cover image Strange Travelers

Strange Travelers

Gene Wolfe. Tor Books, $25.95 (383pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87227-4

Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, this collection of Wolfe's stories published in the 1990s contains death by overdose, suicide, Armageddon, cruelty to animals, abuse of children, children willing to falsely accuse fathers of sexual abuse and a plethora of vampiric female figures eager to suck the life out of men. Opening with ""Bluesberry Jam,"" Wolfe (The Book of the Long Sun series, etc.) creates an intriguing speculative future in which an entire culture arises from people who have been stuck in a traffic jam for decades. This conceit is ultimately negated, however, by the most tired of clich s in the closing story, ""Ain't You 'Most Done,"" which is set in the same world. Also included are two Christmas stories: ""No Planets Strike,"" a relatively sweet tale in which genetically modified animals aid the next Christ child, and ""And When They Appear,"" which is less sweet, involving wonderful, mythic figures who visit, but cannot save, a small boy from a world gone mad. While Wolfe's prose is exceptional and there are a few gems here, such as ""Useful Phrases,"" which delights in how words lead us to and reveal mysteries, there are also several tasteless and misogynistic entries. Chief among them is ""The Ziggurat,"" in which a mother coaches her daughters in the art of false accusation and the father--whose wife leaves him broke-eventually regains all by finding a woman he can dominate and a technology he can steal. All too frequently in this volume, even when women show men ""the pleasures of Hell,"" biting them till they bleed, men emerge loutish and triumphant. (Jan.) FYI: Wolfe is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.