Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Appraisal of a Unique and Fascinating Tome - The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities - Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Editors)
Harper Voyager
Publication Date: July 12, 2011
320 Pages
ISBN: 9780062004758


A Word Concerning the Discovery

After the death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead eight years ago a startling discovery was made at his manor house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England. Buried beneath the stacked detritus of antiques and collectibles in the basement of his Victorian-era cottage and nearly reduced to ash by fire was discovered the most remarkable cabinet of curiosities ever encountered. In it was a vast accumulation of extraordinary artifacts and curios. For the first time since that astonishing unearthing a select group of artisans (authors, fantasists, illustrators, and artists – hypnotists all) have assembled together to catalogue and craft to life the oddities recently found in Dr. Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

The Curious Contents of the Cabinet (Incorporating Active Uniform Resource Locators)

- The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

- Introduction:

The Contradictions of a Collection, Dr. Lambshead's Cabinet - The Editors

- Holy Devices and Infernal Duds: The Broadmore Exhibits

The Electrical Neurheographiton - Minister Y. Faust , D. Phil

St. Brendan's Shank - Kelly Barnhill

The Auble Gun – Will Hindmarch

Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny – Ted Chiang

- Honoring Lambshead: Stories Inspired by the Cabinet

Threads – Carrie Vaughn

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West – Garth Nix

Relic – Jeffrey Ford

Lord Dunsany’s Teapot – Naomi Novik

Lot 558: Shadow of My Nephew by Wells, Charlotte – Holly Black

A Short History of Dunkelblau’s Meistergarten – Tad Williams

- Microbial Alchemy and Demented Machinery: The Mignola Exhibits

Addison Howell and the Clockroach – Cherie Priest

Sir Ranulph Wykeham-Rackham, GBE, a.k.a. Roboticus the All-Knowing – Lev Grossman

Shamalung (The Diminutions) – Michael Moorcock

Pulvadmonitor: The Dust’s Warning – China Mieville

- The Mieville Anomalies

The Very Shoe – Helen Oyeyemi

The Gallows-horse – Reza Negarestani

- Further Oddities

The Thing in the Jar – Michael Cisco

The Singing Fish – Amal El-Mohtar

The Armor of Sir Locust – Stephan Chapman

A Key to the Castleblakeney Key – Caitlin R. Kiernan

Taking the Rats to Riga – Jay Lake

The Book of Categories – Charles Yu

Objects Discovered in a Novel Under Construction – Alan Moore

- Visits and Departures

1929:The Singular Taffy Puller – N. K. Jemisin

1943: A Brief Note Pertaining to the Absence of One Olivaceous Cormorant, Stuffed – Rachel Swirsky

1963: The Argument Against Louis Pasteur – Mur Lafferty

1972: The Lichenologist’s Visit – Ekaterina Sedia

1995: Kneel – Brian Evenson

2000: Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room – S. J. Chambers

2003: The Pea – Gio Clairval

- A Brief Catalog of Other Items

- -- An Inquisitive Review of Cabinet Curiosities by The Alternative One

Paragraph the First: Being a Failing on the Part of the Critic While Indicating a Certain Genius on the Part of the Editors.

The fault on my part is that due to a set of unfortunate circumstances I had never heard of Thackery T. Lambshead before purchasing a copy of the very unique and satisfying Cabinet of Curiosities. The brilliance of the editors is that for the first 20 pages or so (the entire introduction actually) I firmly believed that there really was a collector of oddities named Thackery T. Lambshead. So much so that I had to conduct a Google search to find that he (and the books about him – however vaguely) are pure fabrication. But oh, what beautiful curiosities I have been witness to here. I was spellbound and entranced from the moment I opened the tome. Unique devices, eerie tales, colossal inventions, peculiar stories, and hypnotic illustrations by the likes of Carrie Vaughn, Greg Broadmore, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Tad Williams, Cherie Priest, Lev Grossman, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, and China Mieville, among others, make this one of the very best collections of dark ephemera, exhibits, relics, keepsakes, antiques, artifacts, illustrations, things in jars, and curiosities ever brought together under the cover of one beautifully etched and illuminated tome.

Paragraph the Second: Being a Review of the Contents in no Logical or Discerning Order but with an Eye Pointed Squarely at the Most Curious of Oddities.

