Agents of Dreamland
Caitlín R. Kiernan
A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.
In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible—the Children of the Next Level—and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.
A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.
And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity.
To be honest I did not know what to expect from this book when I got my review copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor. I had never heard of Caitlín R. Kiernan and that synopsis said a lot but nothing close to what the novella explores. In the end I was pleasantly surprised… okay I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more.
This is an interconnected story that follows mainly three sets of characters:
Signalman is a government agent assigned to a peculiar case that continues to haunt him. Even as he proceeds to a diner where he has a meet up with a mysterious woman. They exchange valuable information that only escalates the situation. He moves forward with the hope of figuring out exactly what he saw inside a particular ranch.
Immaculata is a woman searching for humanity’s last hope against an approaching, devastating event. She floats between time, searching for an answer.
Salton Sea is the current home of Drew Standish, a cult leader, and his followers known as Children of the Next Level. The Children seek to usher in a new future as they transcend beyond humanity.
Lastly, something beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe, New Horizons.
To say my mind is so blown, I’m deeply disturbed, is an understatement. The writing is solid. Each characters has a distinct and personal voice. There is no unnecessary drivel to distract from the unfolding story, which eventually meets in the middle beautifully, then rides off into the sunset, leaving you bewildered and unbelieving of what just happened.
There is a lot of shifting perspectives, as you can imagine, with all the characters giving a different view of the ongoing events. From Signalman, who is the investigator, to the Drew Standish and one particular child of The Children, who has disturbing insights of what is to come, to Immaculata, the seeker of salvation and something a little more.
There is also a switch in timeliness literally between sentences. Sometimes it was off putting, but Caitlín did a good job of not losing me or my focus between these switches. Thankfully, they show a wider, more comprehensive perspective on the bigger picture revealing itself into some mind-blowing stuff. *shivers.
There is also a very obvious Lovecraftian style to the writing, more towards the combination of science, bible, conspiracy, and a real, obvious entity we never truly see. I loved how Caitlín uses conspiracy theories (The Beatles’ music, Apple Records, Yggdrasil, Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – basically APPLES), and parts of foreshadowing (Signalman watches a movie as a child, but misses a very important scene – also, this is not a spoiler), to build this world around the story.
I have a love/hate relationship for Signalman. I’m deeply intrigued with Immaculata and her time-travel abilities (or whatever they are). Drew Standish is that charismatic type I would also probably follow, although I’d hate to be part of his particular cult (or any cult in general… the bad cults.) Together, they tell a compelling story. It’s a great novella which puts Caitlín R. Kiernan at the top of my favourite authors.
Rating: A well deserved 5 out of 5
Agents of Dreamland was published on February 28, 2017.
Did you know: Caitlín R. Kiernan wrote scientific papers in the field of paleontology, has written for DC Comics, and has over two hundred short stories, novellas, and vignettes published.
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