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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij…

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

by Kij Johnson

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     “Our world has no sweep, no scale,” Carter said. “No dark poetry. We can't get to the stars, and even the moon is hundreds of thousands of miles away. There is no meaning to any of it.”
     “Do stars have to mean anything?”

In an alternate world, a world that is a dream of our world, a middle-aged professor at a women's college goes on a quest to find a runaway student, one whose run off with a man with the intention of getting into our world, and whose flight endangers the stability of the college. There are some bits of this that are quite good, as Johnson is an evocative writer, and I really liked how the end came together, but even for a journey narrative, there's a big chunk of the middle that is very free of incident. I may have gotten more out of it if I'd read the Lovecraft which it is reworking, but I still enjoyed it and got a lot out of it.
  Stevil2001 | Jul 21, 2017 |
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson is a Hugo-shortlisted novella, which is why I picked it up. The last time I read a Kij Johnson story, it was "Spar", which was shortlisted for a Hugo Award in 2010, the year of Aussiecon 4. As you might guess from my referencing it seven years later, it was a little burned into my brain, and not in a good way. So I was a little wary approaching The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, but that turned out to have zero weird alien sex, so bonus!

So I didn't enjoy this novella. The start was kind of interesting and the ending was OK. The middle mostly consisted of endless travel and descriptions of scenery, both somewhat surreal and completely weird. At one point I had some theories about twists we might see for the ending, but the gruelling middle pushed them out of my memory.

The thing is, the story isn't badly written (unless your definition of "well written" perforce encompasses "not boring") and there are several interesting elements like the main character — a mature university professor who had travelled in her youth and now finds herself on a quest to save her university and town — a cat that follows her, the concept of the dream world, and the prose is smooth. But so many words are spent on describing the lands Vellitt travels through, most of them not directly relevant to the interesting parts of the overall plot, that I had a lot of difficulty staying interested in the novella. I put it aside for a little while because of that and because I just kept falling asleep when I tried to read it in bed. The only reason I bothered finishing it was because I wanted to write as many reviews of Hugo shortlisted works as I could.

I was told, when I was around halfway through The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe that it was written in conversation with an HP Lovecraft novella. I haven't read any Lovecraft and have no intention of doing so, so that didn't really help. I will note that the afterword from the author explained this a little more; Johnson had loved the Lovecraft novella as a ten year old and wanted to reinterpret the original sexist and racist work as an adult.

I don't particularly recommend this novel except to people interested in comparing it with the original Lovecraft novella or who are interested in, er, stories about journeys, I suppose. While it wasn't as memorable as "Spar", it hasn't encouraged me to try further Kij Johnson stories in the future. I don't expect I'll be reading any unless they're shortlisted for future Hugo Awards I have voting rights for.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Jun 22, 2017 |
A revisitation of HP Lovecraft's 'Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, this time with a female protagonist. It seems a bit harsh to call this enlightened fan fiction; it is a well-written and welcome return to a shared world. Vellit Boe, a professor at the Ulthar University for Women, needs to journey from the Dreamlands to the waking world to retrieve one of her pupils who has run away with a waking worlder. She retraces some of the path of Randolph Carter, and even crosses paths with him. ( )
  questbird | Jun 18, 2017 |
An unusual interpretation of the Lovecraftian universe. ( )
  nmele | Jun 16, 2017 |
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For everyone who had to find her own way in
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Vellitt Boe was dreaming of a highway and ten million birds in an empty sky of featureless blue.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765391414, Paperback)

Professor Vellitt Boe teaches at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her.

"Kij Johnson's haunting novella The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is both a commentary on a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale and a profound reflection on a woman's life. Vellitt's quest to find a former student who may be the only person who can save her community takes her through a world governed by a seemingly arbitrary dream logic in which she occasionally glimpses an underlying but mysterious order, a world ruled by capricious gods and populated by the creatures of dreams and nightmares. Those familiar with Lovecraft's work will travel through a fantasy landscape infused with Lovecraftian images viewed from another perspective, but even readers unfamiliar with his work will be enthralled by Vellitt's quest. A remarkable accomplishment that repays rereading." ―Pamela Sargent, winner of the Nebula Award

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 02 Aug 2016 18:16:42 -0400)

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