The Introduction overflows with anecdotal information concerning Dr. Lambshead and his wife Helen. Unfortunately, much of Lambshead’s story is missing at this point. Fortunately, it appears that the remaining stories in the collection are rumored to shed more light on the mysterious doctor and his bevy of curiosities and indeed do not disappoint. Entries of significant import include (in order of personal enjoyment by this critic): Naomi Novik’s captivating Lord Dunsany’s Teapot; Cherie Priest’s (a perennial favorite of mine) Addison Howell and the Clockroach; Michael Moorcock’s addition Shamalung (The Diminutions); China Mieville’s always strange and imaginative Pulvadmonitor: The Dust’s Warning, and Amal El-Mohtar’s The Singing Fish.

Paragraph the Third: In Which a Brief Outline of Indelible Art and Outlandish Illustrations is Revealed.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities contains some of the very best Steampunk art you may find. With unforgettable illustrations by the hands of esteemed artists such as Greg Broadmore, Sam Van Ollfen , James A. Owen , Jonathan Nix , and John Coulthart there is steampunk curiosity enough for everyone here. Honestly folks, I would own this book just for the artwork alone, sans stories. Fortunately for all, the text matches the illustrations in beauty and elegance.

Paragraph the Fourth: Recommendations by Variety of Like and Kind.

If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke , Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs , Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy , or Billy Sunday by Rod Jones then The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities will certainly be an entertaining distraction for you.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Thackery T. Lambshead series:
1. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (2005)
2. The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists (2011)

Jeff VanderMeer site

The Cabinet of Curiosities

Functional Nerds Review

Harper Voyager Page

SF Signal Review


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Review - Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson

Other Kingdoms
Richard Matheson Trade Paperback
287 Pages
Publisher: Tor/Forge Books
Publication Date: March 1st, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0765327680


Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson is a darkly entertaining and gripping fantasy and while not his usual bill-of-fare the story is both enjoyable and interesting from many perspectives. Matheson’s stories, usually filled with aspects of fear and horror, have been captivating fans for decades and while Other Kingdoms does come off very dissimilar than most of his past accomplishments it tells a wonderful story, nonetheless. Other Kingdoms is quite definitely a fantasy novel, it contains witches and fairies and things that go bump in the forest for instance, and while not a horror novel per se it contains characteristics of fear and dread that lurk uncomfortably subtle below the surface of almost every page. What sets this particular work apart is that Matheson proves he can write in any genre or style and still be an effective storyteller.

Other Kingdoms is the nostalgic retelling by an elderly author of his experiences as a young man in the years right after his release from World War I. After the death of a comrade in the trenches of France and the discovery of a large lump of pure gold in his belongings he decides to travel to his friends homeland in England in an effort to understand how and why the precious metal came into his possession. It becomes a story of the Fae or Fairy Folk living in the woods of central England and one man’s encounter and interaction with the dark and supernatural creatures of the forest he finds there. Matheson takes on the affectations and prose of a writer born at the turn of the twentieth century (i.e. in the style of H.P. Lovecraft or A. A. Merritt) and it works. When the internal author tells us of his experiences in the trenches during World War I we are spirited away to that time and place. When he interacts with the Faye we are chilled, suffer at the thought of losing our souls, and are distraught by the creatures that dwell in the land of Fairy. Alex, the main character, soon becomes embroiled in a love/hate relationship as the third point of a triangle that also includes a witch and a fairy. Not sure whom to trust and whom to love Alex struggles first, with the fact that the Faye actually exist and second, that he could become involved with them let alone fall in love with one of them.

I'd like to say a few words about the many reviews I've seen of this book and to refute one often repeated critique that has been perpetuated ad infinitum. There are NOT too many parenthesis (asides) in this book, period. There are many, to be sure but Matheson uses them to let the reader hear what the main character is thinking (from his older, wiser perspective), to let us in on his internal jokes, and to give us a better insight into the character’s mental state both through the experiences of the young man and the memory of the elderly one telling the story. That this minor, structural literary device bothered so many readers is puzzling to me. In my opinion, it did not distract from but enhanced the story. The elderly, more jaded, man became more understandable through the parenthetical asides. Mr. Matheson? If you are listening (reading this) please continue to write as you see fit. Your devices have yet to fail you and haven’t this time either. I, for one, will continue to purchase your work and I suspect many, many others will, as well.

Recommended for fans of urban and/or pastoral fantasy, witchcraft, mystery, Victorian fantasy, Fairies, or just plain well-written literature.

Disclaimer: Review copy provided free as part of the Vine Program.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Richard Matheson Wiki Page

Richard Matheson SCi-Fi Masters Page

Richard Matheson Storyteller

Other Kingdoms Excerpt Other Kingdoms Excerpt

Richard Matheson Biography

clip_image004 Richard Matheson is The New York Times bestselling author of I Am Legend, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Beardless Warriors, The Path, Seven Steps to Midnight, Now You See It…, and What Dreams May Come, among others. He was named a Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention, and received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has also won the Edgar, the Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards. In 2010, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In addition to his novels, Matheson wrote screenplays, and he wrote for several Twilight Zone episodes, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” based on his short story. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn, and fought in the infantry in World War II. He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He lives in Calabasas, California.

