Reviewed date: 2018 Jan 25
My dad read Java Jack to me when I was a kid. Reading it now, twenty-some years later, it's just as nuts as I remember.
Jack Robinson is a blond-haird, black-skinned American kid living with his Aunt Amy in Neosho, Missouri. His parents are anthropologists working in Indonesia, and when they go missing from their home on Maggasang island, Jack rushes to Indonesia to search for them. His adventures in Indonesia include:
- Being immediately kidnapped by a pasty-white man named Fligh (whose name stands for The Fight for the Liberation of the Island of Gunungan Heaven) and forced to join the Free Island Movement (FIM), a rag-tag international group of kids that Fligh is training as a revolutionary army. Fligh gives him the name Java Jack.
- Witnessing the sign of the Qris, a golden meteor that lights up the sky. Qris is a magical material, a key to another universe. Ibu takes the Qris from the meteor and makes it into a golden needle for Jack, which she asks him to deliver to the Sultan of the island of Equator.
- Fighting off an entire horde of Bugis pirates armed with krises (traditional Javanese daggers with wavy blades, but apparently also used by the Bugis?) using only his golden Qris needle. The needle takes on a life of its own, directing Jack's movements in his combat with the pirates. A blade with a spirit of its own? That's ripped straight from classic Indonesian legends about the kris.
- Sailing with Bunga the Bugis, the Batik Pirate. After Bunga is pricked by the Qris needle, he gives up piracy. The crew take up singing and become rock stars and tour Indonesia as the wildly popular group Java Jack and the Batik Pirate with the Boogeyman Band. They buy an old DC-3 and fit it with pontoons so they can travel anywhere in the archipelago.
- Discovering that the island of Equator is located on the island of Maggasang, hidden in the cloud-shrouded crater lake of the volcano Gunungan.
- Meeting the Sultan of Equator and realizing that the Sultan is his real father. The Robinsons raised Jack as their own in order to protect him from the Sultan's enemies.
- Traveling outside the universe to rescue his real mother, who is trapped in the volcano Gunungan.
Qris with a Q
I enjoyed the scene where Jack sees the sign of the Qris:
Suddenly, the whole cockpit filled up with a bright, golden-colored light, and my ears were filled with a hissing noise like a thousand fire extinguishers going at once.
It was a comet streaking across the sky. It looked close enough to touch, although it was probably thousands of miles away. It was as though you'd waked up to find that the sun had moved into your bedroom. All this was happening in the predawn darkness, and the moon had still been plainly visible. Now the comet crossed straight in front of the moon, making it disappear, and then, as the comet passed, the moon reappeared, sliced in half by the comet's long tail. Then the moon's corona, that ring of light you sometimes see, flared up in rainbow colors. I never saw anything like it.
"So, it's true," Fligh said.
"What?" I asked. "What's true?"
Fligh didn't answer. He just watched the comet, which was now almost out of sight. The golden light disappeared, the cut-in-half moon came back together, and the flaming rings of color around the moon faded away.
"We haven't got much time left," Fligh said. Then he hunched up in his seat and said nothing.
Immune to Bullets
I remember this scene from when my dad read it to me all those years ago. I can just picture Fligh crawling on the ceiling of the cavern, screaming "I'm immune to bullets!" It's bizarre and ludicrous and completely bonkers, but this is how the whole book goes.
Just then Bunga shouted, "Java Jack! Look up!"
I looked. There was Fligh. He was clinging to the ceiling like a lizard. He hung on with one hand and was blasting away--in my direction--with a big .45 pistol.
"Pull back to the door down here," the sultan cried. "We can hold them off forever!"
"Forever! Hah!" Fligh mocked. He came loose from the ceiling and came flying down like a bat, with his black cape billowing behind him. Under the cape he was mostly naked, and his tattoos glowed in the jewel-light.
On the ceiling of the treasure chamber, in the place where Fligh had been hanging, I saw a bundle of long red sticks attached to the stone with gray gooey clay. Dynamite. The long dangling fuse was spitting sparks.
"Forever?" Fligh cried. "Yes, you will be buried forever when the dynamite goes off!"
Fligh didn't intend to sacrifice himself--just his enemies and friends. This was clear to us because Yudis emptied his own gun into Fligh's body with no effect at all.
"Nothing touches Fligh!" Fligh cackled. "I am immune to bullets!"
"Dyak magic," Bim moaned.
I don't know that Java Jack is a good book, but I like it. Daniel Pinkwater doesn't, apparently. In response to fan queries, Pinkwater has explained that he's not a co-author so much as an editor of Java Jack, and that he doesn't much like or understand the book. Well, I don't understand it either, but it's a wild trippy book and I enjoyed it very much.
Luqman Keele is Luqman Lateef Keele McKingley (17 June 1944 - 3 October 2012), an American devotee of an obscure Indonesian spiritual movement known as Subud. He's written some books about Subud but Java Jack appears to be his only fiction novel. His main claim to fame is his pioneering work in the Indonesian animation industry: he started Anima Indah, the first animation studio in Indonesia. I can't see that Java Jack has anything to do with Subud or with his work in animation, but it does show an understanding of Indonesia that goes beyond what a tourist sees. This is a man who knew about Indonesia.
Daniel Pinkwater on Java Jack
December 5th, 2004
Q. "I'm starting on 'Java Jack' and I'm wondering how that dual authorship came about."
A. "Java Jack isn't so much co-authored as super-edited by me."
December 16th, 2000
Q. "my favorite [books are] java jack and the orange splot."
A. "It should be noted that although I am credited as co-author, I was more of an editor extraordinary in the making of Java Jack, and have no idea what it's supposed to be about."
April 26th, 2004
Q. "I can't find a copy of Java Jack anywhere...any idea where it is sold?"
A. "Java Jack is not really a book by me. It is by the other guy--I was like a super-editor with a very free hand. I don't care for the book very much, so it can stay hidden as far as I'm concerned."
June 24th, 1999
Q. "I still plan to go to some library and make damned sure they have every book you ever wrote. Well except for Java Jack. You once told me not to include that one. You said you were not fond of it."