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.”

Leave a Reply