The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson
Description: (from Tor.com )
Vellitt Boe is the professor of mathematics at Ulthar Women’s College. When one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, Vellitt must retrieve her, which sends her on a quest across the Dream-lands and into her own mysterious past.
Expected publication: August 16th 2016 by Tor.com
A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher.
This is a novella, 91 pages on my ereader.
This story felt like I was going on a journey with Vellitt, I could feel the air and see the landscape through her eyes; as if I was accompanying her, like the little black cat you can actually see on the cover.
Talking about the cover : isn’t it wonderful ? It totally made me want to dive into the story immediately. The art is by Victo Nga and design by Christine Foster (source).
So we follow Vellitt, a middle-aged woman (around 55 years old) living in a dreaming world, which is actually the only reality its inhabitants know. They do know about the waking world but it’s more like a concept or how we would consider a distant island we know we won’t ever get to see.
“And Vellitt found that, despite her exhaustion and her age, she could run.”
The theme of the dreaming world is one I adore. I know it has been made before (like in one of my favourite French manga: Dreamland) but the execution is what makes it worth the read.
“They don’t see strangers often, except the gods who escape to walk among them, and I certainly wasn’t that.”
We quickly learn that Vellitt (formerly Veline) used to travel a lot when she was younger and that she finally settled in the Ulthar Women’s College to teach math and take care of the girls there. When one of them disappears with a dreamer (a boy from the waking world), she has to go after her as her father is someone important regarding the College and could close it down for good, which would be disastrous for the girls studying there (education for women is kind of a new concept over there).
“To him, she had been landscape, an articulate crag he could ascend, a face to put to this place. When were women ever anything but footnotes to men’s tales?”
It’s really interesting to see Vellitt going back into her old ways and realising how she has changed and how different she is, not necessarily in a bad way. She gets to remember who she is and gets to know her present self better.
“Feeling like a fool, she drew the machete from its sheath; but perhaps she did not look like one, for the zoogs pulled back.”
When I was around page 20 I was like “Noooooo how is this supposed to be only 90 pages? I have so many questions and I want to stay there!” This world is so rich and has so many possibilities! But it is very well done and you don’t feel like something is missing in the end, you feel lucky to have been through this world and having experienced this great journey alongside Vellitt, learning more about her past and the great woman she is. I don’t know what I liked more, Vellitt herself or getting to know this world, full of vicious gods and dreamy & nightmarish creatures. I guess it was the combination of the two, with a slight preference for Villitt. I wouldn’t have liked this combination of story and setting as much if it would have been with another bland male character. The fact that it was about Vellitt and her life in this world as a woman made it even more enjoyable for me. As a matter of fact, Kij Johnson wrote this in the acknowledgments:
“And I must of course acknowledge Lovecraft’s The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath. I first read it at ten, thrilled and terrified, and uncomfortable with the racism but not yet aware that the total absence of women was also problematic. This story is my adult-self returning to a thing I loved as a child and seeing whether I could make adult sense of it.”
Lovecraft without racism and with more women? YES PLEASE!
I won’t say a lot more, I went into this story not knowing anything and I feel that for a lot of books that is the best way to discover it. I don’t want to spoil any of the wonderful –and not that wonderful – things in it, so keep your eyes out for this novella in August!!
I will try to read more books by Kij Johnson because I loved her writing and how I was completely transported to her world!
Trigger warning: (highlight to see) rape is mentioned once
EDIT: There is now a map of the world of this novella, head over there to see!!
(originally posted: 24th April 2016)