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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe Paperback – August 16, 2016
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"Kij Johnson has an unrivalled gift for making the unreal real and the real unreal. In this spellbinding story, the intense reality of a quest through dreamland finds its goal in a here-and-now America that seems even stranger than the mountains and caverns of the dream. " ―Ursula K. Le Guin
"By the time we finish this gorgeously written tale, we're about convinced that Lovecraft's wriggly gods and monsters are no match for smart women." ― The Chicago Tribune
"In the world of Vellitt Boe everything has meaning, from the numbered stars to visions in flame... This book held me spellbound from start to finish." ―NPR
"With 'The Dream-quest of Vellitt Boe,' Kij Johnson has deftly spun a delight and a wonder. Truly, this is one of my favorite weird tales of the last several years, weaving beauty, terror, and bittersweet triumph from a corner of Lovecraft's mythos that all too few dreamers dare to explore. Brava!" ―Caitlín R. Kiernan
"A wondrous work of fantasy and empowerment... the story draws to a close with an utterly surprising, fascinating, and, I shall say, perfect note." ― Kirkus Reviews
"Superb worldbuilding and gorgeous prose will hold readers rapt....Utterly irresistible." ―Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"A solid dose of that odd mix of visceral horror and mythic vision that was the source of Lovecraft’s power... the story’s brilliant denouement may be its most subversive aspect of all." ― Locus
About the Author
KIJ JOHNSON is an American fantasy writer noted for her adaptations of Japanese myths and folklore. Her Tor.com story "Ponies" won the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Short Story. Her story "Fox Magic" won the 1994 Theodore Sturgeon Award, her novel The Fox Woman won the Crawford Award for best debut fantasy novel, and her subsequent novel Fudoki was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and was cited by Publishers Weekly as one of the best fantasy novels of its year. She is also an associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.
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Top Customer Reviews
The subject of the quest is a classic in literature. In Vellitt Boe, we have a reluctant traveler, a professor from the dreaming world who sets out to retrieve one of her students, the daughter of one of the trustees of the university where Boe teaches. The young woman, Claire, has eloped with a man from the waking world, and the faculty of the university are afraid that her father will shut down the school as a result. So Boe, who was a world traveler in her youth, sets out to bring Claire back, to save her from an ill-conceived alliance. To save her from herself. It doesn't take her long to realize that the stakes are far higher than anyone has imagined.
Boe's adventures draw inspiration from Lovecraft, among others, and the world she lives in is slippery as a dream. Time and distance are mutable things, and the world is filled with strange and potentially dangerous creatures. It's also a world where women are not equal participants, which makes Boe an oddity, someone who is not entirely trusted by the men she's forced to deal with. Over the years she's spent as part of the university, she's lost her travel legs, so her journey feels slow and arduous until she begins to recall her traveler's ways.
This is an unsentimental story, so if you're looking for romance and happy endings, don't. Don't look for tragedy here either, or even an easy resolution to the situations that arise within the narrative. What you will get is a pragmatic narrator who may have found a way back to an authentic life, and a wonderfully clear-eyed younger version of herself who is willing (and I think more than able) to take on the capricious gods of the dream world. If I have a complaint about this novella at all, it's that it ended too quickly. I want more of Vellitt Boe's new life. I want to know what happens to Claire next.
I want more. I can't think of higher praise than that.
I enjoyed the fantasy world of this novella, a dark universe where ‘waking men’ from our Earth go when they dream, a land ruled by pitiless mythological gods and malleable laws of physics and time. I did not realize when I started reading that Kij Johnson is reimagining H.P. Lovecraft’s early Dream Cycle stories and updating its landscape with a strong middle age female heroine. (Apparently, Lovecraft wrote for a male audience and rarely used female characters for anything other than window dressing.) Many of Lovecraft’s settings are reused in this tale, as well as one prominent male character.
I am a Kij Johnson fan, and I am glad this was recently nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. The story is inventive, and the writing often lyrical, although I must admit I found it a bit sluggish at times as well. Vellitt Boe is on her own for most of the journey, so there are long passages of description and narration, rarely broken up with scenes of dialogue or interactions of human characters.