TUESDAY, JUNE 7, 2011
EMAIL FROM BRANDON LINGLE
AIR FORCE FRIEND
Hey Captain -- Greetings from Baghdad! Congrats on your book. I've been meaning
to buy it, but the other day I was looking through some books someone sent to the
troops and guess what I found? An advance copy stashed away at the bottom of the
pile. That find made my day! So, thanks to whoever sent the book and thanks to you
for writing it!
TUESDAY, MAY 17, 2011
The old Kapn checks out the new book shelf and what do his wondering eyes espy but Who Shot The Water Buffalo, so nodding to do but yank the books off the shelf and sign each and every one and leave a note to Ferlinghetti to the effect, then on to the Beat Museum for a visit.
Who Shot the Water Buffalo?
by Ken Babbs (Overlook)
The back story of Babbs, a first-time novelist at 75, would make a good
novel itself. A Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam in 1962-63, he joined
pal Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters the next year (the two had been Stanford
classmates), crossing the country in a psychedelic bus — a tale chronicled
in Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” “Buffalo” draws on his
Vietnam experiences, through chopper pilots Lt. Tom Huckelbee and Lt. Mike
Cochran, who want nothing more than to survive their tours of duty.
In his own words, Ken Babbs describes his new novel, “Who Shot the Water Buffalo,”
45 years in the making:
In 1962, two Marine Corps helicopter pilots, fresh out of flight school, are assigned
to a squadron in Southern California, where they meet and get to know their new
squadron mates, learn the tricks and skills of handling the H-34 D chopper they’re
flying, it’s the time of the Red Horde menacing the world and no sooner do they
complete all their squadron training assignments than they are shipped off to
Vietnam to support the Diem regime against the communist Cong, strictly as
advisers of course, supporting the Army of Vietnam (ARVN) with supply and
troop lifts, encountering along the way the usual (foul-ups) of a foreign country
running on graft and despotism, but also learning it’s the regular people getting
the shaft on all sides, and sides are taken in the squadron to shoot them or help
them, can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, it’s crazy, it’s insane and how
do you keep your sanity in an insane situation? By acting crazy, and who is crazier
than the big galoot, Lt. Mike Cochran, fiery Greek Irish, got so much body hair
he’s a gorilla, an apeman, whereas his sidekick, Tomas Huckelbee, Texican from
down on the border, the narrator of the story, is small, sinewy, an English major
of all things and a superb speller can always win the spelling bees during down
time hanging around a dirt strip waiting for the ARVNs to arrive to haul them
into a landing zone (LZ), where the action picks up and the adrenaline flows in
tune to the songs Hanoi Hannah plays on the radio as they’re rotovating in, flare
to a landing, kick out the troops and boogie out of there, back to the base for the
bickerings the poker games the steaks barbecued on 55-gallon drums cut in half,
the book building to greater chaos and death and internal turmoil until the final
catastrophic scene when all desires, demons and determinations reach fruition.
This is about men away from their homes and families in a faraway tropical
exotic country, kept mostly isolated from the locals and the locales, caught
up in an ill-defined war, not always sure what roles to assume, knowing they
can die here. Situations that are current and meaningful no matter when the
time in history, but this resonates now because of what happened in Vietnam
and afterwards, and what’s going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Issue: March 15, 2011
Who Shot the Water Buffalo?
Babbs, Ken (Author)
Mar 2011. 320 p. Overlook, hardcover, $25.95. (9781590204443).
Babbs sings us an ode to a marine helicopter squadron serving in
Vietnam prior to the outbreak of war, when the U.S. was acting as an
³advisor.² With pop-cultural quotes and allusions liberally sprinkled
amid staccato prose, this first novel may feel to some a cross
between Joseph Heller and Hunter S. Thompson.
Part buddy movie, part simple observation, and part existential
musing, the novel lets readers see and feel the world it creates as
it follows Texan Tom Huckelbee and Ohioan Mike Cochran from flight
school through their time in Vietnam.
Huckelbee strives to remain sane through Cochran¹s unpredictable
actions, a grinding schedule of sorties, R and R breaks, base
politics, and the loss of flight-school friends.
The strain of their circumstances builds to the final, most dangerous
mission they fly. Babbs, a U.S. Marine whose service included
piloting helicopters in Vietnam, brings eyewitness truth to the table
as he pays homage to his fellow marines while showing how valor and
duty can be embodied quite differently among one company of men.
