It was Otago Anniversary Day yesterday, celebrating the founding of the province in 1848, so I decided to indulge in a spot of pseudo-historical, steampunkish weird fiction reading – luckily The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (HarperElement), and their curiously assorted troupe of Fantasy and Weird fiction writers had just landed in the shop.
It was great: clever, intriguing, a little disquieting and very satisfying. It purports to be the writings and drawings of a certain Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead and those of his ‘friends’ (otherwise known as a diverse and highly acclaimed group of fantasy authors given free rein to create and astound). Thackery, we are encouraged to believe, died in 2003 at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, and his death revealed an astonishing discovery: the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities. Many of the artifacts, curios, and wonders contained therein related to anecdotes and stories in the doctor’s personal journals of which only parts remain. Others, when shown to the doctor’s ‘friends’, elicited further exciting stories of intrigue and adventure.This is the collection of the writing and drawing that has survived of the cabinet and that has been inspired by it.
I enjoyed the smoke and mirrors, the shifting sands unsureness, of the bluff and double bluff of this collection. I know it is fantasy/weird fiction but a lot of it seems like it should be, could be, non-fiction, particularly when so meticulously dressed in recognisably non-fiction structures like ‘scientific’ and ‘historical’ lists and catalogues. I really like the central conceit of the rather odd Dr Lambshead (a character met before in the VanderMeer world) and his odder cabinet of curiosities – the stories and pictures inspired by this illusion are entertaining, eerie, funny and funny-peculiar, and tickle-up-the-spine-provoking: a great way to experiment with a genre you may not have read before.