Thoughts on _The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists_, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, eds.

Promised as a sequel of sorts to The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, edited in 2003 by Mark Roberts and Jeff Vandermeer, The Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011) is a collection of disjointed writings by a host of well-known Anglophone genre authors. I was very much looking forward to reading it, having loved the first volume and kept it in my library since. Nevertheless, I had not heard of the publication of the volume until I noticed the cover during one of my regular Amazon perusal sessions. I bought it and quickly realised why it had not made the splash the first volume had.

Thre book is, unfortunately, a disappointment. Where the first volume was coherent in format, presenting the histologies of vastly divergeant (and very imaginative) mock ailments; this collection is anything but. I used the word "disjointed" earlier and it is a apt description for the ensemble of texts that can be found here. After a humourous introduction, presenting the biography of Dr. Lambshead's subsequent years since the original 1922's publication of the Pocket Guide, we are presented with a sequence of descriptions of objects that were once part of Lambshead's collection. These descriptions follow a familiar catalogue format: artefact name, author of description, date of artifact creation, creator, provenance(s) and current location, accession number, followed by the object's history, uses and effects, usually illustrated. Unfortunately, after a few of those very enjoyable segments, follows several short stories, very loosely related to Dr. Lambshead (who is mostly inferred, not seen), short stories of very unequal quality. Then the catalogue format returns, followed more or less strictly, and other artifacts are introduced.

Were it not for the short stories, this book might have been, at least, coherent and more enjoyable. The Pocket Guide's entries had not been of equal quality, far from it, but the ensemble was what had made the book into such an interesting literary creature. Here, however, the Vandermeer failed in creating something of equal value. Even if both volumes share many of the same authors, the feeling is much different.

The most striking of these differences is in tone. In The Cabinet, it was clear from the introduction that I was missing entire levels of humour that are really just a bunch of inside jokes, mostly at the expense of Michael Moorcook, Naomi Novik and especially Caitlin R. Kiernan. I am certain that these passages are extremely funny to those who personally know these authors and the others mentioned, but I do not (even if I do know a whole bunch), neither do most of the book's readership. One recognizes there is humour. One cannot share it.

I purchased the epub version of The Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. If I find a used or highly discounted dead tree copy of the book, I may purchase it, so that The Pocket Guide won't be alone on my shelf. I will not, however, ever buy a full price copy. That would be a waste of money.


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