-- Arlen Bensen
-- Ed McClanahan
"As a co-founder of the Yippies, I was an antiwar activist, but now
that Babbs has captured the bittersweet flavor of America's undeclared
invasion of Vietnam--balancing his way along the tightrope between
horror and absurdity with considerable style and wit--he's enabled
me to appreciate the perception of a military man who was simultaneously
a victim and an executioner. I feel like I've been seduced. Never trust a Prankster."
WSTWB has a marvelous antic spirit that is both
hilarious and terrifying. It is one of the finest novels to come out
of that catatrophe, perceptive, insightful brave and funny all at once.
A blending of everything a good novel on that subject requires. by a
first rate novelist.
-- Robert Stone
"U. S. Marine Captain (ret.) Ken Babbs is a pilot who climbed
from the SAMissile-killing skies over Vietnam to the LSDippy hippie highs of
Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters . . . and lived. I know, because I saw him
afterward. This book is Babbs, Part One."
-- Tom Wolfe
This, I am told, is Ken Babbs, who used to be a helicopter pilot in
Vietnam. I get to talking to him and I ask him what it was like in
Vietnam and he says to me, very seriously:
"You really want to know what it was like?"
"Come over her. I'll show you."
So he leads me back into the garage and he points to a cardboard box l
ying on the floor, just lying there amid all the general debris and madness.
"It's all in there."
"It's all in there?"
"Right, right, right."
I reach in there and lift out a typewritten manuscript, four or five hundred
pages. I leaf through. It's a novel, about Vietnam. I look at Babbs. He gives
me a smile of good fellowship with his Day-Glo mask glowing and crinkling up.
"It's all in there?" I say. "Then I guess it takes a while to get it."
"Yeah, yeah, right! right! right!" says Babbs, breaking into a laugh, as if I
just said the funniest thing in the world. "Yeah! Yeah! Hah hah hah hah
hah hah hah Right Right!" with the mask glowing and bouncing around
on his face. I lower the novel back into the box, and for days I would notice
Babbs's novel about Vietnam lying out there on the floor, out in the middle
of everything, as if waiting for a twister to whip it up and scatter it over
San Francisco County, and Babbs would be somewhere around saying to
some other bemused soul: "Yeah, yeah, right! right! right!"
-- Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test
When Tom Wolfe asked me about my book, I said, "You want to see a
chapter?" and he said, "Yes," so I pawed through the box and gave him
"Here you go," I said, "you can keep it."
He looked at me in surprise. "Keep it?"
"Yeah. Right! Right! Right!"
-- Ken Babbs
Just finished borrowed copy (from Paul Krassner) of your fine novel ... and I want
to tell you how much I enjoyed it and how tickled I was as I came upon the
treasure-trove of puns, obscure cultural references from our boyhood and
young-manhood years, 1940s lyrics, etc. It is a wonderful novel and I hope it gets
the good reviews and sales that it deserves. It was a pleasure to read an
old-fashioned, picaresque, as they say, book that entails episodic stories that
stand on their own while also weaving together tales that develop the characters
into people that I as a reader cared about. I think I told you I read a few pages of
it many, many years ago at the Spread in Soquel -- after, I think, I'd rubbed some
DMSO on your back to help lessen the pains you were feeling. (I remember being
amazed that the DMSO raised huge blister-like bubbles on the skin of your back and
simultaneously cured or dissipated those blisters! Whatever happened to DMSO?)
Anyway, congratulations. You've done good. And you're an inspiration to lots of old
-- Lee Quanstrum
Thanks, Lee, great understanding of the book. You can still get DMSO at feed
stores. Horse people use it but it's good for humans, too. I bought some at a health
food store and have been putting it on my back since I had the car slam into the ditch.
Have been in VietNam with you since getting your book. Whew! Not only a page
turner but deeply important. I think you’ve written a classic, one which will not
only chart well but earn a long, long life in the culture. Well done!
You've done a fine job of creating a greatly different novel that begins questioning
the reader about what's going on and then pulls him in gradually until the final
chapter which is extraordinary--and makes the reader want to start reading your
book all over again to see what he missed. It's designed for intelligent readers,
and I hope there will be a lot of them.
-- John Clark Pratt, author of Vietnam Voices, a great non-fiction work.
At the risk of sounding horribly unprofessional, I've got to tell you:
this is a hell of a book. Right to the marrow.I'll be a while getting
over this story, I believe ... in the best of ways.