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.

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