He says there are millions of stars, Raba. Millions.
Have you ever had a dream so vivid and real, yet so alien, that it was as if you had been transported to an entirely different realm? One that was not bound by the logic and laws of our universe, but was instead subject to the mad whims of a multitude of gods, some minor and annoying, others great and terrible? One that was filled with strange eldritch creatures and dreadful dangers?
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson is about a denizen of such a nightmare world who goes on a journey to find somebody. As is most often the case in road-trip stories, the destination is not as important as the journey itself. The point of the story is really to describe and explore this world, a world originally described by HP Lovecraft in his Dream Cycle stories. This book is more than just fan fiction that uses Lovecraft’s setting. The author expands on Lovecraft’s dreamworld, providing deeper explanations of the workings of that world while also subtly critiquing, examining, and explaining the shortcomings of the portrayal (and relative non-existence) of women in those Dream Cycle stories. It is not necessary, however, to have read the Dream Cycle stories (I didn’t) to enjoy this book
This was my favorite of the World Fantasy Award nominees for Long Fiction. The descriptions of the world are beautifully worded and create a clear picture of the often-times bizarre scenery. The characters are well-drawn and feel real. They do not come across as mere proxies or strawmen for the author’s beliefs and arguments. The journey is exciting and engaging, with the appropriate amount of twists and turns. But my championing this book is due to more than just appreciation for its technical merits. It was the most inspiring of the nominees. For the protagonist, her nightmare world is not some bizarre netherworld; it’s just home. And when horrific and strange things are commonplace parts of everyday life, those things are no longer horrific and strange. That concept got me thinking more than most of the other books I’ve read this year. Any visitors to our world might find everyday things that we take for granted endlessly fascinating. Or scary as all hell. After reading the book, I looked around my own neighborhood and saw common, everyday animals and weather and bugs and machines in a whole new light. For example, mosquitoes are tiny flying insects that have heat vision and needles for mouths that suck blood and carry diseases, but we do not run screaming when we see them. We just swat them. Rain is water falling out of the sky, but we don’t screech at that weirdness only because it is common. For making me see my own world differently and engage in the sheer wonder and beauty and terror of it, this is my pick for the award.
Rating: 5 stars