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The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer
Review by Colleen Cahill
Harper Voyager Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062116833
Date: 10 July 2012 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Jeff VanderMeer's Website / Ann VanderMeer's Wikipedia Entry / Show Official Info /

There are times when you want something different in a book, something… strange. For these appetites, the genre of new weird is perfect and no one does this better than Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. In The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, they have gathered a collection of bizarre, heart-warming, intriguing, and disturbing stories, all perfect for those with unique literary tastes.          

This is a hard work to describe not only because of its theme of strangeness, but because there is such a wide variety of styles and topics, including visual art as well as literature. With 49 contributors, this is to be expected, but it is also a strength of the work, as there is always something new in each piece.

The editors stay true to the description in the introduction, which sets up the book by describing the cabinet and its distinguished and odd owner. The art and stories are broken into several groups with such fascinating headings as Holy Devices and Infernal Duds and Microbial Alchemy & Demented Machinery. This leads to very interesting stories, such as Minister Faust’s "The Electric Neurheographiton", a description of an invention by Nikola Tesla. This brain-wave writer, designed to be a tool of healing, is what inadvertently leads to the start of World War I. There are also touches of humor in "The Auble Gun" by Will Hindmarch, a steampunkish work about a shoulder-mounted weapon “that was known for its infamous instability”. Some of the titles are almost expected in this book, such as Michael Cisco’s "The Thing in the Jar", centering on an “anthropic creature”, but the story does not go where one would expect and the writing becomes even odder than the source of its inspiration.

The VanderMeers have gathered many contributors, some of whom are well known in the field of new weird. Names like Ted Chiang, Jay Lake and (of course) China Mieville are familiar to those who enjoy this genre and their stories of automatic nannies, art work of rats, and a dusty artifact from the British Dental Association Museum are hints enough to compel reading them.

While most of the pieces are descriptions of artifacts from the Cabinet of Curiosities, the section on Honoring Lambshead: Stories inspired by the Cabinet focuses more on the effects the artifacts had on people. Some of these were visitors to Lambshead’s home, as in Carrie Vaughn’s "Threads", where a pair of journalists and a nanny in charge of two hellion children are all changed by a tapestry. In Jeffery Ford’s "Relic", we follow the history of the Saint Ifritia’s foot, including a description of how a toe is stolen from this holy object which echo’s a real historic theft. Reality and fantasy are mixed in many of these tales, such as Mur Lafferty’s "1963: The Argument Against Louis Pasteur", a figure to which Dr. Lambhead had a “gastronomically violent reaction”.

Just from this small sample, you can see that the contributions fit the genre, and you haven’t even seen the art work yet! Definitely a must read and with the trade edition of The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities just released, now is the time to experience new weird in all its twisted glory.

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