Black Holes and Parallel Universes: Science Fiction Reading Ruminations Reading Themes

[Saturday Reads] Time Travel and Thackery Lambshead – More Vandermeer Goodness (Part 2 of 2)

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Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just booklove miscellany in general.

Iphigene has outdone herself with this beautiful widget she created.
Iphigene has outdone herself with this beautiful widget she created.

Last week, I shared a primer on steampunk through Jeff Vandermeer’s Steampunk Bible and his edited collection of steampunk stories with his wife Ann Vandermeer. This week I am sharing more of the Vandermeers’ collection of short stories that are in keeping with our current reading theme.

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The Time Traveler’s Almanac edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer.
A Tom Doherty Associates Book (TOR), 2013
Book borrowed from the Jurong Regional Library.

The Time Traveler’s Almanac is a huge tome of a book (948 pages) that I have not even begun to crack open yet in terms of its possibilities. Prolific husband and wife tandem, Ann & Jeff Vandermeer have collected 65 stories and four essays to fill up this almanac. They have categorized the variety of stories into four major sections. This is how they described the method in their madness:

Obviously, the sheer variety of time travel stories has created some organizational challenges. Therefore, we have divided The Time Traveler’s Almanac into four distinct sections, each corresponding to some major strand of time travel endeavor. (Each section is also bookended with nonfiction: educational palate-cleansers for your enjoyment).

Evidently, there is something in here for everyone to enjoy. Let’s explore the first section:

Experiments – Stories in which individuals or organizations are experimenting with time travel or are subjects of experimentation.

There are fourteen stories in this section including titles from the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin (Another Story or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea), H. G. Wells (The Time Machine), and Douglas Adams (Young Zaphod Plays it Safe) among others. For Wells’ aficionados, you may also want to check out the steampunk version of The Time Machine illustrated by Zdenko Basic which I will be featuring next week.

Reactionaries and Revolutionaries – Stories in which people are trying to protect the past from change or because they are curious tourists or academcians and want to accurately document different times.

There are 16 stories in all here, and I was able to identify one particular title that I thoroughly enjoyed: A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. Clearly, these are stories that seem to demonstrate the unforeseen effects of the time paradox and the monumental consequences brought about by playing with the space-time continuum. I am also intrigued by several titles here such as George R. R. Martin’s Under Siege and Time Gypsy by Ellen Klages.

Mazes and Traps – Stories in which the paradox of time travel is front-and-center, and characters become trapped in those paradoxes.

Imagine being stranded in some dystopian future or trapped a century ago where Wifi is but a distant dream. I was also very intrigued to discover  that there is a Filipino contributor in this section: Dean Francis Alfar with his story Terminós. The title Delhi by Vandana Singh also caught my eye. Clearly, there is a laudable effort to make this collection multicultural.

Communiqués – Stories about people trying to get a message to either someone in the past or in the future – out of their own time.

There are 18 stories here and the titles that resonated with me include the following: What If by Isaac Asimov, As Time Goes By written by Tanith Lee, Loob by Bob Leman, and If Ever I Should Leave You by Pamela Sargent.

Sometimes I wish I could be a student all over again and that these are my required reading materials, so that I can examine each story in great detail and with relative leisure. As it is, I would most likely just purchase a copy of this almanac and hope that in some faraway, distant future, I will get a chance to relish each morsel.

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The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists
Edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
Published by Harper Voyager, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011
Book borrowed from the Jurong Regional Library.

This collection is one that wakes the geeky-voyeur in me: the spirit that incessantly wishes to discover things about other people through their curiosities and collections; knowing that somewhere in these oddities and images there is much to learn about a particular individual. It may also be my psychologist’s soul that attempts to make meaning out all this when perhaps an aesthetic appreciation for its own sake might be best, rather than my morbid attempts at clinical interpretation and psychological significance.

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Admittedly, I did not know anything about Thackery Lambshead before I borrowed this book from the library. Reading the introduction written by powerhouse couple Ann & Jeff Vandermeer made me want to know more about Dr. Lambshead. What an infinitely fascinating creature this Lambshead, who apparently lived for over a hundred years (1900-2003).

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He must be some kind of vampire or possessed some elixir of life, as may be gleaned from his cabinet of curiosities. It was, of course, only later that I found out he is a fictional character. Boy, these Vandermeers. Would I love to take a whiff of what their imagination is sniffing.

They also described the process of creating this collection of anecdotes, imageries, narratives:

The cabinet of curiosities took more than eighteen months to unearth, reconstruct, document, and catalog. Many of the pieces related to anecdotes and stories in the doctor’s personal diaries. Others, when shown to his friends, elicited further stories. In many cases, we had only descriptions of the items. Still, we were determined to build a book that would honor at least the spirit and lingering ghost of Lambshead’s collection.

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Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Lambshead and his accomplishments, we are now proud to present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet. These have been reconstructed not just through visual representations but also through text associated with their history and (sometimes) their acquisition by Lambshead. (As with any cabinet, real or housed within pages, it is, as Oscar Wilde once said about an exhaustive collection of poetry, a ‘browsing experience, to dip into and to savor, rather than take a wild carriage ride through.’)

This book, as could be seen from the quote above, is indeed a veritable headtrip. The contributors of this collection include the likes of Garth Nix, Holly Black, Lev Grossman, Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, Alan Moore among others.

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With each of these novelist’s visions (or nightmares), the character of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead begin to grow even more in scale that I dimly wish that such a person actually existed. He would make for an endlessly-riveting case study among social scientists.

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Have you read any of these books, fellow bibliophiles? Would love to hear what you think about them.

2 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Time Travel and Thackery Lambshead – More Vandermeer Goodness (Part 2 of 2)

  1. These books look fantastic! I’ve never read them and can’t imagine I’ll ever find the time 😦 LOVE knowing about them though 😀

    Like

  2. The Steampunk Bible and The Time Travelers’ Almanac are on my “must get” list! 😀

    Like

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