“Agents of Dreamland” Caitlin R. Kiernan – book review

Recently I have read two excellent short story collections – The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett and Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, which I can honestly recommend to any weird fiction fan. This time I decided to read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland, a novelette which won the Bram Stoker Award in 2017. Why is it worth reading? Let’s find out. 

"Agents of Dreamland" Caitlin R. Kiernan - Weird Pond Review

Eventually you’ve got to understand that an answer isn’t the same thing as a solution, and a story is sometimes only an excuse. Nic Pizzolatto

Lovecraftian horror at its best

The action of Agents of Dreamland begins when a government agent called The Signalman is waiting in a typical American diner for a meeting with Immacolata Sexton, who represents another agency. They want to discuss the case of Drew Standish – leader of a bizarre cult. As it turns out, the whole situation is somehow connected with the New Horizons space probe, forgotten movie by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even monsters from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft’s books.

“Only our minds,” says the alchemist, “need to leave this sphere and make the long, cold journey through the dark. These bodies we wear are no more, my love, than tattered garments we’ve outgrown. In this new world we’ll have new forms, new bodies.

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s novel Agents of Dreamland is full of references to short stories written by the master of horror from Providence. The cult leader uses a mysterious Black Book, Fungi from Yuggoth play a significant role throughout the whole book, and the shrine of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth turns out to be a shelter for refugees trying to survive in a city full of monsters straight out of nightmare. 

Behold the black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges.

The similarities do not end here. Caitlin R. Kiernan also managed to convey the overwhelming atmosphere of hopelessness which H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are famous for. The protagonists of Agents of Dreamland are confronted with unknown forces, against whom they just don’t stand a chance. I believe that the unsettling, dark atmosphere accompanying the reader from the very beginning until the last page of the novel is its most significant advantage.

The X-Files in the world of Cthulhu Mythos

… some stains sink straight through to the souls and are never coming out. 

Have you read the great short story by Neil Gaiman – A Study in Emerald? The author placed the famous detective known from Arthur Conan Doyle’s book – Sherlock Holmes, in the universe created by H.P. Lovecraft. The result, as you may have seen, was fantastic. The situation is similar when it comes to Agents of Dreamland – Caitlin R. Kiernan utilized the world of Cthulhu Mythos and enriched it with government intrigues and intelligence agencies continually trying to maintain people in blissful ignorance. Sounds like a script for a perfect The X-Files episode, right? Let’s also add some elements straight out from David Lynch’s movies, and the result will be terrific.

Caitlin R. Kiernan slowly and skillfully reveals us further information concerning The Signalman, Immacolata, and the mysterious cult led by Drew Standish. With each new clue, we discover more and more dark secrets hidden in Agents of Dreamland plot, leading us to a terrifying finale. The author’s beautiful style, which significantly intensifies the feeling of anxiety accompanying us while reading, is just cherry the cherry on top. For instance, the unsettling image of fallen City, where mutated people and animals fight for survival, made a huge impression on me. I would definitely like to read a full-fledged novel or a collection of stories set in the universe created by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I am not even mentioning a TV series based on Agents of Dreamland, which for me, would be a dream come true.  

Summing up:

Agents of Dreamland gave me exactly what I expected from it – great entertainment mixed with the kind of anxiety, you can get only from good weird fiction works. If you have ever wondered how would a crossover between The X-Files and Lovecraft’s short stories look like – Caitlin R. Kiernan’s book, in my opinion, is as good an answer as you can get. Agents of Dreamland will undoubtedly join our list of interesting horror books which you should read. Highly recommended.  

Grade: 7.5/10

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“Agents of Dreamland” Caitlin R. Kiernan

Recently I have read two excellent short story collections – The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett and Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, which I can honestly recommend to any weird fiction fan. This time I decided to read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland, a novelette which won the Bram Stoker Award in 2017. Why is it worth reading? Let’s find out. 

"Agents of Dreamland" Caitlin R. Kiernan - Weird Pond Review

Eventually you’ve got to understand that an answer isn’t the same thing as a solution, and a story is sometimes only an excuse. Nic Pizzolatto

Lovecraftian horror at its best

The action of Agents of Dreamland begins when a government agent called The Signalman is waiting in a typical American diner for a meeting with Immacolata Sexton, who represents another agency. They want to discuss the case of Drew Standish – leader of a bizarre cult. As it turns out, the whole situation is somehow connected with the New Horizons space probe, forgotten movie by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even monsters from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft’s books.