Richard Matheson’s Novels*

Fury on Sunday (1953)
Someone Is Bleeding (1953)
I Am Legend (1954) aka The Omega Man
Woman (1954)
The Shrinking Man (1956) aka Incredible Shrinking Man
A Stir of Echoes (1958)
Ride the Nightmare (1959)
The Beardless Warriors (1960)
Comedy of Terrors (1964) (with Elsie Lee)
Hell House (1971)
The Night Stalker (1972) (with Jeff Rice)
The Night Strangler (1973)
Somewhere in Time (1975) aka Bid Time Return
What Dreams May Come (1978)
Earthbound (1982) (writing as Logan Swanson)
Journal of the Gun Years (1991)
The Gun Fight (1993)
The Path: A New Look at Reality (1993)
7 Steps to Midnight (1993)
Shadow on the Sun (1994)
Now You See It.... (1995)
The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok (1996)
Hunger and Thirst (2000)
Passion Play (2000)
Camp Pleasant (2001)
Hunted Past Reason (2002)
Abu and the 7 Marvels (2002)
Come Fygures, Come Shadowes (2003)
The Link (2006)
Richard Matheson's Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2011)
Other Kingdoms (2011)

* Source: Fantastic Fiction (

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Book Review - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Publisher: Random House (Crown)
Electronic Book (iBook version)§
530 pages (Portrait View)
eISBN: 978-0-307-88745-0
Trade Paperback
374 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-887-43-6


Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is both a brilliant and unusual novel. In the sense that it is immensely creative, compulsively addictive, contains its own element of game-play, and is a highly entertaining read, it’s a very peculiar novel indeed. In addition, it was an extremely likeable story to get caught up in. Reading Cline’s virtual-cyber-world saga I had no trouble transporting myself back to the 1980’s. In fact, it had me reflecting nostalgically back to my 20’s in no time at all. It had me reminiscing over old video systems and games that I hadn’t thought about in years, it had me searching my book collection for 80’s era Science Fiction, it had me hunting through boxes of old VHS and 8-Track tapes, and it had me thinking about the box of old Texas Instruments computer components and game cartridges that I use to keep down in the basement. I can’t remember the last time a novel gave me so much satisfaction and, at the same time, exercise (both mentally and physically.) This book may not be for everyone - well, mostly not for those born after 1990 - but the story itself holds up even without knowing all the pop-culture references, so, maybe after second-thought, it is for everybody. I imagine a sixteen year old reading this today might encounter some of the same feelings I had the first time I stumbled through Dune – the pleasure of being transported to a bizarre other world yet not truly understanding the fullness of the plot and subsequent sub-plots and tropes.

Ready Player One is a rare combination of retro-80’s Cyberpunk combined with themes of futuristic dystopia, over-population, and economic squalor, then heavily blended with a boat-load of virtual reality, and garnished with a hint of thriller. Not to mention that it employs a universal quest motif and contains a love story yet still manages to include an in-book puzzle that millions would kill to uncover. (By universal I mean that almost everyone in the world is involved in the hunt.) The reward? A billion dollar estate bequeathed to the winner by the mad genius that developed the world’s most popular video game/virtual world. To the first person that solves an elaborate three-part virtual quest goes the spoils. Ready Player One is filled with 80’s pop-culture references that both enhance and become integral to the plot. And that’s what makes this story so much fun to read. I dare anyone who lived through that decade to not be entertained by this book. Nix that. I dare anyone at all to not be entertained by this story (even those born post-1990.) It’s that good. Donning Nostradamus’s hat I have only this to say… in the years to come, Ernest Cline will become a household name and Ready Player One, his claim to fame, will be considered a classic work of Science Fiction. I, for one, intend to visit often. Recommended for 80’s buffs, dystopia fans, virtual reality enthusiasts, video game addicts, near-future aficionados, computer geeks, and Science Fiction lovers of all kinds.

P.S. Ready Player One is named after the common message that flashed on-screen in early arcade video and computer games.

Disclaimer: Review copy provided free as part of the Vine Program.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Author Website

Ready Player One

Huffington Post Review

Random House Page

HitFix Review

Ready Player One Excerpt (First 0003 Chapters)

Ain’t It Cool Review (and more)

Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel Review

Geekiest Book Tour Ever

Adventures in Open Source

A few 80’s Pop-Culture References from the Book

There are countless transparently obvious 80’s references in Ready Player One (See below.) But, there are just as many subtle, hidden references that the diligent researcher may pick up on while reading more closely (See even further below.) It was a lot of fun looking for the hidden 80’s gems Ernest Cline references in the book. As a matter of fact, I think I’ll re-read it again just to spot the plethora of pop-culture references he calls out. The following is a sampling for your retro-80’s pleasure.

