The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is another novella released by Tor.com in both print and e-book editions. Like The Ballad of Black Tom, it is also an alternate take on a Lovecraft story. In "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," Lovecraft told the story of Raymond Carter and his journeys in the dreamlands, which being the construction of all dreamers from our world is full of chaos and peril. It is also the realm of the sleeping Elder Gods and many other demigods. I'm not sure how long the story is, but I think I gave up on it no more than the half way mark. Lovecraft's prose is just too ponderous to be enjoyable, especially because it is also very repetitive in phrasings. Sorry, but I can take only so much of the eldritch horrors. So I'm not sure if Veline was ever a part of his narrative, but my guess is no. Lovecraft would no more spend time on a sympathetic female character than he would a person of color.
The protagonist of Kij Johnson's story, Vellitt Boe, was known as Veline to several people earlier in her life when she traveled all across the Six Kingdoms. She is an inhabitant of the dreamlands, now a professor at a women's college in Ulthar. One of her students, Clarie Jurat, runs away with a man from the waking world, and Vellitt feels it her duty to retrieve her, both because of her traveling experience, but also because she is aware of the allure of the waking world. For a short while in her travels she had partnered with Raymond Carter, and for a briefer time was his lover. He had chosen to remain in the dreamlands, becoming King of Ilek-Ved. She now seeks him out for advice on how to enter the waking world.
There are some negatives about this story. First, it's much longer than necessary, with Vellitt's journey encompassing many sidetracks and detours before she gets to the point of crossing over to the waking world. Second, because of the length, it gets as repetitive as Lovecraft, with many encounters with sordid beasts like the zoogs that had hounded Carter, as well as ghasts, gugs, ghouls, and other creatures. It would have been better as a short story, and she should have titled it The Waking-Quest instead, because I enjoyed the last part much more, after Vellitt made the transition to our world and found tools to aid in her search for Clarie. During her journeys she discovered there were forces trying to stop her quest. When she finally finds Clarie and tells her why it is important for her to return to the dreamlands, Vellitt also realizes it's best that she stay in the waking world.
I can't give this an overwhelming recommendation, mainly because of the negatives mentioned in the previous paragraph, but it's certainly better than the Lovecraft. I'm sure many women consider the patriarchy of our world to be overly oppressive, but it is nothing like Vellitt had experienced in the dreamlands. I would like to see a continuation of her story as she finds new freedoms in this world, and a follow-up of Clarie's campaign to rid the dreamlands of the oppressive gods would be very interesting too.
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