Agents of Dreamland
Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Release Date: February 28th, 2017
An agent known as "the Signalman" meets a mysterious woman in Arizona to exchange information. A pale, dark-haired woman stuck and un-stuck in time relives the past and revisits the future to piece together connecting information. A deep-space probe passes by Pluto and goes quiet. And a former teenaged junkie is taken in by the sweet comforting ravings of a mad prophet. All of these stories twist and intersect in Caitlín R. Kiernan's novella, Agents of Dreamland.
KIernan's story reads like a mixture between The X-Files and H.P. Lovecraft, combining conspiracies with cosmic horror. One of our protagonists (as there are a few point-of-view characters in this relatively short tale) is the Signalman, an aging agent of a shadowy organization, the kind you'd associate with Area 51 and other oddities. As it turns out, there are several organizations like this that work amongst each other, trading secrets and information in order to unravel the truth behind strange occurrences.
All of this, by the way, is conjecture on the nature of these organizations. Other than the title, the name "Dreamland" is only mentioned once as a specific location, and we are given very little definitive information about, well, anything. The few details we have are coyly hinted or heavily implied while being spread throughout the story, adding to the dizzying whirlwind that Kiernan puts us on.
And dizziness is certainly the aim here, as Kiernan's goal is to create an atmosphere that should leave you uneasy and slightly nauseated (in a good way!). You see, the narrative does not adhere to your simple concepts of time. Ideas and flashbacks are quickly and subtly interspersed in a few character's points of views, and sometimes the only way to keep the current time straight is to note the date and year mercifully amended to each chapter title. One of the characters specifically is not buoyed to time, and spends some peaceful moments revisiting past occurrences as well as a terrifying future.
Where Kiernan really deserves some praise is keeping this narrative moving. There are several scenes where everything yo-yos back and forth between a character's memories, or where metaphorical language creates confusing, feverish descriptions. Kiernan keeps the story moving and crafts it so well that you never feel truly lost. It's a lot like a roller coaster, where your subconscious experiences a lack of control, but you always remain on track.
This is, of course, a continuation of my ever-growing love of Lovecraft's work of the work of others that he has inspired. Just like Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom pulls directly from Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook," Agents of Dreamland pulls from a few prime sources, none of which I want to share as I don't want to give anything away.
Agents of Dreamland is a fascinating little read, and a very modern approach to the cosmic horror genre. It gave me a lot to think about, and some of the creepier concepts will very likely find themselves burrowing into my brain later. If you're looking for a short narrative that will twist your mind in circles and leave you wrung out, then this might be the story for you.