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“The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” by Kij Johnson

I enjoyed Kij Johnson’s short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees, and I love H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle stories, particularly The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, so Johnson’s novella set in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands was a must-read for me. The main character in this piece is Vellitt Boe, a teacher at Ulthar Women’s College. Boe was a traveler in her younger days, and must call on those skills again when a precocious student of hers sets out for the waking world with a dreamer.

In the original Kadath, the Dreamlands have a native population of their own, who live and die within that dream-world. Johnson’s story fleshes out the geography and culture of the Dreamlands, strengthening this sense of an existence independent of human dreamers.

As one might expect, there are some direct parallels with the original Kadath. As she’s leaving Ulthar to start her quest, Boe is joined by a small black kitten, much like the one that Randolph Carter befriends when he visits Ulthar. And like Carter, Boe travels with the ghouls for a time and has an acrimonious encounter with the zoogs. But unlike Carter, Boe is a native citizen of the Dreamlands, and as such, is invested in the world and its people in a way that Carter isn’t. Her perspective on the Dreamlands is a very different one, and that brings a freshness to the story. I liked this book and will look forward to reading more from Johnson.

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