The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Can Artifacts Be Disgruntled?

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(Image from the “A Brief Catalog of Other Items” section of the Lambshead anthology)

HarperCollins’ link to retailers for the Lambshead Cabinet.

Today kicks off a week of blogging about the new anthology The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann VanderMeer and yours truly. Contributors include Holly Black, Greg Broadmore, Ted Chiang, Amal El-Mohtar, Minister Faust, Jeffrey Ford, Lev Grossman, N.K. Jemisin, Caitlin R. Kiernan, China Mieville, Mike Mignola, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Cherie Priest, Ekaterina Sedia, Jan Svankmajer, Rachel Swirsky, Carrie Vaughn, Jake von Slatt, Tad Williams, Charles Yu, and tons more.

A lot of our favorite writers and artists are in this book, including the dual-threat Rikki Ducornet, an amazing surrealist writer who also paints. For the Lambshead Cabinet, she gave us a cheeky image entitled “Disgruntled Artifacts”. I’ve posted it above, and you can click on it to see it much larger.

Although Rikki’s having fun with the image, it is true that artifacts can be disgruntled, in the sense that one reason we thought a “cabinet of curiosities” concept would work is that people are attached to objects. There’s often an emotional resonance in our connection—either because of who made it or who gave it to us. There’s also the question of context—artifacts taken out of context can be harmless or fraught with echoes and linkages. You cannot see a sarcophagus in a British museum, for example, without thinking about why it’s there, how it got there, and why it isn’t somewhere else.

There are plenty of reasons for us to project “disgruntled” onto artifacts, though. Sometimes an artifact is in the wrong context to begin with—for example, “The Clockroach” in our book, story by Cherie Priest and image by Mike Mignola. That was never going to end well.

On the other hand, recontextualizations can “cook” certain types of for lack of a better term, “disgruntilization”. Russian painter Vladimir Gvozdev’s depictions of mechanical animals, two of which are included in the Lambshead Cabinet, repurpose the example of a German mechanic who lived in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. says Gvozdev, “After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the mechanic went mad and was held in a lunatic asylum for life. There he began inventing vergeltungswaffe, a German term for ‘vengeance weapons.’ I never saw his blueprints, but I liked the story so much that I tried to make via my blueprints a sort of portrait of the inventor himself—to create a little museum out of the mind of that German mechanic.” The results are hybrids that take the sting out of the original idea without being any less interesting.

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(Gvozdev’s art has appeared in our Steampunk Reloaded anthology and The Steampunk Bible, in addition to the Lambshead Cabinet.)

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