Just What the Doctor Ordered: New Anthology Expands the Legend – and Cult – of Thackery T. Lambshead
In 2005, I became a Lambsheadean – a member of the cult of Doctor Thackery T. Lambshead – when I stumbled across a truly one-of-a-kind book entitled The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, a bizarre (and fully illustrated) medical reference guide edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts that included the symptoms, history, and treatment of rare and fantastical ailments submitted by a virtual all-star line-up of genre fiction giants: Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Michael Moorcock, China Miéville, Kage Baker, Steve Aylett, etc.
Also included were profound words of wisdom from Dr. Lambshead himself, such as: “Never run from a python if you’ve suffered from diarrhea the night before.”
It wasn’t until I had finished reading this laugh-out-loud and downright demented book that I realized that it had been nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy and International Horror Guild Awards. (It was originally released in hardcover by Night Shade Books in 2003.)
I reverently placed the book in my library thinking that I would never hear anything about the mythical doctor Thackery T. Lambshead again.
I was wrong. The Thack is back.
A sequel of sorts to the Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, the Cabinet of Curiosities features stories and illustrations about oddities found in Lambshead's home after he passed away in 2003. All I can say is that editors extraordinaire Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have really outdone themselves on this one...
The line-up for this book is simply unreal – many of the genre fiction authors that I consider to be the true innovators, the elite storytellers, are included within: Cherie Priest, China Miéville, Michael Cisco, Stepan Chapman, Lev Grossman, N.K. Jemisin, Ekaterina Sedia, Michael Moorcock, Jeffrey Ford, Minister Faust, Carrie Vaughn, Ted Chiang, Charles Yu, the list goes on and on!
Some sections feature conventional stories revolving around artifacts in Lambshead’s cabinet of curiosities while other parts are more of a reference guide, documenting an item’s history, significance, etc.
• “Silence, One Ounce – Origins unknown. Found amongst the possessions of the recently deceased Frank Hayes, thirty-four, who tragically lost his life when he stepped in front of a public bus that failed to stop. Its provenance is thought to include M. Twain, W. Wilson, and the Marquis de Sade. Handle with care, not to be administered more than one drop at a time. Silence is golden, but too much will kill you.”
Aside from the abundance of wildly creative entries – Priest’s steampunk-inspired Clockroach, Grossman’s stainless steel man (aka Roboticus) Mellified Alien Head, Dracula’s Testicles, etc. – the sheer brilliance of this book is how Ann and Jeff VanderMeer intertwine the legend of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead into the tapestry of history. Here are just a few examples:
• “[Caitlin R.] Kiernan further claims that Helen attended Lambshead’s funeral, ‘the mysterious woman in white standing at the back, next to Keith Richards and Deepak Chopra...’”
• “A close friend of Lambshead, post-World War II literary icon Michael Moorcock, who first met the doctor in the mid-1950s at a party…”
There were so many noteworthy sequences and selections in this book – it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to just a few works. Priest’s “Addison Howell and the Clockroach” was fantastic as was Grossman’s “Roboticus the All-Knowing,” Holly Black’s “Lot 558: Shadow of My Nephew by Wells, Charlotte,” Cisco’s “The Thing in the Jar,” and Will Hindmarch’s “The Auble Gun,” but in my opinion the selection that was the crown jewel was Jeffrey Ford’s “Relic.” The story begins in a church at the end of the world that houses the holy relic of Saint Ifritia – an ancient foot.
“A dark lumpen object, its skin like that of an overripe banana. There were toes and even orange, shattered toenails...”
Father Walter has guarded the sacred item for the past 30 years but when a holy toe is stolen by an intrepid thief, the real story behind the mythical foot – and its ultimate destiny – is revealed…
• Editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have the Midas touch – any anthology they touch turns to gold.
• The narrative scope and stellar assemblage of writers and illustrators in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities makes this a book that will be absolutely cherished by fantasy, science fiction, and steampunk aficionados alike.
• Be prepared to be become a member of the cult of Doctor Thackery T. Lambshead – and don't listen to "heretic Lambsheadean" Kiernan, she is a hater.
This new VanderMeer anthology is just classic speculative fiction – a twisted fusion of steampunk and fantasy wrapped in a straight jacket.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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