Reviews: Johnson, Kij

Take a Dream on a Sunday

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe — Kij Johnson

Although modern discussion of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s fiction often focuses on his virulent racism, he was also something of a misogynist. His female characters tended to be absent or objectionable. Is it possible to write in the Lovecraftian vein without racism and misogyny? Or is Lovecraft’s world of eldritch horrors dependent on rampant hatred of the Other?

Kij Johnson’s 2016’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is something of a test for the hypothesis “I can write Lovecraftian fiction that does not reek of hatred and disgust.” It is also a test of my recent suggestion that the most flawed originals can inspire the best modern interpretations.

Professor Boe is woken from a sound sleep to deal with a crisis. One of her most promising students, Jurat, has eloped with a lover, Heller. Heller is objectionable because he is a dreamer from the waking world and it is to the waking world Jurat and Heller are fleeing. The university’s toleration of Ulthar Women’s College is grudging at best. If news gets out that the daughter of a trustee has been … misplaced, the hard-won women’s college might be shut down entirely.

Someone must retrieve Jurat. Retired adventurer Boe is the logical choice.

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