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Leap from a flaming zeppelin with the stars of the ...
Leap from a flaming zeppelin with the stars of the Wild West Show in a desperate escape from an imperial Japanese enclave. Wash up upon the island of Doctor Moreau, in mortal danger from his unnatural experiments (and ignorant that Dracula approaches by sea). Unite with Jules Verne, Passpartout, and Mark Twain on a desperate voyage to the burning streets of London, which are infested with killer squid from outer space courtesy of H. G. Wells’s time machine.
It’s a raucous steam-powered locomotive of shoot-’em-up Westerns, dime novels, comic books, and pulp fiction, as only Lansdale, the high-priest of Texan weirdness, could tell.
“A madcap excursion.”
“The comparison to Alan Moore’s great comic series is probably the most apt, both in the form of a collection of historic and literary characters and in the tone of Moore’s delight in the obscene. Lansdale ramps both up to hilarious excess.”
“Lansdale reminds me somewhat of Terry Pratchett, if Pratchett was an irascible cuss with an affection for scatological humour.... If you want your steampunk serious, sombre, or squeaky-clean, stay far away from Lansdale. For myself, he’s a breath of flatulent air in the midst of steampunk taking itself far too seriously.”
Praise for Zeppelins West
“Irrepressible, irreverent and unpredictable.... Legends of the Old West, plus characters both real and fictional, enliven the shenanigans.... [T]his novel is one big joyride from start to finish.”
Praise for Flaming London
“Wait a minute! What’s going on here? Only one of the wildest-alternate-worlds, rip-in-space-time, SF-pastiche romps this side of fifties B-movies.”
IF VIEWED FROM BELOW, the twelve of them appeared to be brightly colored cigars. It seemed God had clumsily dropped them from his humidor. But fall they didn't. They hung in the sky, floated on, and from time to time, as if smoked by invisible lips, they puffed steam.
If you listened carefully, and they weren't too high, you could hear their motors hum, and if it were high noon and the weather was good, you could hear the John Philip Sousa band out on the promenade, blowing and beating to knock down the heavens or raise up the devil.
Inside the main cabin of the lead zeppelin, called Old Paint due to its spotted canvas, Buffalo Bill Cody, or what was left of him, resided in his liquid-filled jar, long gray hair drifting about his head. He waited for Buntline to turn the crank and juice him up. He certainly needed it. His head felt as if it were stuffed with cotton.
Problem was, Buntline was drunk, passed out beside the table where Cody's head resided in the thick jar with the product name MASON bulged out in glass at the back of him. He was grateful that Morse had put the logo at the back of him. The idea that he might look out at the world through the word MASON for the remaining life of his head was depressing.
Cody supposed he should be grateful that Doctor Morse and Professor Maxxon had put him here, but there were times when he felt as if he had given himself over to purgatory, or perhaps worse, a living hell.
The liquid in the jar, what Professor Maxxon called activated urine — it actually did contain a quarter pig urine, the rest was one-hundred-proof whiskey, and an amber chemical called Number 415 — kept his head alive, but it couldn't keep his brain from feeling dull, sleepy even. To think right, to have the juice he needed ... well, he needed Buntline to turn that goddamn crank.
Through the cabin's louvered windows, Cody could see it was high morning and the sunlight was warming up his jar. He had the horrible feeling it would heat up so much the liquid would boil and cook him. He wondered how the rest of him was doing in Morse's laboratory in Colorado. They could preserve the body all right, and they could make the heart beat, and of course they were keeping his brain alive here, but did it matter? Would head and body ever reattach?
It was too much to think about.
The lip of the brass mouth horn was fastened just inside his jaw, and when he bit down on it and talked, his voice, due to the liquid, gurgled, but he could be heard, thanks to Morse's device fastened tight in the center of his throat. He called, "Buntline, you dick cheese, get up."
Buntline did not get up.
"I'll have you tossed off this goddamn craft."
Still no Buntline.
Cody gave it up. When Buntline was truly under a drunk, which these days was most of the time, you couldn't wake him with a toot from Gabriel's horn or a kick from Satan's hoof.
Cody closed his eyes and tried to think of nothing.
But as was often the case, he thought of whiskey, women, and horseback riding. A trio in which he could no longer participate.
Wild Bill Hickok awoke from Annie Oakley's beautiful ornate bed with a hard-on like a shooting iron, but Annie was gone. The bed was still warm from her and smelled of her sweetness and the sheets were wet in the center where they had made love.
Hickok suffered a tinge of guilt because he was glad Frank Butler, her former husband, was dead. Frank had been a good man, but death had certainly opened up opportunities that Hickok now dutifully enjoyed. The drawback was Annie still pined for Frank, and sometimes, after their lovemaking she would arise early to sit out on the enclosed zeppelin deck so she could feel guilty and no longer a child of God.
Hickok thought God was a fairy story, so, unlike Annie, that didn't worry him. He felt worse about Frank's memory. He thought Frank a hell of a guy, not as famous as himself, or Cody, or many of the others on board, including Annie. But like Annie, he had been a human being superior to them all.
