Buscard’s Murrain. Espectare Necrosis. Fruiting Body Syndrome. These are just three of the diseases catologued in this, the 83rd edition of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, edited by Drs. Jeff VanDerMeer Mark Roberts. While this latest edition of the Guide is published by Spectra books, it is also only truly the second edition. The first edition, published in 2003 by Night Shade Books, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. The editors have done a fabulous job of creating a medical book filled with outlandish, yet often very plausible sounding afflictions and diseases. The Lambshead Pocket Guide is one of the most interesting and unique pieces of fantastic fiction I have ever come across. The book has an air of bona fide medical integrity, and each disease sounds like something ill-reported from the 19th Century.
Each entry follows a very professional format, with the country of origin, first case, symptom, history, cure and author of the submission. VanDerMeer and Roberts were able to recruit an impressive number of impressive “Doctors” for this volume. World Fantasy Award winner Jeffrey Ford, multiple award winners Neil Gaiman and Michael Moorcock, and comic book legend Alan Moore each contributed a discredited disease to this eclectic book.
In addition to the fascinating textual entries, many of the diseases are accompanied by a quirky illustration showing the prevailing symptom of the disease. Though the disease entries comprise the majority of the book, there are a few appendices that heighten the sense of authenticity for this medical guide. One of these is a decade-by-decade history of the previous volumes of the guide. Following the inventive history of the guide is the final appendix containing brief “biographies” of the doctors. Just like the diseases, the backgrounds of each of the contributors has been bolstered by an air of the fantastic or an embelleshment combining the writer’s output with their biography. For example, Alan Moore’s biography intimates Moore’s study of “human/vegetable mutation in the Southern United States” and “the sexual neuroses vigilantes and costumed psychopaths.” This of course refers to Moore’s groundbreaking work on the DC Comics titles Swamp Thing and Watchmen.
It is really difficult to write proper review of such a unique volume. Though I haven’t read any medical journals or books, the presentation and style all come across as an authentic medical volume. I could review each specific disease catalogued, but truly the fun of this book, and at its heart, this is a fun book, is reading each entry and matching it against some half spoken ailments purported in history books or matching some of the symptoms of each disease with real symptoms of real diseases, such as Delusions of Universal Grandeur. VanDerMeer and Roberts have succeeded in putting together a truly unique book, that at its heart, is much of what Fantastic Fiction is about, having fun making things up and putting them to page as real and authentic. This may come across as clichéd, but The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases should sit comfortably on the shelf of all practicing and would be doctors of the genre.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford