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Thackery T. Lambshead

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

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You’ll be astonished by what you’ll find in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. Editors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer have gathered together a spectacular array of exhibits, oddities, images, and stories by some of the most renowned and bestselling writers and artists in speculative and graphic fiction, including Ted Chiang, Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy), China Miéville, and Michael Moorcock. A spectacularly illustrated anthology of Victorian steampunk devices and the stories behind them, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities is a boldly original, enthrallingly imaginative, and endlessly entertaining entry into a hidden world of weird science and unnatural nature that will appeal equally to fantasy lovers and graphic novel aficionados.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published July 1, 2011

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About the author

Ann VanderMeer

71 books212 followers
Ann VanderMeer is an American publisher and editor, and the second female editor of the horror magazine Weird Tales. She is the founder of Buzzcity Press.

Her work as Fiction Editor of Weird Tales won a Hugo Award. Work from her press and related periodicals has won the British Fantasy Award, the International Rhysling Award, and appeared in several year's best anthologies. Ann was also the founder of The Silver Web magazine, a periodical devoted to experimental and avant-garde fantasy literature.

In 2009 "Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer and Stephen H. Segal" won a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. Though some of its individual contributors have been honored with Hugos, Nebula Awards, and even one Pulitzer Prize, the magazine itself had never before even been nominated for a Hugo. It was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2009.

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5 stars
157 (21%)
4 stars
248 (34%)
3 stars
222 (30%)
2 stars
73 (10%)
1 star
26 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews
Profile Image for Orrin Grey.
Author 86 books304 followers
August 24, 2011
I've had this fabulous tome for awhile now, and probably still haven't finished reading it, not really. This is not because of a defect in the book, but is rather because it is, as the editors say in the introduction (quoting Oscar Wilde), "a browsing experience, to dip into and to savor, rather than take a wild carriage ride through." And that's exactly how I've been approaching the book, reading an entry here and an entry there, not reading it from cover to cover. And I think it works best this way, but it means it's hard to know when I've "finished," but I'll say that I'm probably finished enough now to render a solid verdict.

It's a truly amazing book. While it may not always fire perfectly, it's a type of contraption that's so novel that even its misfires are pretty entertaining. (Though I've got a known soft spot for cabinets of curiosities of every stripe.) And of course there's a ridiculous quantity of extremely talented contributors, whose names it would tax my "add author" button to the extreme to fit in here. I'll limit myself to a few. There is of course new, original art by folks like Mike Mignola and Eric Orchard, alongside "stories" (if that is indeed the correct word) from Cherie Priest, Holly Black, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Alan Moore, China Miéville, Michael Moorcock and more. There's even a story by my good friend S.J. Chambers, who doesn't appear to have an author page here yet, but will soon, mark my words!
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,855 reviews1,370 followers
June 6, 2016
This is a monster that shames but does not shamble, that bites but does not shit, that writhes but does not grasp.

This anthology succeeded as a perfect diversion. Premise is simple: fictional scholar/collector travels the world assembling the merely odd and the paranormally affected. Nothing too ghastly. Just weird. I bought it for the heavy-hitters, Moore, Chiang, Negarestani and especially Miéville, and they did not disappoint. Most of these collections are typically hit-and-miss, this one was uncanny, unheimlich, and ultimately entertaining: no duds. It is no easy task, providing a portrait or provenance in static form with just a hint of unease.
Profile Image for Viktoria.
Author 2 books74 followers
October 13, 2020

Personal highlights:
"Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny" by Ted Chiang
"Lot 558: Shadow of My Nephew by Wells, Charlotte" by Holly Black
"A Short History of Dunkelblau's Meistergarten" by Tad Williams
"Shamalung (The Diminutions)" by Michael Moorcock
"Pulvadmonitor: The Dust's Warning" by China Miéville
"The Thing in the Jar" by Michael Cisco
"A Key to the Castleblakeney Key" by Caitlín R. Kiernan
"1972: The Lichenologist's Visit" by Ekaterina Sedia
June 14, 2014
5/6 - This book is wacky. And I mean WACKY with a capital W!! It's like a 'choose your own adventure' books crossed with a non-fiction full of footnotes. Every paragraph or so I'm flicking to the contents to find the page number for the correct section that further describes the occult item that was just mentioned in passing in the main body of the text.

If you go by the page numbers I'm only up to page 23, but if you go by the number of pages I've actually read it'd be more like 33. I've had to flick to the 'further reading' on all the items catalogued in the cabinet so many times that I reckon I'll have read 100 pages by the time I hit page 50. To be continued...

