Joe R. Lansdale,
Zeppelins West
(Subterranean Press, 2001)

Zeppelins West is one of the oddest books I've ever had the pleasure to read.

This eccentric novel from Joe R. Lansdale is also one of the cleverest and laugh-out-loud funniest I've read in a long time. In it, Lansdale skews history, tossing a number of colorful historical and literary figures into a big stew pot and stirring briskly. It's a fast read, but a memorable one.

The story begins with the Wild West Show making its rounds. You have some familiar characters on board, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok and Sitting Bull. The fact that Cody is a severed, sentient head floating in a mason jar may give you pause, but keep going anyway. Ignore the fact that they're traveling in zeppelins manned by would-be Great War flying aces, or that their destination is Japan; the goodwill trip will atone for the deaths of many samurai who came to Custer's aid at Little Big Horn.

The story begins to twist when we learn that the goodwill embassy is a cover in part for a mission to liberate Frankenstein's monster and return him to the States where scientists (including Darwin and Morse) will employ similar techniques to restore Cody's body. But the rescue goes awry, there are various deaths and disclosures, and soon Our Heroes are captives aboard a mysterious submarine. Before all's finished, Lansdale will rip through variations on Captain Nemo, the Island of Dr. Moreau, Dracula, Oz and other well-known icons. The ending is an avalanche of sudden turns and unexpected events that will leave you amazed and gasping for breath.

The book is a short read, but completely satisfying. It will certainly leave readers wanting more from Lansdale.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 15 February 2003

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