Birthday Reviews: China Miéville’s “Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopedia”

Birthday Reviews: China Miéville’s “Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopedia”

The Thackery T. Lambhead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases-small

Cover by John Coulthart

China Miéville was born on September 6, 1972.

Miéville won the World Fantasy Award, the Kitschie, the British SF Association Award, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel for The City & the City in 2010. The book also earned him his third Arthur C. Clarke Award, following one for Perdido Street Station in 2001 and Iron Council in 2005. He has won the British Fantasy Award for Perdido Street Station and The Scar. All four of the previously named novels have also won the Kurd Lasswitz Preis. He has won the Ignotus Award for Perdido Street Station and Embassytown and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for Perdido Street Station and The City & the City.

China Miéville wrote “Buscard’s Murrain” for Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts’ anthology The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases in 2003. When he included the story in his 2005 collection, Looking for Jack, Miéville changed the title to “Entry Taken from a Medical Encylopedia,” which was more descriptive, especially with the work taken out of the context for which it was created. The story was translated into German to appear in the collection Andere Himmel, with the title based on the new title of the work. He has collaborated on non-fiction with Mark Bould and on fiction with Max Schäfer, Emma Bircham, and Maria Dahvana Headley.

“Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopedia” is a short work presented to offer the history and symptoms of the fictional Buscard’s Murrain, also known as the Gibbering Fever. The entry is filled with humor, discussions of quackery, filial defenses, fraud, and footnotes.

Miéville begins with a history of the disease, explaining that it was first contracted by Primoz Jansa, when he read a word aloud, causing his brain to experience an alteration that possible caused some sort of worm to start tunneling through his brain. The disease was believed to have been spread by the repeating of that word, known as a wormword. Jansa traveled to London where his gibbering preaching caused several outbreaks of the disease, first described by Samuel Buscard, who may have become associated with the patient through the revenge of another surgeon Buscard was blackmailing.

Buscard was believed by many to be a quack and even as he was shown to have been unscrupulous, his son and further descendants continued to study the disease and tried to salvage his reputation. Throughout the entry, the understanding of Buscard’s Murrain changes as medical science advances, although the questions of whether or not the disease was anything more than some sort of hysteria is left open. Miéville inserts snide comments and innuendos into both the text of the story as well as the accompanying footnotes. Although the footnotes give depth to the entry, they don’t necessarily advance the plot, such as it is.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Looking for Jake, by, China Miéville, Del Rey Books, 2005.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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