9/6 - I'm not sure I'm quite the right audience for this book. Half the time I don't know what's going on, I don't know what's real and what's not, who's real and who's imaginary and I'm pretty sure I'm missing hilarious 'in' jokes because, as I said I don't know what the hell's going on. To be continued...

14/6 - This just isn't my kind of book, for all the reasons I already gave plus the fact that other books are calling me 100 times more insistently than this was. I've returned it to the library and won't be attempting it again. This is more a book to be owned and read every so often, rather than all at once. It's more like a reference book than a novel, despite it's complete fictionality - you go to it to look up a specific subject/item, you don't read it in order cover to cover. There was nothing wrong with the writing or characters, it's just not my kind of book.
Profile Image for Katy.
1,293 reviews282 followers
May 26, 2014
Book Info: Genre: Satire/speculative shorts
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: Those who enjoy speculative fiction and clever storytelling

My Thoughts: I learned about cabinets of curiosities from reading the Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. One of the novels is actually titled The Cabinet of Curiosities and it explains what these are. Basically, a cabinet of curiosities is a private collection of interesting and odd things, which were quite popular in the 19th century. Whatever the person putting it together is interested in would be collected. In this collection of short, speculative, essay-type stories, the various writers describe the stories behind the items in Thackery T. Lambshead's cabinet of curiosities.

This book is not as funny as the book of fake diseases I just read, but it is still wonderfully well done. The various authors have written of their assigned objects so convincingly that I often found myself thinking that I should look up more information on one thing or another, but of course the chances are that they were just making things up. However, there were some fairly funny stories, such as the story “Diminutions” by Michael Moorcock, in which some men decide to bring the Gospel to germs, and to receive some extra funding:
Bannister... persuaded the governors that, if a will to do evil motivated these microns, then the influence of the Christian religion was bound to have an influence for good. This meant, logically, that fewer boys would be in the infirmary and that, ultimately, shamed by the consequences of their actions, the germs causing, say, tuberculosis would cease to spread.” [p. 169]
I enjoyed the stories by Charles Yu and Garth Nix so much that I plan to look through their available works to find new books for my wishlist. So, yeah, I really enjoyed this one, too.

If you are interested in this book, or if you read and enjoyed it, then you should check out the earlier anthology, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (review linked here). And if you haven't read this one yet, definitely check it out; it's really fascinating and the stories are very well done.

Disclosure: I bought this book for myself. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: The death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead in 2003 at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, revealed an astonishing discovery: the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities.

A carefully selected group of popular artists and acclaimed, bestselling fantasy authors has been assembled to bring Dr. Lambshead’s cabinet of curiosities to life. Including contributions from Alan Moore, Lev Grossman, Mike Mignola, China Miéville, Cherie Priest, Carrie Vaughn, Greg Broadmore, Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, Michael Moorcock, Holly Black, Jeffrey Ford, Ted Chiang, and many more.
Profile Image for Steven Cole.
284 reviews9 followers
September 22, 2012
I really liked the *idea* behind this book. And I really liked what Ann VenderMeer wrote about the book on John Scalzi's blog, "Whatever". I really wanted to get a kick out of how this thing was done. But aside from a few fun stories, I felt really let down.

Here's the basic premise: Thackery T. Lambshead has a collection of eclectic oddities that he stores in his mansion in some ill-specified cabinet. Each of the contributors to the "Cabinet of Curiosities" anthology contributed words or artwork (or both!), often in the form of museum catalog listing or art critique. Sometimes a narrative or two.

And those art critiques? They were just as dry and full of themselves that all the art critiques I ever read in college. The catalog entries are dry and lifeless. The *narratives* are generally quite good, but form only about half of the total book.

This is a really cool idea, but I think I was looking for stories only, and maybe an I-Spy page or two of a crowded cabinet. What I got ripped too much of the fun away.

3 of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Chelsea Jennings.
42 reviews6 followers
June 11, 2014
Very unique book. Fiction written as though it were non-fiction. Lots of big words and references to history, culture, physics, you name it-the book incorporated knowledge from all arenas and fields. I spent a lot of time looking up words and researching things and places I wasn't familiar with. I enjoy that learning experience. If you are a polymath this would be a funny and amusing read for you. If you're not, you will need to spend time finding definitions and background info. Although I enjoyed this, I AM looking forward to reading a simple novel now just for fun. My brain has been thoroughly expanded with multi-disciplinary knowledge.
Profile Image for JG (Introverted Reader).
1,113 reviews482 followers
Want to read
February 19, 2019
This is an odd collection. I labored my way through the first section, which read like a catalog of museum items, fittingly enough. I'll be honest though--after a couple of those types of stories, I was bored and ready to move on to something different. One of the later stories in that section was pretty horrifying though. That one will stay with me for a while.

