I first came across this collection in the Robinson paperback edition, which I borrowed from the library. I was only vaguely aware of Aickman - at that time (the late Seventies) I was an avid science-fiction reader who was vaguely 'getting into horror'. I had yet to read M.R. James or discover the tradition of the literary ghost story. Machen and Blackwood were known to me only as people mentioned by Lovecraft in his famous essay, 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'. So I was in the odd position of coming to Aickman fresh, so to speak, with virtually no knowledge of the genre.
I was baffled and intrigued by the stories in CHIM. The first story, 'The Swords', is a tale of sexual awakening gone seriously wrong, or so I thought. The setting of post-war (or perhaps pre-war) Britain, with its shabbiness, unfriendliness and general air of tat made me oddly cheerful. Even living in the Seventies was better than this! And the story's shocking climax, followed by a menacing coda, were truly impressive.
Other first-rate stories here include 'Pages from a Young Girl's Journal', 'The Hospice', 'The Same Dog', and 'The Clock Watcher'. All have the authentic nightmarish quality that I came to associate with Aickman - incomprehensible things described in rather cool prose. It was only later that I discovered his penchant for exorcising bad dreams by crafting them into stories. This made perfect sense in retrospect.
For some, the refusal to conform to traditional plot logic must make such stories unbearable, rather like being told a series of jokes you don't 'get'. And some of Aickman's stories simply don't work that well. But I think that, calculating his hit/miss ratio, he was as least as successful as any of the more readily comprehensible greats in the genre.
And not all of his stories resist interpretation - 'Ringing the Changes' is quite straightforward about what's happening and (more or less) why. Just as some dreams make more sense than others, so some of Aickman's strange tales are less baffling than, say, 'Two Doctors' by M.R. James. And there is for some a genuine pleasure in reading good writing regardless of formal conventions like twist, pay-off, plot logic etc. Indeed, some scientists think reading a story that doesn't follow conventional storytelling conventions might be good for the brain.
He was right to describe his fiction as strange stories. He was that supposedly un-English thing, a visionary, and when an English writer is a visionary he simply can't be kept in any prefabricated genre box. I defy the average horror fan to read 'The Stains', 'Ravissante', 'Bind Your Hair', 'The School Friend', or 'Ringing the Changes' and not find them disturbing. But Aickman wasn't simply a horror writer, as stories like 'The View' and 'The Houses of the Russians' make clear.
If you decide that you do like Aickman, you are arguably spoiled for choice. If you want excellent editions that will last a lifetime, Tartarus Press is publishing all his original collections. You could also plump for the two-volume Collected Stories from Tartarus. This is undoubtedly the high road for the bibliophile, but also the pricey one. For a reader who simply want to put Aickman on the shelf and in perspective, cheaper book club editions or paperbacks might make more sense. Painted Devils, The Wine Dark Sea, and The Unsettled Dust are all excellent, as of course is Cold Hand in Mine.
Opinions on Aickman are many and varied, but he was an immensely influential writer and editor. In his latter capacity he must have influenced at least one generation of readers, and many authors. Like all editors he was idiosyncratic, but the Fontana Great Ghost Stories paperbacks certainly represent a major achievement in the post-war genre. You can find a good discussion of their contents here.