Monday, 24 June 2013

A Couple of Tales from 'The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities' (Edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer, Harper Voyager)

I will pick up anything with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer's names on it, that's just the way it is. Getting round to reading those books though, thats another matter entirely. Lets just say that my copy of 'Shriek' is still looking suspiciously new and there probably hundreds of stories in 'The Weird' that I am still to read. This is an attempt to redress the balance a little bit then with a couple of tales taken from the collection of the infamous Dr. Lambshead; a collector of all sorts of strange and arcane things.
It's also an opportunity for me to read some short fiction by two of my favourite authors, Michael Moorcock & Tad Williams, which is something I'll never pass up. These guys have never let me down yet and, if you have yet to try them, I don’t think they’ll let you down either. They’ve certainly both delivered this time round…

“It resembles a Lazy Susan,” commented a reporter for America’s New York World, “but instead of spinning to present dishes to be served, its revolutionary motion is meant to deliver children to Scholarship.”

I’d be the first person to admit that I’m a big fan of Tad Williams’ work and should probably give you a pinch of salt to take with this short review. The fact is though, I found ‘A Short History of Dunkelblau’s Meistergarten’ to be a tale all the more chilling for his leaving the ending deliberately ominous and open. Through his descriptions of the machine in question, Tad invites his readers to marvel at Dunkelblau’s invention whilst also questioning the people who would willingly surrender their children to its embrace. Dunkelblau’s madness also comes under the spotlight albeit with an edge of sympathy for a man who was perhaps a little too close to his mother and subjected to the world of academia at a very tender age.
The stated aim of the ‘Meistergarten’ is at odds with the results in all but one of the children it ‘teaches’ but the reader is left asking whether its one ‘success’ is perhaps the most insane of them all. With that question asked, ‘A Short History’ ends very abruptly but in just the right place to have you thinking about it for a long time afterwards. Another great read from Tad Williams who proves here that he is just as adept at telling short stories as he is at telling ones much longer.

‘The bare facts of the case were as bizarre as they were brief: The small daughter of a Bermondsey tailor claimed that her half-grown cat, Mimi, had eaten a fairy.’

If you’ve read Moorcock’s genre fiction, you will know that it will inevitably tie back into his wider mythos (call it ‘The Multiverse’, ‘Second Aether’ or whatever, it’s all the same thing). I’m not sure quite how I feel about this sometimes but in ‘Shamalung (The Dimunitions)’ it feels right somehow; especially when placed in context with the voyage that our intrepid explorers make. Think of this tale as a Steampunk version of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (albeit outside the human body) and you won’t go too far wrong; I particularly liked the idea of Christian missionaries using this device to preach the word right at the very boundaries of existence (despite the inevitable cost).
I think what I really liked about ‘Shamalung’ is how it is initially dressed up as a pulp style detective tale that is suddenly revealed to be a lot more. That ‘pulp energy’ drives things along nicely (with an intriguing hook) and then you are deposited in the middle of a revelation so vast that it is all too easy to keep turning the pages and see where you end up. Moorcock also decides to end things on a question which, although not as urgent as Williams, does leave you wondering at the sheer size of a landscape only really hinted at in the story. Another tale well worth reading if you get the chance.

It’s great to open up a short story collection (every now and then) to have a browse, and I do have a few more collections on my shelves, so I think you can expect to see more posts like these in the future. Are there any collections that you would recommend for a guy who likes fantasy (and some weird fiction in particular)? Bear in mind that I already have a copy of ‘The Weird’ and am working my way through ‘Fearsome Journeys’. Doesn’t have to be a new collection either. Leave a comment if you think of anything :o)

1 comment:

  1. If you're in the mood for some solid short stories, sir, both Margo Lanagan's latest collection, Yellow Cake, and Neil Gaiman's new anthology, Unnatural Creatures, are worth a good, long look.

    I really must read some Michael Moorcock...