I finally got to the second section, which contained stories about the house and collection, and found myself interested. Life intervened and I've had to put this aside for now. I do plan to pick it up again in the future and hope for stories more to my personal taste.
Profile Image for Buck.
604 reviews30 followers
August 26, 2015
I got this anthology to read the piece by Ted Chiang. I was interrupted by another book, an inter-library loan, that arrived the day after I started Thackery Lambshead. It was a quick read and I got back to this one a few days later. I found myself unable to sit and read for long, arising at the smallest interruption. Before I had reached a quarter of the way through, it was obvious that I had no interest in finishing the book. I can't say why, really. I just had no interest. The stories, little steampunk tales, weren't bad. The Chiang story, the one I got the book for, was alright, but unremarkable. I didn't make it to the China Meiville story. None of the other contributors are known to me. So, for reasons inexplicable even to myself, I abandoned this volume. I sat down at the keyboard, almost relieved, instead of reading, to write this apology. No more reading this evening.
Profile Image for Douglas Summers-Stay.
Author 1 book39 followers
September 26, 2014
A group of science fiction authors made up Dr. Lambshead, an eccentric collector of the bizarre and macabre, and wrote a series of pseudo-scholarly essays describing items in his collection. It's a genre I really like but is pretty sparsely populated: fiction in the form of nonfiction. A lot of it is playing with the uncanny, things that are almost, but not quite, human; or straddle the line between animate and inanimate.
I don't know whether I've read the whole book, it's the sort of thing that almost demands to be picked up and flipped to a random page rather than read through linearly.
Profile Image for Chris Browning.
974 reviews9 followers
February 7, 2021
I’m being generous with those two stars. This really rubbed me up the wrong way with a panoply of writers and artists I otherwise really like and respect mistaking playful for self indulgence. It’s so slight and daft that the stories have no tension whatsoever. It’s all undercut by the general sense of a mutual admirers all dicking about and writing the slightest pieces imaginable and thinking it will do. Moorcock almost acquits himself, Moore falls to pieces utterly after a rather lovely initial idea and the whole book is just writer after writer, artist after artist doing the least possible effort and hoping it will do as a whole

I think what annoys me most is the book basically scuppers itself: if it didn’t try and embrace absurdism and horror at the same time it might even work, but by calling your book The Problematic Peregrinations of Professor Percival Q Throbmangler or whatever, you’re immediately limiting the possibility of anything truly horrifying or unexpected happening. This is why I dislike steampunk - with a bit of rigour and thought gone into it there’s a possibility of some extraordinary work to be made. Without that it’s just a bloke in a pith helmet with some cogs on it and a woman with a top hat with a dirigible coming out the back. Lazy, lazy, lazy

Two stars because I guess if you like this sort of thing you might like this. If, like me, you’re immediately doubting the Epicurean Entities of Canon Ephraim Bumtiddler-Mangrove is taking anything seriously then it’s really fucking annoying
Profile Image for Emmett.
349 reviews37 followers
December 19, 2016
Weird shit A sprawling museum of impossible things, of magical and mechanical oddities straddling the real. The postmodern enthusiast with a fantastical imagination will find much to wonder at. The objects are as fascinating as the stories created around them, drawn from an arensal of speculative subgenres: clockwork inventions, Tesla's dabblings, modern sculpture, artefacts of mysterious possibly occult origin, and others too weird for any adequate explanation. I liked the latter-most best, showing-rather-than-telling, gesturing to weirdness, the signs, left to glint in the dark room of the imagination, lets the reader linger spellbound there longest, testing the waters of fiction in this meta-work that prods at our reality. The stories are immensely varied, a good sample of styles and approaches. Most of them are descriptions or accounts relating to an obscure find from the (probably fictional, but I take no chances) Dr Lambshead's cabinet, others are intellectually stimulating. They are a few which are so theoretical and philosophical that it places this collection firmly on the 'for adults' shelf and even I wondered if I understood anything at all (see the article on the 'gallows-horse'). My favourites were the more tantalising stretches of imagination, including: St. Brendan's Shank, Relic, Pulvadmonitor: The Dust's Warning (by China Mieville, no less; was really anticipating this one), the Castleblakeney Key.
Profile Image for Rachael.
490 reviews84 followers
Shelved as 'maybe-one-day'
June 24, 2020
I've only added this book because there are contributions from Naomi Novik, Holly Black and Garth Nix. The other contributions may be good but I'm particularly interested in reading the above three. If anyone knows where I can read them separately, let me know.
Profile Image for Karissa.
3,916 reviews192 followers
October 9, 2018
I got to page 170 of this book and then decided to set it aside. It's a very creative idea; the whole book is about a fake man name Lambshead and his curiosities. It's written like a non-fiction book. I wasn’t a huge fan of Vandermeer’s “City of Saints and Madmen” either and I didn’t realize this book was related to that one (which it is).

