Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Oct. 24, 2003
The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited DiseasesNight Shade Books, 320 pp., $24
The doctor, a large, hulking fellow with fingers more like the digits of some great ape and a persistent cough -- brought about, he'd informed me, by a leech-gathering mission assayed -- or braved! -- in the darker region of night but two weeks previous -- frowned as he relayed his diagnosis. "I'm afraid," he said, shaking complex activity into the hoary mane enrobing the upper half of his wrinkled sconce, "it's a case of Keeleritis."
"Second stage Keeleritis," he intoned forebodingly. "Which means there's nothing to be done to halt its fatal progress through your system." He paused. "It's a terminal disease."
"Keeleritis," I repeated, my brow now furrowed deeper than the earthen rows of a farmer utilizing the recently patented Hennessy-Jasperknocker furrowing machine -- available from but one wholesaler on South Clark Street in this venerable London of the West. "Hold on a minim, sawbones," I said as I removed from my leathern valise a paperbound copy of the new Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, the better to consult that impressive tome. And, with much riffling of its well-designed pages, I looked therein. And found nothing! Nothing, that is, about Keeleritis!
"You won't," the haggard physician advised with another in his series of coughs, "find such featured among those texts."
"But, doctor," I parried, "this Guide is a veritable omnium-gatherum of obscure maladies. Why, there are complete and scholarly listings for all manner of physiological and psychological evils -- Wife Blindness, Menard's Disease, Bloodflower's Melancholia, Bufonidic Cephalitis, even Hsing's Spontaneous Self-Flaying Sarcoma -- for, in short, every bizarre and heretofore uncharted illness from A to Izzard! And the descriptions themselves, provided by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, China Miéville, and other such celebrated masters of fantastic literature. And the whole edited by the sterling duo of Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts and packaged in a fine edition by Night Shade Books."
"Night Shade?" from the frowning doctor.
"The very firm that's set to unleash Joe R. Lansdale's novella Bubba Ho-Tep on a cinematically primed public!"
"Aha!" the good doctor ejaculated. "That would explain the cryptic note vouchsafed me by the Chinese dwarf during my leech excursion." At which he drew from some hidden pocket a scrap of parchment upon which was written, in a jittery Oriental hand: "The Diseases of Night Shade are good for the Health of the Mind."
"But ... the Keeleritis," I forged heedlessly on. "Is there truly no cure?"
"There is," he allowed, "one scant possibility. Medications are of no use, certainly, and the usual methods of surgery would do little to abate the hideous erosion of your faculties. However," he said, and coughed, "are you familiar with ... trephination?"