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Vintage Treasures: Land of Dreams by James P. Blaylock

Sunday, August 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Land of Dreams-back-small Land of Dreams-small

Land of Dreams (Ace, 1988). Cover by James Warhola

In 1986 James Blaylock’s novelette “Paper Dragons,” originally published in Robin McKinley’s anthology Imaginary Lands, was nominated for a Nebula award, and received a World Fantasy Award. A year later Blaylock returned to the same setting with Land of Dreams, a contemporary fantasy that Science Fiction Chronicle called “Blaylock’s best novel to date, one that will undoubtedly catapult him into prominence,” and which caused Gardner Dozois to proclaim, “James P. Blaylock is one of the most lyrical and inventive of all new writers.”

Land of Dreams was Blayock’s hardcover debut, originally published by Arbor House with a colorful but rather middlin’ cover by Viido Polikarpus. It was reprinted in paperback by Ace a year later, with a spectacular wraparound cover by James Warhola that definitely got my attention. So did the rave review from Kirkus.

Striking, beautifully turned surreal fantasy, Blaylock’s remarkable hardcover debut. In the alternate-world northern California coastal village of Rio Dell, strange events mark the approach to the eerie, highly magical 12-year Solstice. Hungry young Skeezix and his friend Helen live at the orphanage run by the stern, repellent Miss Flees (she feeds them nothing but cabbage soup) and her horrid sidekick, Peebles. Along with their friend Jack, Skeezix and Helen discover a gigantic shoe washed up on the beach, and haul it to Dr. Jensen, who’s already puzzling over a collection of similarly enormous artifacts. The beach is invaded by hermit crabs, small at first; but, as Solstice approaches, the crabs grow larger — the last is the size of a house. A darkly ominous Carnival arrives, travelling magically along train tracks that have decayed into uselessness… Skeezix and Jack unravel the multiple mysteries in a stunning and satisfying conclusion. Weird, complex, wise, original, delightful: pounce!

As Fletcher Vredenburgh has recounted here at Black Gate, he discovered Blaylock with the delightful trilogy that began with The Elfin Ship (1982), but Land of Dreams was the book that really put Blaylock on the map for me. The Ace edition was handed around and excitedly discussed among my circle of friends in Ottawa in 1988.

Our previous coverage of James Blaylock includes:

Birthday Reviews: James P. Blaylock’s “Doughnuts” by Steven H Silver
Three Men And A Dog: The Elfin Ship by Fletcher Vredenburgh
Return of the Master Cheeser: The Disappearing Dwarf by Fletcher Vredenburgh
Return to Balumnia: The Stone Giant by Fletcher Vredenburgh
New Treasures: The Aylesford Skull
John DeNardo on the 7 Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books of March 2020

Land of Dreams was published by Ace Books in September 1988. It is 224 pages, priced at $3.50 in paperback. The gorgeous cover is by James Warhola.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

5 Comments »

  1. Here’s the cover for the UK edition.

    //www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30575739950

    The promise of wonders pending’ is a line from ‘Paper Dragons’ which sort of sums up the whole story for me. I think it works to the story’s benefit. In ‘Land of Dreams’? Maybe not so much.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - August 10, 2020 7:53 am

  2. Oops!

    https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30575739950

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - August 10, 2020 7:55 am

  3. I read The Elfin Ship, and The Disappearing Dwarf, back in the eighties. But I wanted more D&D-like fantasy, and never explored him further.

    I might try the Stone Giant some day and continue on in the series.

    Comment by Bob Byrne - August 10, 2020 9:49 am

  4. > Here’s the cover for the UK edition.

    Aonghus,

    It’s a fine, serviceable cover. Buy I much prefer Warhola’s gorgeously detailed version.

    Warhola had a short but glorious career in SF illustration, before going off to become a famous children’s book author. I’ve looked for an art book that collects his SF art, but can’t find one?

    > The promise of wonders pending’ is a line from ‘Paper Dragons’ which sort of sums up the whole
    > story for me. I think it works to the story’s benefit. In ‘Land of Dreams’? Maybe not so much.

    It’s been a LONG time since I read “Paper Dragons,” but I remember exactly where I was when I did… in my girlfriend’s apartment in Ottawa in 1987. It’s a story that sticks with you.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 13, 2020 11:28 am

  5. > I might try the Stone Giant some day and continue on in the series.

    Bob,

    I’ve never read his earlier, more “mainstream” fantasy. I always thought Blaylock became vastly more interesting in his later novels…. but maybe I’m wrong.

    Comment by John ONeill - August 13, 2020 11:29 am


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