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From: Allan Lloyd <lloyd@nexus.kc3.co.uk>
Subject: (urth) Strange Travellers
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 04:13:08 +0100

I've been reading Strange Travellers very slowly, trying to savour every
story before jumping on to the next, and have now finished the book. In
my opinion (and I'm trying to control my enthusiasm with some kind of
rationality) this is Wolfe's best collection since "The Island of Dr.
Death..." and possibly the best ever. If anyone is looking for a book to
give as an introduction to Gene's work, then this is it. 
The reason that these stoies work better for me than some in other
collections is that the surface narative and the characters carry the
reader into a deeper involvement with them. They all contain the
familiar Wolfeian puzzles and obscure references, but these are balanced
by line-by-line writing so powerful and painful (meaning full of pain)
that the stories work really well on both levels.

In "Counting Cats in Zanzibar" you can feel the painful dilemna that
faces the exiled woman without delving too deeply into the
Science-Fictional reasons for her flight. The depth is there, and the
information, for those that want to look for it, but the story is
carried by the confrontation between the human and aspiring-to-be-human

In "The Ziggurat", for which Wolfe was criticized for his portayal of
the female characters, I thought that all the characters were reacting
in a realistically bitter way to their experiences. The bickering about
the divorse settlement carrying on while their children were being
attacked and abducted brought infinitely more depth to what could have
been a hackneyed UFO story. (By the way, did the narrator's treatment of
the childlike alien woman at the end bring a nasty shiver of suspicion
about his step-children's allegations of child abuse).

And in "The Man in the Peppermill" (a story I liked less than most) the
first page is an incredibly affecting portrait of a mother and son
trying to deal with the death of a daughter. "...still not sure how
Cathy, dead, had become Catherine" That is so spare, not a word wasted,
but it sends a chill up the spine.

The one complaint I have had about Gene's work in the past is that
although he claims to play fair and give enough information to
understand his stories, I'm certain that in some cases he doesn't.
Examples from the past would be "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World"
and "Lukora" from "Endangered Species". I like both of these stories,
but there is simply not enough information given to decipher the
mysteries. They both set up situations that beg for a solution, where
the characters in the story know much more than they say, leaving the
reader ultimately dissatisfied, no matter how much detective work is

"Strange Travellers" contains far less of the "puzzles-for-puzzles-sake"
type of story, and is better for it. And I loved it.

                           Allan Lloyd

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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