Vellitt Boe is quite happy with her life. Her adventuring days long behind her, she now spends her time teaching and molding young minds as a professor at Ulthar Women's College. But all of that changes when one her students disappears.
Rumors suggest the student has made off with a man from the waking world, and though it's rare for someone from the dream lands to cross into that other plane it seems that's exactly what the student and her beau have planned. Vellitt knows that if they succeed, the results could be quite bad for the college. But it's not until she begins her quest that she learns exactly how disastrous losing this student might be.
I seem to be in the midst of a stubborn bout of insomnia. Double insomnia - I always have the I'm-asleep-but-not-actually-fully-resting insomnia. Now I'm having some of the I'm-fully-awake-and-can't-fall-back-to-sleep insomnia too. Fun times!
So it was a bit appropriate then that I cracked open this novella at 2am and found that it was set in a fabulously built dream land! The kind of land you want to sink into and never leave. The kind of land (and story) that, in the deft hands of Kij Johnson, makes it a little more ok to be unable to sleep.
Vellitt Boe was, once upon a time, a traveler and adventurer, so it seems she's the obvious choice to head off in search of her missing student. Her plan is to follow the student, in hopes of catching up to her, to a the Gate of Deeper Slumber. If she can stop the young lovers before they cross, all will be well.
And of course, as is the case with any quest, nothing goes as planned.
Fortunately for Vellitt, her experiences on the road and the wisdom gained from her travels, long past they may be, haven't fully left her. As hurdle after hurdle gets thrown her way, she finds solution after solution and is able to continue against all odds. Granted, the possible and likely impending total destruction of your home and everything/one you love is certainly motivation, but Vellitt finds she enjoys the return to the road as well.
Hers is a world that doesn't really afford much freedom for women. Even the college is a luxury that is tenuously allowed. And this is just one of the plays Johnson has made on a tale that is based straight out of Lovecraft.
If you caught my review of Ellen Datlow's new Children of Lovecraft anthology, then you may have seen the interview Johnson and two fellow Tor.com authors did with Barnes and Noble recently on rewriting and reclaiming Lovecraft. Additionaly, Wired recently ran this piece on Johnson and "Spinning Lovecraft Into a Feminist Dream Quest." (There's a link in the piece to the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast featuring Johnson as well.)
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a fabulous and fantastical tale. As I said, the world is amazing - and based on Lovecraft's created world in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," which features Randolph Carter. Don't worry, though, if you haven't read the original tale that so inspired Johnson's recent release. She's taken the world and definitely made it her own, populating it with (as is not the case in Lovecraft) women of great spirit and depth!
I highly, highly recommend this one, even if you aren't sharing in my need for distraction during the wee hours. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe makes for great reading at any hour.