I think that, sometimes, in the midst of all the discussion about craft and theme and structure, we—meaning writers and readers and reviewers—forget that this stuff is supposed to be fun. It’s so refreshing, then, when an author like Joe R. Lansdale comes along, manuscript in hand and shit-eating grin on his face, to remind us of that very fact.
Lansdale’s latest reminder comes in the form of The Sky Done Ripped, the third volume chronicling the adventures of Ned the Seal (as seen previously in Zeppelins West and Flaming London). For those who’ve yet to make his acquaintance, Ned the Seal is not a guy with a funny nickname; he is, in fact, an actual seal, albeit one with with advanced intellectual capabilities—and a cool floating sled, to boot.
Ned is accompanied on his adventures by an author named H.G. Wells—yep, that H.G. Wells. The two have been traveling through time, endeavoring to repair some damage they caused in their previous time-traveling exploits. That’s really all I want to say about the plot, because a summary just won’t do this book justice. Plus, the fun is in the discovery, and I don’t want to give too much away.
I will tell you that if you’re looking for sentient apes and gigantic alien/ape hybrids and medieval torture wagons and lost jungle cities, you’re in luck. However, if you’re looking for Lansdale’s usual nuanced characterization, you might want to go back to his Hap and Leonard series. That’s not a knock on Ripped, which features more depth of character than most of the pulp novels it emulates—just a warning that Lansdale is not offering subtlety here. Don’t let that turn you away, though; just adjust your expectations and enjoy one wild party.
One thing that Ripped retains in comparison to most of Lansdale’s work is his natural storytelling voice, coupled with his finely-tuned storytelling tools. It takes an immense amount of talent and, yes, craft, to make a book like this work. This isn’t about throwing a bunch of outlandish characters and details into a pot to dazzle readers into thinking the stew is good. Lansdale’s technique is in fine form here, making it easy to invest into a story as off-the-rails as this one without hesitation.