"The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities" Book Review

Written by Gabino Iglesias

Published by Harper Voyager

Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
2011, 320 pages, Fiction
Released on July 12th, 2011


The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities is an eye-pleasing hardback tome that hits the scales at 320 pages and contains contributions by a mind-blowing array of writers and artists. The project, which comes on the heels of the success of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, achieves a very nice balance between stories, essays, academic journal articles, museum catalog entries and first-rate art. Since not all segments of the book shine equally, we'll take a look at them individually.

The book begins with a set of entries titled "Holy Devices and Infernal Duds: The Broadmore Exhibits". The four entries that make up this part of the book give the "facts" behind some of the most interesting pieces in Dr. Lambshead's collection and could easily be called encyclopedic in their content and academic in their construction. This section does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the book and brings to the forefront the diversity of objects in the collection along with the range of voices that the authors bring to the book.

The second chapter, titled "Honoring Lambshead: Stories Inspired by the Cabinet", is interesting and has a very heavy science fiction slant, but pales a bit in comparison to the energy and wild imagination packed into the preceding tales. While the rest of the book is a fast-paced celebration of weirdness, the tales in this second segment are a tad long-winded while containing only a fraction of the inventiveness and humor that all other parts of the books share. Jeffrey Ford's "Relic", a strange tale of lies dipped in a critique of religion, and Tad Williams' "A Short History of Dunkelblau's Meistergarten" are standouts that are on par with everything else in the book and take the reader into a realm where fact, fiction, psychology and literature meet.

The third chapter, titled "Microbial Alchemy and Demented Machinery: The Mignola Exhibits", recaptures the superbly original nature of the first chunk of the book. Fans of graphic novels will enjoy these entries most because they're encyclopedic, unique and built around images by Mike Mignola, better known as the artist behind such graphic novels as Hellboy and The Amazing Screw-on Head. Also, these stories provide some of the best humor in the book, of which there is plenty throughout the volume. The footnotes on Cherie Priest's "Addison Howell and the Clockroach" and the black humor on Lev Grossman's "Sir Ranulph Wykeham-Rackham, GBE, a.k.a Roboticus the All-Knowing" are worth the price of book.

"The Mieville Anomalies" is the title of the fourth chapter, which contains the most intellectually challenging story in the book. Reza Negarestani's "The Gallows-horse" is a semiotician's nightmare and delves deep into the significance of the object. In fact, this is one of those tales that require a second reading after finishing the book just because of the delicate intricacies of what is hinted between the humor and the pseudo academic rhetoric.

The fifth part is titled "Further Oddities" and it reads like the second part of the third section. Deserving of special mention is Caitlín R. Kiernan's "A Key to the Castleblakeney Key", a tale that possesses a Lovecraftian aura that's nicely filtered through academic journal entries and personal recollections.

The sixth and last section, "A Brief Catalog of Other Items", is packed with micro-entries that dance between the short and sweet and some that read like failed pitches for longer stories.

While the book is very entertaining and the writing is top-notch in some sections, the element that puts this tome above many others is the humor. Fast and funny turns of phrase, unexpected twists, historical tips of the hat and some black humor make for a book that can best be compared to Woody Allen's early work and that will get more than a chuckle out of readers.

With names like Lev Grossman, Naomi Novik, Stepan Chapman, Tad Williams, Jeffrey Ford, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore and many others contributing words and renowned artists such as Greg Broadmore, John Coulthart, Jan Svankmajer and Mike Mignola filling the book with eye candy, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities makes a great addition to any bookshelf.



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