“I need to reevaluate my life. Do you have a minute?”*

Some Obvious References
- 1980 (U.S. Release) Mad Max starring Mel Gibson
- 1981 “Lunatic Fringe” by Red Rider (from the motion picture Vision Quest)
- 1982 Family Ties – TV series starring Michael J. Fox
- 1982 Devo – “Oh, No! It's Devo
- 1982 Knight Rider – TV drama series
- 1983 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – motion picture
- 1984 The Return of Godzilla – motion picture
- 1984 The Terminator – motion picture
- 1985 The Transformers – animated TV series
- 1985 Vision Quest – motion picture
- 1986 Bon Jovi – “Livin’ On a Prayer “ - music video
- 1989 (Recorded) “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants from the album Flood
- 1989 The Simpsons – TV comedy series

Some Less Obvious References
- 1976 Xyzzy Cluster - Xyzzy is a magic word from the Colossal Cave Adventure computer game, one of the very first text adventure games.
- 1979 “Don’t Panic” is the motto of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Used throughout the novel.
- 1979 “Joe’s Garage” – Frank Zappa rock opera and in-book an “orbital starship repair shop in Sector Ten” (Note: Sector-Ten was a massive Imperial-Faction guild previously played on Chilastra server, Star Wars Galaxies.)
- 1980 The Well of Souls novels by Jack L. Chalker - Cline mentions a virtual world with areas containing levels of magic, technology, etc. which is right out of Chalker’s science fiction novels where whole planets are separated into hexes with different levels of technology (including: non-technological, magical, and highly technological races.)
- 1980 (U.S. release) Mad Max - Wade’s car was “booby trapped Max Rockatansky-style” – Reference is to the first Mad Max movie and the explosive device Max had hooked up to his black Pursuit Special (a limited GT351 version of a 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop.)
- 1980 “Don’t Call me Shirley” from the motion picture Airplane. Found in dialogue between Wade and Aech in the “Basement.”
- 1980’s Gygax – Named for Gary Gygax co-creator of Dungeon and Dragons and generally acknowledged as the father of role-playing games - Cline often mentions Gygax as a world in the Virtual Reality of OASIS.
- 1980’s Art3mis – A main character could have origins derived from the following 1980’s references: ARTEMIS - the brand name of a family of software based project planning and management tools developed by Metier Management Systems; Artemis 81 - BBC Science Fiction feature about an epic battle between good and evil; or Artemis, the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility (the hunt fits this book perfectly)
- 1982 “We Can Dance If We Want To” partial song lyrics to the Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.
- 1980’s Parzival - Parzival (Percival in English) by the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, in the Middle High German language, is the earliest complete Grail romance in European literature (also an apropos name for an epic quest-driven character.)
- 1984 “Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada” from the motion picture The Last Starfighter. (We once had a cat named Mags.)

§ I enjoyed Ready Player One so much that after purchasing an electronic copy I also requested the paper version from the Amazon Vine program. Each had a very different cover which explains the two covers above.

* Mallory Keaton - Family Ties (1982) TV comedy series.

Some (Mostly) 80’s Video Game References found in Ready Player One
Tennis For Two (1958), Colossal Cave Adventure (1976), Zork (1980), Mystery House (1980), Defender (1980), Pac-Man (1980), 3D Monster Maze (1981), Haunted House (1981), Donkey Kong (1981), Battlezone (1981), Wizardry (1981), Jungle King (1982), Zaxxon (1982), Dungeons of Daggorath (1982), Dragon's Lair (1983), Mario Bros. (1983), King's Quest (1984), Super Mario Bros. (1985), The Legend of Zelda (1986), Dragon Warrior (1986), Metroid (1986), Final Fantasy (1987), Street Fighter (1987), Maniac Mansion (1987), Metal Gear (1987), and Prince of Persia (1989) to name only a few. And, of course, Joust (1982) but that’s way too obvious as it was winning this game that allowed Parzival to open the First Gate of the quest and top the leader board.

Author Bio
Ernest Cline has been a short-order cook, fish gutter, plasma donor, elitist video store clerk, and tech support drone. He eventually ditched those careers to express his love of pop culture as a spoken word artist and screenwriter. His 2009 film Fanboys became a cult phenomenon. Ready Player One is his first novel.