Innocents Aboard (2004, Tor Books) is a compilation of stories by Gene Wolfe. This compilation demonstrates all that is great and all that is awful about Gene Wolfe's writing.
Before I rip, know that Gene's technical level of writing is excellent throughout these works. The man's command of the language is sometimes poetic, and sometimes unadorned, but always solid in a way that only a good writer can produce. Gene's sentences are never the problem.
For me, this set of stories, almost to a tale, left me cold and empty. Aside from being told completely, I found little sympathy with the characters, their situations, or their misfortunes. I would ache no less for a mannequin as the protagonist. Given that these are, ostensibly, stories of horror or suspense, a lack of connecting with the characters takes away the emotional punch of the tales, if such tales can be said to have an emotional punch, which they don't.
As Wolfe is familiar with the 50's and 60's, many details in these stories come directly from his own experience, giving your a view of machinery and set dressing that lends a verite to these tales. You need that verite, for that experience gives these stories a basis of believability. Horror and suspense does not exist outside of the believable. You need this world and its experiences for the unbelievable to take on that air of possibility.
If you are into Wolfe, recommend this compilation. I admit that I was thrown by all the horror as I'm just not into that. I won't deduct any stars over my personal tastes. If you happen to like both horror and Wolfe, they you should find yourself pleased.
A few stories stood out from the pack.
The Sailor Who Sailed After the Sun tells the tale of a monkey who goes whaling, only to end up in even more improbable circumstances. I enjoyed this tale for its lightness, its amusement value, and the fact that I liked the monkey. I think that this is the only tale where I felt any emotion connection to the protagonist.
Houston, 1943 tells the story of a boy who has an out-of-body experience. The tale itself is as cold as his other tales, but the support matter and the string of events brings a subtle horror to it. In not being structured like other horror tales, this story somehow achieves a deeper horror while bumping along with Wolfe notorious obscure narration, one that leaves you with an incomplete idea of what's happening.
A Traveler in Desert Lands tells the tale of a man who stopped in the wrong desert town. The horror of this tale again doesn't quite follow standard horror progression. I found the overall situation discovered actually befit horrifying, but I did not suffer over the man's ultimate fate.
The tale winds up with The Lost Pilgrim, the tale of a time traveler who wound up back in Mycenaean Greece, when the gods still walked the earth and heroes still roamed. For any of those who've read his Soldier Of series, the style of narrative is just as engaging. The story itself is structured as a portal fantasy, where a person from elsewhere shows up, makes good, rises in power, catches the heart of the only or most prominent woman, and then defeats his greatest enemy. Only, this person's greatest enemy was time, and when it comes to time, you lose.