Weird fiction novella inspired by Lovecraft’s dreamlands story, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. When her student, Clarie Jurat, goes missing from college, Professor Vellitt Boe of Ulthar Women’s Collage goes on a quest to find her, through the dreamlands and out into the unfamiliar waking world.
I love the premise of this story—a weird fiction odyssey with an older woman protagonist, redressing the complete absence of women in Lovecraft’s original, and a switch around of what is strange and other, with Vellitt coming from the dreamlands and braving the waking world for the first time.
The story didn’t hook me at first. The beginning set-up section feels a little clunky to me, but once Vellitt’s journey begins, I love the descriptions of the dreamlands from her perspective and the stories of her adventures as a younger woman. The story retraces some of the journey taken by Randolph Carter in the original, and he features a little, but there’s a lot that’s new, and it’s all from a very different perspective. The later section, when Vellitt reaches the waking world and discovers it for the first time, is excellent. For me, that’s the high point of the story. There’s a sense of strangeness about details that are usual to us, but also a sense of relief that the fickle gods are not breathing down her neck.
Vellitt is a well-realised character and a nice change for a speculative fiction protagonist. Kij Johnson focuses more on the fantasy aspects of the setting, rather than the horror. If that’s your thing, it’s definitely worth a look. Features obligatory cat appreciation, though not to quite the degree Lovecraft takes it.
(There is a minor queer character in this book, but not enough to stick it under my Queer Book Club heading. I occasionally do other reviews, particularly horror/weird fiction. Just a heads up.)