interjection of humor into the horror. I’m not sure how that happens in the mind of a horror writer but here’s how it looks on the page in dialog. The heroes have hatched a plan to stop the evil.

“Bernard and Wilson scrambled into the dozer. Bernard said, “You ever play cowboy?”
“Ever roped a cow?”
“Of course not. But if you would like to take the time to explain it to me, nothing would please me more, except for that whole giant, bad-ass monster shit.”

N’yuck, n’yuck.

The most distressing part of this little publication (Dark Regions Press, 2014) is that it suffers from a few instances of poor editing. I kind of hate editing errors. There is no real excuse for them, but here’s a sampling of what I found. Do these set your grammar nerves on edge?

1. How about this three sentence set?
“Bernard moved through the split in the trees, walking back the way they had came. Wilson caught up with him obviously not wishing to be left alone.
“They came to where the trees broke and stood where the dozer had come.”

2. Or the reference to how one could “wreck vengeance?”

There are others, but I’ll leave them to your discerning eye. Anyway, typos and editorial errors aren’t really the fault of the writer.

Lastly, it is, as I indicated, an illustrated version of the story, and, while the illustrations are suitably gray and gloomy, I’m not convinced that they add that much to the publication. But they don’t really distract too much either. So, there’s that.

Overall, it gets a 4 star rating on Amazon but the sole 1 star review and one of two 2 star reviews admit that the readers don’t seem to like the horror genre very much. I would assign those readers low stars for buying a book about stuff they don’t like. You like horror? You like hints of the occult? Dig this one.