What had made Frank good was Annie. Hickok was looking for that in himself. When he was with Annie, he felt as Frank must have, that he was worthy. That there was more to him than his speed with guns, his skill with cards, his way with whores.
Jesus, he thought. What am I thinking? I need to get the hell out of this Wild West Show and back to the real West. Away from Annie and her goodness, back to gunfights, card games and stinky whores like Calamity Jane — mean as a snake, dumb as a stone, crooked as a politician, with a face like the puckered south end of a northbound mule.
It was safer that way. You didn't get high-minded. You didn't have to stand by any morals. Calamity didn't smell good and when she left a wet spot it was something to attract insects and stick them to it, like flypaper. A woman like that you didn't attach to.
But a moment later, dressed in a long-sleeved, red wool shirt, buckskin pants and beaded boots, his long blonde hair and mustache combed, his face washed, Hickok went looking for Annie.
Annie Oakley, Little Miss Sure Shot, twirled her dark hair with one hand, thought of Wild Bill Hickok and their lovemaking, and hated to admit he was far better in bed than Frank had ever been.
But a lady wasn't supposed to think about such matters. She turned her attention away from that and back to Frank, and though she missed him, knew she still loved him, his image failed to come into total focus.
It faded completely when she saw Hickok coming along the deck toward her. His tall figure, shoulder-length hair, the manly nose, the cut of his hips and shoulders, made her a little queasy.
Out here on the zeppelin deck, covered by glass and wood and curtains, she thought perhaps she could think clearly. That away from his charms she could work up the courage to tell him it was over. That she would now do what she was supposed to do. Wear black till her grave and never love another man.
What courage she had summoned to do such a thing, dissolved as he sat in the deck chair beside her.
"I woke and you were gone."
"Can't go far on this craft. I'm easy to find."
He laid his hand on top of hers. "I suppose that's true."
She gently moved it away. "Not in public, Bill. I'm going back to my cabin now. To be alone. Perhaps we'll talk later."
"Certainly," Hickok said. Those clear sharp brown eyes of hers were like the wet eyes of a doe. They had the power to knock holes in his heart. He stood, watched her go away, her long black dress sweeping the hardwood decks.
Strolling outside on the promenade deck, Hickok saw Sitting Bull standing by the railing, a colorful blanket around his shoulders, his braided hair shiny with oil, decorated with a single eagle feather that fluttered in the breeze.
Hickok practically floated up to Bull, using all his woodsman's skills, but when he was within six feet of the old Sioux, Bull said, "Howdy, Wild Bill."
"Howdy, Bull," Hickok said, stepping up beside him. Down below, 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."
"I hear that. But this beats the way we used to go. By ship. I don't know how we used to stand it. Slow. Storms. I mean, you get them up here, but you can rise above a lot of it. Course, get too high you can't breathe. Always a drawback."
Bull grunted agreement, studied Hickok. "How life, Wild Bill?"
"Good ... good."
"Gettin' plenty drink?"
"Good. Got tobaccy?"
Hickok took out a long twist and gave it to Bull. Bull clamped down with his hard white teeth, gnawed a chunk off, began to chew. He gave Hickok back the twist.
"Good. Little Miss Sure Shot?"
"Gentlemen don't discuss such matters."
"That why Bull ask you."
"And if you gettin', don't tell. Little Miss Sure Shot like daughter to me. Could take your hair."
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.
Captain Jack stood next to Hickok, looked down at the Pacific. "Ah, the waters," he said.
"Those big blue deep waters wherein, down below, the fishes hide. Where great monsters unknown lurk, and cavort ..."
"Would you shut up?" Hickok said.
"Make stomach turn," Bull said. "Make tobaccy taste bad."
"Sorry," Jack said.
"Save it for those want to hear it." Hickok said. "If that's poetry, I don't want any more. All right?"
"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 motherfucker."
"Probably right about that. Audie would poke water in a bar ditch he thought there was a fish in it, and him with that fine lookin' Libby."
"Our Savior would not want us expressing ourselves in such a manner," Captain Jack said.
"Thought white father spoke Hebrew," Bull said. "Bull speakin' English. Or almost English."
"He speaks all languages," Captain Jack said.
"Good for him," Bull said. "Him one smart God fella."
There was a moment of quiet, then Captain Jack worked the conversation back to what he wanted. "The samurai who fought with Custer. Did they make account of themselves, or did they run?"
"No arrows in yellow men's backs, not unless we sneak up from behind. They brave. Soldiers brave enough. Custer, he shit pants and shoot self."
"That is not true!" Jack said.
"True," Bull said. "Was there. You writing poetry, Bull watching white men and yellow men gettin' shot, cut, scalped. Have many swords from yellow men. Much hair from yellow and white."
"Custer had his hair," Jack said. "When they found his body he had it all. And he wasn't mutilated. So I know you're lyin'."
"Did not want hair. Ashamed of him. Custer cut it short. No hair to take. Bull hear that story how Custer not cut up. Story lie for lady Custer. He Dog cut Custer's willie off and stick in Custer's mouth. It look like it belong there. Real asshole, Custer."
"I won't hear of this," Captain Jack said, and went away.