This isn't the kind of book you sit down and read, but rather a good coffee table book that you pick up now and then and read a bit of. It's intriguing, odd, but ultimately wasn't really for me.

I think the thing I disliked most about this book was that it read a lot like a non-fiction book (which I am not a fan of reading a ton of non-fiction) but I knew it was all fake. So, I was suffering through reading a non-fiction-like book that wasn’t really helping me learn anything real.

My favorite part of this book were the stories based off of objects in Thackery’s Cabinet; some of these were decent and I enjoyed them.

Overall this book wasn’t for me but it is very creative and well done for what it is. If you are into Vandermeer’s whole fake steampunk world that he introduced in “City of Saints and Madmen” you’ll enjoy this. If you like the whole fake subject presented as real fact in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way I think you will enjoy this as well.
Profile Image for Barbara ★.
3,460 reviews228 followers
January 22, 2016
I admit to having difficulty with this book. It's fiction but is presented as non-fiction which totally threw me little mind. There were a few stories I enjoyed but the majority were just too strange for my tastes. Not something I would recommend to anyone.
Profile Image for Thoraiya.
Author 62 books113 followers
Want to read
January 29, 2012
"The Singing Fish" by Amal El-Mohtar is just wonderful. Now I want this book.
205 reviews
October 7, 2012
This book was a waste of my time. If I wasn't so against the simple action of burning books, I would burn this one.
Profile Image for Charles Crain.
24 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2019
Quite the collection of weird fiction. It was a nice, short anthology. If you are looking for a sampling of style for authors you have not read before, this would be a nice and quick introduction.
Profile Image for Violet.
445 reviews54 followers
October 18, 2017
Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead led an interesting life as everyone knows. A lot has been said about his cabinet since his death almost 15 years ago, though no one has gone far enough as to gather as many stories, accounts, and articles about the doctor and his things as Ann and Jeff Vandermeer have in this collection. Dozens of sci-fi and fantasy artists and writers contributed to this compilation and it stands as a fun and enlightening testament to the life and work of this great man.

While the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) Cabinet of Curiosities was badly damaged in a fire started by his housekeeper near the end of his life (a tale recounted by Gio Clairval in “2003: The Pea”), much of Lambshead’s weird and wonderful collection has survived, if only in the memories written down for this book.

Most writers chose to research and recount the history of some of the (often only rumored) objects in Dr. Lambshead’s weird and prodigious collection. Ted Chiang told the history of Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny, a mechanical attempt to streamline rational child rearing. Lev Grossman detailed the exciting but sad tale of Sir Ranulph Wykeham-Rackham, GBE, a.k.a. Roboticus the All-Knowing, the first human cyborg. Reza Negarestani described in a highly metaphysical manner the origin and the transformation of the Gallows-horse.

Yes, fans of the steampunk genre would enjoy themselves flipping through the stories of Dr. Lambshead’s cabinet (some say that rumors of his collection actually helped to inspire the whole genre). Nicola Tesla, a steampunk tent-pole, even makes an appearance in Minister Faust’s tongue-in-cheek account of Tesla’s Electrical Neurheographiton, a device that caused its fair share of madness, ghosts, and alternate history.

While most focused on the actualities of the objects within the cabinet, others seemed to have taken on the theme of strangeness the collection possesses and created tales that are both unsettling yet compelling if only tangentially related. “Relic” by Jeffrey Ford is a particularly memorable example. Centering around the worship of a mummified foot of disputed origin, the story is surreal in tone and message and leaves the reader unsure of, well, anything. Or there’s the account written by Alan Moor (who was apparently dear friends with Dr. Lambshead) which details the remains of a physical construction site for an unfinished novel and aptly embodies the word “metafiction.”

It’s worth also noting the artists recreations and illustrations of Dr. Lambshead’s collection. While varying in style, tone, and medium, they all helped to intensify and recapture some of the curiosities mentioned in this book. The power and fun of the stories certainly wouldn’t be the same without them.

