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the Complete Review
the complete review - pseudo-medical

The Thackery T. Lambshead
Pocket Guide to
Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

edited by
Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts

general information | review summaries | our review | links

To purchase The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases

Title: The Thackery T. Lambshead (...)
Authors: various
Genre: Guide
Written: 2003
Length: 300 pages
Availability: The Thackery T. Lambshead (...) - US
The Thackery T. Lambshead (...) - UK
The Thackery T. Lambshead (...) - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining sampler of the outlandish

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 18/12/2004 Christopher Priest
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2004 Steve Tomasula
VLS . 10/2003 Nick Mamatas

  From the Reviews:
  • "The single joke in the book is similar to the much better ones in Ripping Yarns. People with unlikely names become obsessed with outrageous things." - Christopher Priest, The Guardian

  • "Simultaneously blurring and highlighting the disjunction between the fictive and the real, satire is automatic; when practiced with a more encompassing consciousness it becomes metafiction, or even meta-nonfiction, not only taking up its own subject matter, e.g., the medical profession, not only doing all the things we expect of literature, but also dissecting the assumptions of an appropriated nonfictive skin." - Steve Tomasula, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "The cover image and some untranslated Spanish text of the 1979 Avon paperback, edited by Borges, is hilarious, though some of the broader jokes here are not" - Nick Mamatas, Voice Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Perhaps predictably (and certainly somewhat disappointingly), The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases is not, in fact, pocket-sized. (In a nice touch, the reason why it is nevertheless still called a 'pocket guide' is left to be explained only in the book's last lines -- in fact, in a footnote to the last line.) Veracity and dependability are clearly not what one should expect from any aspect of such a volume: as the rest of the title suggests, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases is definitely not to be confused with the PDR or the Merck Manual
       It's an amusing idea: a guide to concocted diseases. And the assembled talent behind them is impressive: sixty odd (indeed !) authors, including Steve Aylett, China Miéville, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, Rikki Ducornet, Alan Moore, and Lance Olsen.
       After a brief biography of Thackery Trajan Lambshead and some introductory notes the guide proper begins, and most of the book is taken up by the disease-descriptions. Each affliction gets a few pages, in which information about it -- generally including its country of origin, first known case, symptoms, history, cure(s) -- is provided. There are then also shorter sections of reminiscences of Dr. Lambshead (where readers are directed: "Please do not bother filing further lawsuits"), examples from previous editions of the guide, and a concluding summa, The Obscure Medical History of the Twentieth Century as Revealed by the Lambshead Pocket Guide.

       The diseases are a varied lot, ranging from the only slightly improbable to the very wildly imagined. A few are all too real: 'Poetic Lassitude' is only in its concluding stage ("with one languorous sigh he finally expires or simply fades away") even a slightly exaggerated description of an obviously real and very common affliction. All the diseases are rather consequential and gruesome deaths often inevitably result -- though generally not before subjects endure highly unusual and/or agonizing symptoms. Few of the diseases are curable.
       Examples of diseases include:

  • Ballistic Organ Syndrome -- manifesting itself "as a sudden, explosive discharge of one or more bodily organs at high velocity"
  • Catamenia Hysteria -- pseudo-menstruation, afflicting both men and women
  • Di Forza Virus Syndrome -- where "those infected focus exclusively on their obsession with sexual orgasm, which they constantly experience with or without masturbation"
  • Delusions of Universal Grandeur -- "characterized by a severe delusional belief that the universe is ever more gigantic"
  • Floral Metamorphosis Syndrome -- for which there is no known cure, but it is suggested that "the victim should be kept in a low humidity environment, avoid water late in the day"
  • Internalized Tattooing Disease
  • Ouroborean Lordosis -- a spinal disease whereby "the patient is slowly bent backward into a circle until his face is directly adjacent to the posterior"
  • Reverse Pinocchio Syndrome -- "Despite the vast amounts of money being poured into research by priests, politicians, and the more well-off parents of unspeakably ugly babies, no cure is yet in sight."
  • Twentieth Century Chronoshock -- "The mother and uncle of all rashes"
       Much of the fun is not only in the diseases, but in how they are presented, from the first cases through the symptoms and possible (or impossible) cures. There are some good writers at work here, and many of them pack the few pages each is allotted with clever twists and invention. There are almost no duds, and a few are exemplary -- Steve Aylett, for example, showing himself again to be a master of the short form with 'Download Syndrome' (noting, inter alia, "The pursuit of a cure is becoming hourly less a matter for urgency. A cure for what ?" or R.M.Berry in the wonderfully realised 'Wife Blindness' (husbands becoming oblivious to their spouses -- cures include "The Boob Job" (known to produce "immediate dramatic improvement") and "Television Removal" (the AMA "has described this painful therapy as 'uniformly efficacious'.")).
       Several of the pieces also cleverly suggest infection of the author and/or even the description: 'Printer's Evil', in its fungal manifestation, "can easily be mistaken for the effects of damp, differing however, in the respect that it corrupts the surface of the paper and so also tends to corrupt the arrangement of the letters on the page" (and guess what happens to the text of this entry ...), while 'Worsley's Supplement' leads to sufferers becoming convinced "that there is always one more of something available than he can actually count", and that entry is printed with some re-doubled focus. (There's attention to detail throughout: in the Foreword the editors note that Brian Evenson (author of the 'Worsley's Supplement'-entry) "wanted us to send him two sets of proofs for some reason.")
       Jorge Louis Borges is a guiding light to much of this volume, and several authors refer to him -- most amusingly in 'Menard's Disease' (sufferers are subject to "the wholesale delusion that they have written -- recomposed word for word and line by line, albeit in a fresh context -- a classic literary work by a well-known writer").
       The personal reminiscences then give a bit more insight into Doc Lambshead himself, but while he is an amusing character this part (or rather Lambshead himself, throughout the book) doesn't come together entirely successfully, this form of group-portraiture (many cooks, one character) not making for an entirely convincing parody.
       The idea of many previous editions is also fairly clever, and nicely integrated -- pictures of covers of previous editions are included, as well as a selection of now discarded diseases (most notably 'Burmese Dirigible Disease').

       A lot of care has been put into this volume, and it really almost does like look like merely the newest instalment in a long line of Lambshead-guides. Nicely illustrated, it is a fun book to make one's way through. A lot of talent has been put to fairly good use, and there's fun and cleverness to be found at nearly every turn. Enjoyable.

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