"Good work," Hickok said.
"Bull think so."
"Custer was a friend of mine."
"No. Sorry Custer friend. Show Wild Bill got bad taste."
"If Yamashita had arrived on time with his planes, Terry with his zeppelins, the outcome would have been different."
"Ugh. If Bull's ass wider, deeper, could store nuts and berries for winter."
Hickok laughed. "I see your point."
"No, but there's one in my room."
"Sound good. But must tell you. On shield, back home. Got skin off Custer's ass stretched on it. Asshole right in middle. Cleaned after bad moment on the Greasy Grass. You know. Custer shit self. Wild Bill friend of Custer, so thought you should know."
"You cut his ass off?"
"No. He Dog. He give to me. Said, 'Here asshole.' Have thought on that long and hard. He Dog like Bull only little better than Custer."
Hickok nodded. "Well, Custer was a friend, but you're a friend now. And frankly, I always thought that Libby Custer might have somethin' for me, and that Audie could have treated her better."
"Like Bull said, Custer friend, now Bull friend. Wild Bill's taste no better."
Hickok grinned. "Let's me and you have that drink, Bull."
Japanese biplanes buzzed them in.
The little aircraft were like hornets, flicking this way and that. They weaved in and out between zeppelins, the long white scarves of the pilots trailing like the tails of kites.
They flew near the huge cargo zeppelins where the faces and bodies of buffaloes and horses could be seen through portholes. They glided through the zeppelins' bursts of steam, were pushed back by it. They flew close enough to hear the machinery in the gear house of the zeppelins clicking and clashing like a frightened man's teeth.
On the promenade deck of Old Paint, Sousa and his band struck up a lively tune, tuba blasting, Sousa horn wailing, bass drum pounding.
Cody's head, in its jar, sat on the shoulders of a steam man, its silver body glistening in the sun. From behind, his hair, floating in the preserving and charging liquid, looked like seaweed clinging to a rock.
Hickok, Annie Oakley, Captain Jack, Bull, and Buntline, a few assorted cowboys and Indians, Cossacks, and Africans, all dressed in their finest, surrounded Cody.
The Japanese pilots flew so close to the front of Old Paint, Cody and his companions could see the slant of their eyes through their big round wind glasses. Everyone waved except the steam man. That was more trouble than it was worth.
Inside the steam man's chest, a midget named Goober worked the levers that worked the steam man. The interior of the steam man was hot and the fan that blew down from the steam man's neck only gave so much air. The grating Goober looked out of had limited vision; therefore, as the mind and reactions of the steam man, Goober had limited response.
Buntline was drunk again, but at least he was standing, his black suit looked only slightly wrinkled, his bowler hat was cocked to one side. His boots were on the wrong feet. He was trying to remember his real name before he took the name of Ned Buntline as his pen name. He smiled as he finally remembered. Ed Judson. Yeah. That was it.
He had one hand on the crank that attached to the battery in Cody's jar, and from time to time, with much effort he would crank it, giving Cody the juice. When he did, the liquid glowed, Cody's head vibrated and his hair poked at the amber fluid like jellyfish spines.
Frank Reade, the inventor of the steam man and the airships (he had improved on the German design), had donated the steam-driven man to Cody to promote his line of products. Reade had come to prominence pursuing Jesse James and his gang across the U.S. with his steam-driven team of metal horses, and now his products ruled the United States and were spreading rapidly across the world. Even if he had failed to capture James.
The steam man Cody used had been modified. The head with its conical hat through which steam had been channeled, had been removed, and the steam now puffed out a tube in the back, a tube that carried the steam above the jar and spat it high at the sky like periodic orgasmic eruptions.
Where the steam man's hat had been, Cody's jar now fastened, and on top of the jar was a great big white hat with a beaded hatband.
On the steam man's feet were specially made boots of buffalo leather, dyed red and blue, decorated with white and yellow beads. On the toes of the boots there were designs of buffaloes cavorting.
In his room, Cody had a pair that were similar, only on the toes of the boots the buffaloes were mating. He wore those when he went out with the boys.
As the zeppelins dropped, escorted by the Japanese biplanes, Japan swelled up to meet them, showed them fishing villages of stick and thatch and little running figures. Farther inland the sticks gave way to thousands of colorful soldier tents tipped with wind-snapped flags as far as the eye could see. Samurai, in bright leather, carrying long spears with banners attached and swords at their sides, lifted their helmet-covered heads to watch the zeppelins drop. From above, the Japanese in their armor appeared to be hard-shell beetles waiting for a meal to land politely into their mandibles.
Excerpted from Flaming Zeppelins by Joe R. Lansdale. Copyright © 2010 Joe R. Lansdale. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 3, 2010
Only Joe R. Lansdale could dream up a seal as the hero of his books. This is Lansdale at his wild , imaginative, grotesque and vulgar best. One word of caution: this is NOT a new Ned adventure as I discovered to my disappointment but "Zeppelins West" and "Flaming London" in a single book. For those who haven't read the first two, this book is a great deal. Those of us who have read the first books will just have to wait for another.
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Posted October 29, 2012
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