All-Too-Brief Remarks on Gene Wolfe's Innocents Abroad

Mon Jul 17, 2006

“The Tree Is My Hat”

I mentioned earlier that I found the anthropology in this story to be dubious. What difference does that make, though? I’ve been wondering for some time now about the phenomenology of error in fiction. Are there ever legitimate grounds for determining when a writer’s incomplete understanding of some concept or fact can be separated from that of the narrators’? (Enormous portions of the critical corpus rely very heavily on drawing this distinction to be sure, but I think it’s a poorly understood topic.) Did I find myself reminded somehow of Robert Stone, Joan Didion, and even The Stars at Noon here? Yes, however improbable. What kind of aid work is it that Baden does?

Human sacrifice, used to memorable effect in the Long Sun series as a way of communicating, through an automated alarm, one imagines, with the uploaded consciousnesses of the ark’s builders, occurs in several of these stories. That the Assyrian (it’s also possible that Phoenician/Carthaginian Molek-worship is the reference, I suppose) cultures practiced it does not seem to be in doubt; that they colonized Polynesia, however, remains dubious (as before).

“The Old Woman Whose Rolling Pin Was the Sun”

I don’t much care for Wolfe’s folk-cosmogonic mode.

“The Friendship Light”

Wlould you say that this was a better story than “Sometimes They Come Back?” I would. I seem to remember some uninformed commentary about the supposedly monological quality of Wolfe’s voice about the blogs a while ago; the narrator of this story is only one of many aggressively countervailing instances. I don’t know if I like the Huysman reference as much upon further reflection, but that’s ok. One of the highlights, and typically uninterpretable.

“Slow Children at Play”

Have I had students use this sign, putatively seen at a McDonald’s playground, as an example of ambiguous language? Yes. Yes, I have.

“Under Hill”

Wolfe seems to have one of the highest participation rates of any writer of his stature in oddly themed collections. I don’t know if this is because of genuine personal enjoyment or “blockhead” reasons, and it seems that an unusual number of the stories in Innocents Abroad were first published in them. Not that it matters, I suppose, but the distinction between pot-boiling throwaways and the “serious” efforts is often readily apparent.

I wouldn’t mind having a working bibliography of every known fictional presentation of the technological elimination of the will-to-violence. Nine-to-one dystopian, I would bet they run.

“The Monday Man”

Not a bad last line, as last lines go.

I know from fishing that you never catch anything on the last cast.

“The Waif”

One treatment I’m relatively sure has gotten an extensive bibliographic analysis is that of the relativistic effects of the return from near-light speed space travel.

“The Legend of Xi Cygnus”

Here’re some astrofacts about Gienah.

Has a rather different mood than the Stevens poem “The Plot against the Giant,” doesn’t it?

I don’t know.

“The Sailor Who Sailed after the Sea”

Some cursory searching did not reveal an image of the “tenth hour of the night,” sadly.

“How the Bishop Sailed to Inniskeen”

Unlike the whiskey tradition.

“Houston, 1943”

Fiction and magical thinking. Childhood recollected at will.

Is there a cultural history of the concept of “imaginary playmates?”

“A Fish Story”

Would Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me have been improved had Lynch been able to use the entire original script?


Patronymy again. The concluding epigraph (is there a term for it?) is strongly inversely correlated with my level of interest in these stories.

“The Eleventh City”

I’m curious to learn more about the actual non-demoniacal characteristics of domesticated swine of first century Palestine.

“The Night Chough”

Holdover from one of the least amusing aspects of the Long Sun.

“The Wrapper”

The book he saw might have been something like the Codex Seraphinianus. Typically ominous holy fool here.

“A Traveler in Desert Lands”

The first story about kuru, sort of?

“The Walking Sticks”

Taps and Sighs turned out to be a volume of ghost stories, as opposed to ghost stories about ashplants.


I wanted to say “folk cosmogony” again, but that’s not quite it.

“Pocketsful of Diamonds”

I hope David Lynch got some royalties from Carnivale.


Loveliest hamadryad story of them all.

“The Lost Pilgrim”

A parable about teaching.

All in all, this may be the least satisfying Wolfe collection I’ve read, though the good ones are very good.