Kij Johnson “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” (Tor.com, 2016)
The first thing that I heard about this novella, and very likely the first thing that you ever heard, was that it is a Mythos piece. Well it is, but you can forget about that if you want to. It is absolutely not necessary to the enjoyment of this novella to know anything at all about HP Lovecraft.
Deep in the Dreaming Lands, Vellitt Boe is a professor at a womens college. One night they discover that one of the students has run off with a man from the Waking World. This is bad for a couple of reasons. There are forces in the university that don’t think that women should be educated. And if someone’s daughter can just run off, then they will use that incident as fuel for closing the college. More significantly, the girl is question is the granddaughter of a god. If he wakes up and realizes that she is missing, then he will likely destroy the entire region.
Vellitt Boe, then is sent off to persuade the runaway scholar to return. Her journey takes her to far flung kingdoms in a place where distance and travel time itself changes according to the wims of powerful beings.
This Dream-Quest is a travelogue of sorts, as Boe avoids dangers and tries to stop the apocalyptic disruption of her home. It is an exploration of this strange world of dreamers where people from our world can occasionally appear.
And as I started by saying that you don’t need familiarity with Lovecraft to enjoy this novella, it is also true that if you have that familiarity you will be rewarded with seeing a contemporary feminist response to his view of the Dreaming Lands.
But the novella is ultimately carried by Johnson’s writing chops. This is a flat out wonderful novella. Beautifully written and boldly imagined. I would love to read more of Boe’s adventures in the Dream Lands, perhaps a prequel?