“Only our minds,” says the alchemist, “need to leave this sphere and make the long, cold journey through the dark. These bodies we wear are no more, my love, than tattered garments we’ve outgrown. In this new world we’ll have new forms, new bodies.

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s novel Agents of Dreamland is full of references to short stories written by the master of horror from Providence. The cult leader uses a mysterious Black Book, Fungi from Yuggoth play a significant role throughout the whole book, and the shrine of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth turns out to be a shelter for refugees trying to survive in a city full of monsters straight out of nightmare. 

Behold the black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges.

The similarities do not end here. Caitlin R. Kiernan also managed to convey the overwhelming atmosphere of hopelessness which H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are famous for. The protagonists of Agents of Dreamland are confronted with unknown forces, against whom they just don’t stand a chance. I believe that the unsettling, dark atmosphere accompanying the reader from the very beginning until the last page of the novel is its most significant advantage.

The X-Files in the world of Cthulhu Mythos

… some stains sink straight through to the souls and are never coming out. 

Have you read the great short story by Neil Gaiman – A Study in Emerald? The author placed the famous detective known from Arthur Conan Doyle’s book – Sherlock Holmes, in the universe created by H.P. Lovecraft. The result, as you may have seen, was fantastic. The situation is similar when it comes to Agents of Dreamland – Caitlin R. Kiernan utilized the world of Cthulhu Mythos and enriched it with government intrigues and intelligence agencies continually trying to maintain people in blissful ignorance. Sounds like a script for a perfect The X-Files episode, right? Let’s also add some elements straight out from David Lynch’s movies, and the result will be terrific.

Caitlin R. Kiernan slowly and skillfully reveals us further information concerning The Signalman, Immacolata, and the mysterious cult led by Drew Standish. With each new clue, we discover more and more dark secrets hidden in Agents of Dreamland plot, leading us to a terrifying finale. The author’s beautiful style, which significantly intensifies the feeling of anxiety accompanying us while reading, is just cherry the cherry on top. For instance, the unsettling image of fallen City, where mutated people and animals fight for survival, made a huge impression on me. I would definitely like to read a full-fledged novel or a collection of stories set in the universe created by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I am not even mentioning a TV series based on Agents of Dreamland, which for me, would be a dream come true.  

Summing up:

Agents of Dreamland gave me exactly what I expected from it – great entertainment mixed with the kind of anxiety, you can get only from good weird fiction works. If you have ever wondered how would a crossover between The X-Files and Lovecraft’s short stories look like – Caitlin R. Kiernan’s book, in my opinion, is as good an answer as you can get. Agents of Dreamland will undoubtedly join our list of interesting horror books which you should read. Highly recommended.  

Grade: 7.5/10

 

You can buy the book here:

Best short stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Recently I have written about great weird fiction short stories by Thomas Ligotti, whereas this time I take a closer look at another classic of this genre – H.P. Lovecraft himself. It won’t be a book review, though, but a ranking of my favorite works created by this author. How would your list look like? Please let me know in the comments. Enjoy.

Best short stories by H.P. Lovecraft - Weird Pond

15. At the Mountains of Madness

A group of scientists entrapped in the frozen Antarctic world, which hides a terrible mystery deep beneath the ice – it sounds a bit like the excellent movie by John Carpenter The Thing, doesn’t it? Well, I think that the atmosphere of the story is pretty similar, but the sheer scale of the presented history is far greater in Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. The fact that the list starts with such an excellent text is fitting testament to the greatness of this author.

14. The Doom that Came to Sarnath

This story shows a different aspect of Lovecraft’s works – a more fantastic one. The description of the magnificent Sarnath located on the ruins of gray city Ib is particularly impressive here and will stay with you long after finishing the read. If you want to see another face of the writer from Providence, you shouldn’t miss on this short story. 

13. The Thing on the Doorstep

An exciting short story full of references to, for example, Shadow over Innsmouth (which is also going to appear on the list). The disturbing atmosphere and suggestive descriptions make the reader feel uncomfortable from the very beginning of the text. 

12. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

Similarly to The Doom that Came to Sarnath this story also shows us more fantastic Lovecraft. Randolph Carter’s journey through the Dreamlands is an unforgettable experience for any weird fiction fan. 

