Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

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!

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.

But the journey sends her on a quest across the Dreamlands and into her own mysterious past, where some secrets were never meant to surface.

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.

2.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Tor.com
Series: I don't think so
Format read: ePub
Source: Hugo voter packet

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