Eds. Dr. Jeff VanderMeer & Dr. Mark Roberts (Nightshade Books)
T he Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases is a fiction anthology, but it's so clever and well-conceived that it's hard to group it in with the deluge of Best American (Fill in the Blank) anthologies that inundate most bookstores' shelves. Rather, the Guide--a smart, sarcastic retort to those easily marketed, assembly-line productions--is a willing and able successor to mass-market fiction collections, and one that justifies its admittedly high concept with enough sharp wit and fervent vigor to more than excuse its initially campy feel.
Made up of descriptions of fictional diseases, the Guide outlines the most painful, humorous, and bizarre facets of the human condition. Present are detailed analyses of any and all diseases that, if they don't exist, should--from "Female Hyper-Orgasmic Epilepsy" to "Hsing's Spontaneous Self-Flaying Sarcoma," and "Ballistic Organ Syndrome" to "Mongolian Death Worm Infestation." Each entry is written by a respected (and sometimes infected) doctor, and each addresses the history, symptoms, and cures of the disease. "Pentzler's Lubriciousness," for example, is the disease for which "The only cure known at present is the complete and immediate removal of the entire sexual apparatus," while the description of "Menard's Disease" optimistically notes that "Death proves the longest lasting efficacious therapy."
Each submission--from "doctors" such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and the fictional Lambshead himself--is presented in an anachronistic style that echoes the dubious medical techniques of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, replete with period illustrations. In addition to the submissions' thoroughness, the collection is set up as merely the latest edition of a long-published Lambshead series (the closing pages host ample material documenting Lambshead's earlier efforts to catalogue diseases like "Bone Leprosy" and "Oroborean Lordosis"). Lambshead's Guide might only be an illusory excuse to get writers to outline their worst fears in a tongue-in-cheek forum, but the unexpected result for the reader is wishing that this--the supposed "83rd Edition"--is not the only edition available. If nothing else, the Guide is so perversely brilliant and unpredictably insightful that it's infectious in and of itself. ERIK HENRIKSEN