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The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide To Eccentric and Discredited Diseases
Reviewed by Peggy Hailey, © 2003

Format: Book
By:   Jeff VanderMeer (ed.) and Mark Roberts (ed.)
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   September 2003
Review Date:   October 28, 2003
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Turn Your Head and Cough

Purporting to be the latest edition of a long-standing medical guide, Lambshead is, in reality, an anthology featuring several of today's best fantasists working at the top of their game. Some entries are humorous, others are serious, but all are enjoyable. There's a sense of fun to this book that's quite... well... infectious.

Editors VanderMeer and Roberts have assembled a stellar crew of cohorts, and everyone is clearly on the same page. The internal references in the various entries to Dr. Lambshead’s personal history or to a similar reference book by one Dr. Buckhead Mudthumper are remarkably consistent and lend just the right veneer of verisimilitude.

Parody and satire are difficult to get just right -- if the tone isn’t perfect, the piece loses its punch and the humor is lost. What’s terrific about the Guide is a palpable sense of just how much fun the authors and editors were having writing these pieces and putting them together. It could easily have turned into a giant in-joke, or worse, a cliquish “if you were one of us, you’d be howling right now” affair. Miraculously, it’s neither. Instead it’s a fun and funny treat.

I mean, where else are you going to find writers like Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Kage Baker, and China Mieville (not to mention Steve Aylett, Rikki Ducornet, Paul Di Filippo, Cory Doctorow, frequent Revolution SF reviewer Jeff Topham and about 30 others) all tied up in one tasty package? Where else are you going to find a description of afflictions like Ballistic Organ Syndrome, described as “a sudden, explosive discharge of one or more bodily organs at high velocity?” Or Fuseli's Disease, where the contagion (which is highly infectious) occurs only in the sufferer's dreams? Or Monochomitis, which is characterized by “the stark raving abhorrence of color, often accompanied by an intense longing for the way things used to be?”

And Thackery offers up even more treats for the booklover. It’s a gorgeous book. John Coulthart’s cover art is both attractive and appropriate, consisting of a montage of old medical charts and illustrations, medical instruments, and a number of previous covers for past editions of the guide. This meticulous attention to detail is carried through in the internal design and illustrations. Everything is well done, right down to the fabulous endpapers. Even without the cover, the book is gorgeous, and the symbol on the front is a wonderful quiet joke for the conscientious reader.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide To Eccentric and Discredited Diseases is a shining example of what an anthology should be: a seamless collaboration of inventive minds which comes together in a whole that is significantly greater than its individual parts. The fact that it’s also a beautiful piece of art and funny as hell is just gravy.

Peggy Hailey has enormous respect for the esteemed Dr. Lambshead, but in her secret heart, she pines for the dashing Dr. Mudthumper.

 
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