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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe stunningly succeeds as a feminist re-imagining of Lovecraft.

An open book rests upon a table next to a stack of books and a cup of tea. Sunlight shines upon the table.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash, 2016.

I first encountered Kij Johnson when I was reading the March 2016 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. I hadn’t heard of her before, and I read her story “Coyote Invents the Land of the Dead.” That story did not work for me. The language was too abstract for me, the story too ethereal. It had a cool vibe, but no staying power. After I read the story, I encountered some cognitive dissonance while reading the author blurb:

Kij Johnson is a three-time winner of the Nebula Award, and has also won the Hugo, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, and Crawford Awards.

Wait, what?

Of course, that’s just how it is sometimes. One award-winning writer resonates with you, another doesn’t. That I could mistake such an accomplished writer for such a juvenile one, however, stuck with me. I wanted to give her another try.

And then the fabulous Jonathan Strahan, an editor whose tastes I often enjoy, voiced high praises for The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson. It turned out that Johnson’s novella was a feminist re-imagining of a Lovecraft story. After reading The Ballad of Black Tom, I have been eager to read more Lovecraft re-imaginings, so I decided to give Johnson’s novella a shot.

I’m glad I did.The language of The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe still had Kij Johnson’s distinct flair (although I’m not sure if I can define what that is), but it was also noticeably more grounded and easier to understand, which I appreciated. While I found much of Vellitt Boe’s eponymous dream-quest to be a boring tale couched in pretty language, the ending of the novella was marvellous, beautiful, and wise. Maybe I shouldn’t be getting your hopes or expectations up, as maybe I enjoyed it all the moreso from having low expectations, but I’d only be exaggerating (not lying) to say that her story has made me a better person.

Yep, Kij Johnson definitely deserves her impressive bio, even if her work and my tastes don’t often align. And by the way, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe stunningly succeeds as a feminist re-imagining of Lovecraft. So, reader, go read some Kij Johnson and enjoy yourself while you grapple with her unique style.