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Spotlight on: Flaming London by Joe R. Lansdale

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Flaming London by Joe R. Lansdale Joe R. Lansdale, Flaming London

Ned the talking seal is back, having survived the shark attack that took the lives most of his friends from Joe R. Lansdale's weird Western, Zeppelins West. And he's ready for a new adventure -- again inspired by the works of H.G. Wells and Philip Jose Farmer.

Despite its title, Flaming London is not about the drag queen subculture in England's capital city. Instead, Mark Twain and Jules Verne accompany Ned the seal in attempting to escape the attack of tentacled invaders from Mars. As the events that inspired Wells to write The War of the Worlds, unfold in real time, our heroes are assisted by Phileas Fogg's valet, Passepartout, as well as Beadle, John Feather, and Steam from Lansdale's Farmer-inspired novella "The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down" (from Mad Dog Summer and Other Stories). Wells also shows up for the obligatory celebrity cameo.

I'm glad to say that Flaming London is a vast improvement over its predecessor, Zeppelins West. Where the first book seemed to lack a focus of direction, this one is at least anchored by its unconventional narrator, a seal who can read and write but not talk -- and who is a big fan of dime novels.

Readers who have read both Zeppelins West and "The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down" will most be able to appreciate their references in Flaming London, but Lansdale fans in general will enjoy his ability to combine classic literature with wonderful characterization and his own brand of often-crass humor.

I recommend Flaming London, unreservedly to fans of the "champion mojo storyteller." It may possibly be a good place to start for the newcomer, as it gives a look at the author's ability to span genres without losing his own special touch that keeps his readers coming back time and time again. But that $40 price tag for a signed hardback makes it less open to experimentation (Amazon and other sellers often offer a discount, but even that is usually not enough).

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2005. Reprinted with permission.

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