While reading, I constantly wondered how the Vandermeers were able to court so many renown and up-and-coming sci-fi/fantasy creators alive today. What did they tell them about the famous doctor? What did they bring in from their own memories (and imaginings)?

But when you consider how there seems to be so many stories out there about and relating to the great doctor and his things, it wouldn’t be that hard to get anyone to contribute. Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead was a great man after all and the source of countless adventures and curiosities.
323 reviews1 follower
December 16, 2019
Amusing. Unbelievable imagination in creating gadgets of all sorts.

One that captured my interest in particular was a robotic nanny built in 1903. Milk went in the head and was dispersed through a nipple in a metal shaped breast. Metal arms held and rocked the baby as lullabies played.
A child raised was raised on it in late 1920's by his father. In early 1930's he was deemed mentally feebile (after he was removed from the mechanical nanny and transferred to his father's care). 1945 research stumbled on the fact that the child was able to further develop when taught by mechanical means and not a human. In fact the child began to thrive again when in a mechanical environment. His father brought him back home and he lived, learned and thrived in a machine environment until his death from pnuemonia in 1966.

Makes one realize the influences of environment on newborns/toddlers and if we really want our young ones immersed in an electronic teaching environment free of human error and emotions. Are we willing to risk that future generations would be unable to relate to each other on a human level?

This is a thought provoking book with diagrams, photos and stories behind some amazing inventions 100-200 years ago.
Profile Image for Chrystal Hays.
413 reviews6 followers
February 1, 2021
One has to be very much in a whimsical sort of mood when reading this book.
It's fanciful detail and basic premise are not made abundantly clear.
"Threads" by Carrie Vaughn is my favorite of the short stories.
The section entitled A Brief Catalog of Other Items is probably the next that is very pleasing and delightful to me.
Understand that much of this tome is documentary in nature.
It's very much a mixed bag.
As has been the case since childhood, discrepancies between text and illustration irk me. I don't like the feeling that they should be ignorant of one another, or perhaps that one was simply arrogant and careless of the details of the other. The result is always a diminishment of both. I want to day diminution, but don't know how confident I am about that word today.
That said, both the artworks and the text are very striking and draw one in.
However, don't enter into this Cabinet expecting a straight anthology of stories. Get a little silly in your heart, then think some darker thoughts to prepare.

70 reviews
September 11, 2020
I became interested in this book after reading a short story by Ted Chiang in his anthology "Exhalation" which was also included in this collection. Chiang's piece is indeed intelligent, quirky and weird (as most of his work is), and I was hoping the rest of the Cabinet could be as well. Sadly, I didn't find the other stories as good or interesting as Chiang's. Don't get me wrong, the premise is enticing and the stories are well written, by some sci-fi, fantasy and weird powerhouses such as Mièville and Moorcock. But they're just not that engaging or wild. Just ok.
Paradoxically (or maybe not) the Cabinet reads as a less interesting version of the "Secure, Contain, Protect (SCP)" online repository of weird objects' descriptions. If you're seeking to read some seriously mind blowing fiction that reads like scientific research papers, be sure to check it out. It's what the Cabinet just couldn't.
Profile Image for Horror DNA.
1,087 reviews94 followers
December 18, 2019
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.

You can read Gabino's full review at Horror DNA by clicking here.
Profile Image for Paulgtr234.
37 reviews
May 24, 2022
As with most anthologies this was a bit of a mixed bag. There were few true 'bad' entries but there were many articles that had little interest to me. That's OK, its what anthologies are supposed to be about I think - the box of chocolates theory. There were multiple entries that did work incredibly well, notably entries by Garth Nix, Holly Black, and China Mieville. Each of their pieces were striking and heartfelt and made this anthology a worthy effort.
Profile Image for Jo Stevens.
526 reviews
April 6, 2018
The only thing that would have made this book even remotely interesting would be if the curiosities had been real. However they are not and they are written about in the most boring of ways. I don't think I'll read anymore like this.
Profile Image for Dean.
349 reviews26 followers
December 20, 2018
This was okay, not great. The writing was cute but there was nothing really wonderful in this that would make me want to read it again or purchase it.
A nice premise, but the writing does not live up to the idea.
Profile Image for MAYA.
44 reviews8 followers
February 9, 2019
Anthology written as if it were a nonfiction account of a person and his odd collection of random items, and stories associated with it. Amazingly creative idea, plodding and agonizingly boring execution.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews

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