Caitlin R Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland is as fun a novella as you’re likely to read about a Lovecraftian apocalypse, especially if you don’t mind the lack of plot or anything actually happening throughout the story.
Much of the novella happens in conversations, reminiscences, and stream-of-consciousness musings from a very unreliable narrator. There’s no action in it to speak of, and the characters are all pretty mysterious. There’s the Signalman, a government agent-type who investigates the kind of bizarre occurrences that trigger the coming apocalypse. There’s also Chloe, a member of a bizarre cult. And there’s Immacolata Sexton, the most enigmatic character of all, who knows what’s going on but tells us little of it.
Part of the fun of the novel involves identifying the various references the author places throughout the text: brain-excised cadavers, strangely-worked cylinders, steps to Deeper Slumber, Slaughterhouse-Five, and more. It helps to know and love Lovecraft’s body of work to understand what’s going on, except when Kiernan goes off-script, like with the character of Immacolata Sexton.
The narrative is stuffed to the gills with description, which is what turns a short story like this into a novella. Some of it’s disturbing, some simply there. There’s no beginning, middle, or end to it, a fact that the author herself mentions near the last chapter of the book. So if you’re looking for a linear, meat-and-potatoes story, you will be disappointed.
Overall, I liked it. Lacking expectations, I had little to be disappointed by, and the writing was clear when it wanted to be and opaque when it served the narrative.