Ever since his decapitation at the hands of his jealous wife, what remains of Buffalo Bill Cody has resided in a mason jar, preserved in a mixture of pig urine, 100 proof whiskey, and an amber chemical called Number 415. Although deprived of his fleshly body, Cody can still think and speak, and can even move about by using the "Steam Man," a mechanical body designed to house his noggin. Thus, despite his handicap, Cody is still fit enough to lead the Wild West Show as it tours the world.
As Zeppelins West begins, Cody, accompanied by Wild Bill Hickock, Annie Oakley, and the stoic but surprisingly funny Sitting Bull, is heading to Japan via zeppelin on a diplomatic mission to the court of Master Takeda, Emperor of Japan. An ally of America (Japanese Samurai battled alongside Custer at Little Big Horn), Japan occupies half of what modern readers know as the United States. Besides entertainment, Cody has another objective--free Victor Frankenstein's creature from Japanese custody before he can be consumed piecemeal by the Emperor, who believes the monster's flesh is actually an aphrodisiac.
As you might have guessed, Zeppelin's West is an alternate history, albeit one of the strangest in recent memory. Not content merely explore the subtleties of an alternate history where some key event has been altered, as would Howard Waldrop, or even to weave numerous literary and cultural references into his tale a la Kim Newman, Lansdale opts to do both, filtering them through his own fractured sensibilities. Thus, in addition to the Creature and the members of the Wild West show, readers are treated to appearances by Captain Bemo, Dr. Momo, Vlad Tepes, and Tin, who hails from an alternate reality where a certain wonderful wizard used to hold sway. Never one to let bad taste interfere with a story (that's meant in a good way), they're also treated to the Tepes' strange death at the hands (paws?) of Momo's beast men, and an affair between the Creature and Tin.
Similar to Pat Murphy's recent Max Merriwell/Mary Maxwell trilogy, Zeppelins West is a loving tribute to the type of literature Lansdale cut his own literary teeth on, including the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and John Wyndham, borrowing many of its characters, locales and situations directly from their works. In spirit, however, the parody owes much to the works of Philip Jose Farmer. Although Lansdale himself nods towards The Case of the Peerless Peer, the book seems to be more in the vein of such Farmer classics as A Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees, and The Mad Goblin, which took great liberties with classic pulp characters. In the final analysis, Zeppelins West has something for everyone--plenty of blood and guts, outrageous action and adventure, homespun philosophy, humor (black and otherwise), and plenty of sex. In other words, everything we've come to expect from Joe Lansdale over the past two decades or so.