11. The Rats in the Walls

The nightmares presented in this story are true masterpieces of horror literature, and there is a chance that they will stay in your memory for good. Its plot is intriguing, and the surprising ending surely will give you goosebumps. In my opinion, The Rats in the Walls is undoubtedly one of the best Lovecraft’s works. 

10. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

One of the best known short stories, written by Lovecraft. We get necromancers, possessions, dreadful experiments, and an excellent, climactic confrontation at the end of the text. While some people say that there are a few dull and too long fragments in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I still think that it’s an excellent horror story, definitely worth the time invested in it. 

9. The Outsider

I have to admit that for some time I considered placing The Outsider a little higher, because it’s one of the unique stories written by H.P. Lovecraft. In this case, we no longer look at the world through the eyes of some scholar, who discovers a terrible secret, which starts slowly driving him mad. Instead, we have an opportunity to get to know the story from the monster’s perspective. One of my personal favorites.

8. The Haunter of the Dark

A young painter, during exploration of some abandoned church, which used to be a home for sect conducting ungodly rituals, gets tangled up in a terrifying story. The Haunter of the Dark is a true masterpiece when it comes to disturbing atmosphere and keeping the reader on the edge of the seat. 

7. The Whisperer in Darkness

After a massive flood somewhere around Vermont, the river begins to wash out bizarre creatures, which don’t resemble anything know to humans. One of the professors from Miskatonic University, at first very skeptical, begins to correspond with Henry Akeley – another researcher who experiences some disturbing events on his skin. I think that it’s worth to mention that one of the inspirations for The Whisperer in Darkness was the discovery of Pluto, which Lovecraft associated with Yuggoth – a planet inhabited by mysterious beings. 

6. The Shadow Out of Time

In The Shadow Out of Time H.P. Lovecraft allows us to get to know a big part of his universe’s lore – the history of the Great Race of Yith. One of the themes often appearing in the writer’s texts – the shallowness and pointlessness of the human race in the face of great powers lurking somewhere in space – is even more overwhelming than usual. 

5. The Dreams in the Witch House

The main character, Walter Gillman, decides to rent an attic room which previously was inhabited by a witch, who mysteriously disappeared from Salem jail in 1692. He soon discovers that many of people he moved into the apartment before him, died in strange circumstances. 

The vision of demonic Brown Jenkin, witch’s companion is haunting, and the same goes to Gillman’s nightmares. The way in which Lovecraft builds tension up to the terrifying finale is just breathtaking. The Dreams in the Witch House is definitely one of my favorite horror short stories.

4. The Shadow Over Innsmouth

A story that later inspired, for example, creation of great horror video game Call of Cthulhu – Dark Corners of the World is, no doubt, a true horror literature icon.

Robert Olmstead tells us a story, when he accidentally found himself in the infamous city of Innsmouth. The suggestive descriptions of ghostly, crumbling town inhabited by fallen creatures who once were humans, is a disturbing experience you won’t forget.

3. The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu is a collection of notes written by the narrator – Francis Wayland, who is trying to unravel the mystery behind some alarming events. The scale of the history is enormous – the story takes us on a trip around the world, we visit the United States, China, New Zealand, and even Antarctica, while the Cthulhu cult threatens whole humanity. In my opinion, The Call of Cthulhu is a great pick to start one’s adventure with H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.

2. The Dunwich Horror

The story takes place in a ghastly, ruined town of Dunwich, haunted by ungodly creatures out of this world. Abominable rituals, forbidden books, and overwhelming dark atmosphere – that’s a very good description for this story. If you liked this one, I think that you might also want to take a look at the card game The Dunwich Legacy.

1. The Colour Out of Space

After the fall of a meteor, people and animals inhabiting the nearby area start to descend into madness, while at night, strange otherworldly lights come out of a particular well. The dark climate of the story, its suffocating atmosphere of dread and terror and the feeling of helplessness that accompanies us from the very beginning of the story is simply unique. If I had to choose one story which might encourage people to read H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, I would pick The Colour out of Space

So, that’s it – my favorite short stories written by H.P. Lovecraft. How would your list look like? Which horror story written by this author is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

If you would like to start your adventure with H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories, we recommend buying, for example, this collection: