Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson

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(Fantasy) Vellitt Boe teaches math at a university in the dreamworld. When her star student elopes with a dreamer from the real world, she goes after them. (35,982 words; Time: 1h:59m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average
Recommended By: RHorton:5 JStrahan Nebula Hugo Locus

Map of the Dreamlands. See related articles on

"," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The dreamworld is well-imagined and well-described. Vellitt faces reasonable challenges at every step of her epic journey. The success at the end, where we learn that Claire, being at least partly a god, plans to shake things up, is unexpected but satisfying.

The Lovecraft allusions are plentiful and amusing, especially because they're so understated. In particular, it appears that Claire is Cthulhu's granddaughter, which makes one wonder how he set up that first date with her grandmother.

Con: The adventures across the dreamworld go on for a long, long time. Nothing in the story is emotionally engaging.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I rate it ★★★★, one more than RSR. It's a fun travel story that can be compared and contrasted with Every Heart A Doorway. Both are portal stories, but Vellitt Boe is different because it's about secondary world residents and their views of primary world visitors like the ones from Every Heart.

    It's refreshing to see people like Vellitt Boe don't exist just to enable the heroism of primary world visitors, but they have independent hopes and dreams and fears just like us. However, the secondary worlds and their citizens are still second class, as shown when Vellitt makes it to our world and the author has to magically (and annoyingly for this reader) give her knowledge of places and things so she can get by, whereas that never seems necessary for travellers in the other direction going from a complex to simpler worlds.

    If I could do a three-way comparison where Every Heart represents A⇒B and Vellitt Boe represents A⇐B, then the story Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass could represent A⇔B where our primary world effectively becomes a secondary world for some people. That's probably enough analysis for this story. :-)

  2. I agree with the Cons you posted.

    The traveling went on for a very long time, and the characters did not engage at all. Neither did the story.

  3. The story is so beautiful that it's tempting to give it four stars, but it's hard to recommend a story just because it's beautiful.