The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

The plot is simple: Vellitt Boe, an inhabitant of the dream lands, professor at Ulthar Women's College and lifelong traveler, is sent on a mission to find a student who may have eloped with a man from the waking lands. On the way, she dodges ghouls and vengeful gods while subtly coming to terms with aging. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize nods to The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, right down to the cat that tags along; however, Johnson's luminous prose subverts Lovecraft's racism and misogyny.

Fantasy and science fiction writing can occasionally over-explain; authors will go to great lengths to provide background information. The better ones tuck that information into load-bearing sentences without slowing the drama. The best reveal only what is truly needed, and trust readers to infer--or imagine--the rest. Johnson is one of the best.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe gets right down to business. Instead of detailing every zoog and gug, Johnson (At the Mouth of the River of Bees) allows the reader to relish the implications of names and characters' reactions. She is extraordinarily economical that way--she's best known for her Nebula Award-winning short story, "Ponies," and the novella The Man Who Bridged the Mist, which won both Hugo and Nebula awards. She creates enjoyable, dreamlike worlds that simply don't require much explanation. While Dream-Quest doesn't appear to be designed with a series in mind, Johnson certainly leaves enough juicy crumbs to inspire volumes of fanfic. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

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