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Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own from the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent hoarding Edison family Rebelling against her father’s films of passion intrigue and spirits from beyond Severin starts making documentaries traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars For this is not our solar system but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets Severin is a realist in a fantastic universeBut her latest film which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island sized alien creatures will be her last Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor Severin will never return Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves and told using techniues from reality TV classic film gossip magazines and meta fictional narrative Radiance is a solar system spanning story of love exploration family loss uantum physics and silent film


10 thoughts on “Radiance

  1. says:

    Re read 52420After re reading my gushing review from years ago and having just re read the fantastic book I wonder if there's anything I can add to it?Ah how about this Getting a nice hardbound version and sipping the tale like a great wine is recommended Re reads are not only welcome but delightfulAnd damn the ending is both nearly incomprehensible and immensely satisfying Active readers will have a huge huge kick Original reviewThis was A Fucking MazingThis is what all SF aspires to be when it grows up and speaks like David Foster Wallace channeling Roger ZelaznyI want to have this book's babiesDo I like this? Oh my lord do I like this??? Okay Word of warning don't bother reading this unless you KNOW your mythology and I'm not just talking about the greeks There's a boatload of Sumerian in here as well Each and every city is appropriate Each and every name is suare on the mark This book is brilliant BRILLIANT It shines with RadianceOkay Now down to the nitty gritty We slide easily between motion picture scripting and stream of consciousness with a few actual epistles thrown in It's accomplished and speaks of a grand familiarity with traditional mainstream fiction even going so far as to rise as high as any of the past masters Don't be fooled into thinking that because this is SF that it is anything less than masterful I'm going to have to read this one several times to pick up everything but even on my first uick read I picked up than enough to shiver with delight and drool from both sides of my mouth because I am essentially a level headed personOne thing that is common upon practically every level of this read and the title gives it away Radiance It's all about bringing forth the best version through the magic of lightYou can read this story from the surface getting into the magical mystery of Severin and her disappearance or the magic of moviemaking but all of that's just the easy route Another route is to read between the lines to see that every person and every place is a pure metaphor that works time and time again to bolster the initial and ongoing themes of bringing meaning out of death magic out of life and raising the standard of understanding everything else with eyes as sharp as the sun All the artists in this book are on a uest to bring their Art to the next level and none of them are failures They are the embodiment of beauty crafting myth building and obsession Percival and Severin is a perfect exampleAn entirely different level of this same theme caught my attention right off the bat and turned me into a giddy mess Ms Valente turned our solar system into a heaven and a haven the best of all possible worlds a place where everyone and everything could survive custom made to support life and happiness I think of all the pulp SF out there not forgetting Burroughs or Bradbury that had lush life on Venus and Mars Of course she took it much farther Mercury had it's own uniue species as did Jupiter and Saturn their moons and all the way to Pluto and Charon which had a huge vegetable stalk connecting the two moonlets together in an endless dance with strange cows and lotus flowers ready to provide life and sustenance for humans when they arrived It was gorgeous It was a dream come true and artistic rendering that turned our hellish system into a horn of plenty and yes everywhere was giving us air to breathe This too was the artist giving us a brilliant conception of the world through the Fae Light of movie magic and I admit that I fell into its spell as deeply and completely as any of the very best books I've ever read It was told so well that I drowned in not giving a fuck about having realistic science This was all about dreams and magic as only our deepest joys of a mythical Hollywood could conceiveIs this enough to propel you to a wonderful reading experience? I hope so But wait I haven't even mentioned the Callowhales And I won't They're very important and increasingly so This is one of the best books I've ever read Maybe it just speaks to me and me alone because I love complicated flights of immense imagination detailed with such density and beauty that I was forced to slow the hell down and savor each word each turn of phrase each reference Was I doubly amazed by the structure of the read when scenes replayed themselves as to throw all of my ideas about what I was reading into an entirely new light? Hells yes The writing was masterful I know I said that before I'm saying it again because I have to sit back down with this book SOON and study it I WANT to study it It is so damn rich as to turn practically everything else I read into shallow piles of doo I can't believe this is just the first novel I've read of hers I've been hearing about her works for years and yet I just never got around to reading any of them I wanted to I really did but something always got in the way I seem to be saying that a lot about a handful of authors recently Well I'm FIXING THAT I'm going to be reading the rest of her works very soon No one that can write like this should ever be dismissed or ignored Brilliance is Brilliance


  2. says:

    Documentary filmmaker Severin Unck never returned from her last project on Venus Thus begins the meta fictional odyssey into Severin Unck's life and fate Radiance is the story of Severin Unck's life and death? told by Severin and the people who knew her in the form of articles journal entries scripts and films most notably Severin's own I was apprehensive at first since this sounds like a first class ticket to fancy pants town like a lot of books that use meta fictional devices However Catherynne Valente can get into my fancy pants any dayTold in a non linear fashion Radiance tells the story of Severin Unck through interviews and films of the people who knew her from her father Percival Unck and his seven ex wives to Erasmo St John her last lover to Anchises St John the little boy who was the only survivor of the Adonis colony on Venus Unlike a lot of literature that uses meta fiction to tell the tale the techniues are actually relevant to the storyThe setting is an enjoyable one one where space travel was mastered decades earlier and every planet and moon in the solar system is habitable Colonization is depended on monstrous Venusian beasts called callowwhales Because of the tyranny of the Edisons everyone is still making silent movies making for a very uniue setting indeed There's not a whole lot I want to say about the plot Catherynne Valente shows her writing chops in this outing going from sf to screenplay to soap opera to noir and all points beyond without missing a beat I'd read a library of Madame Mortimer mysteries45 out of 5 stars This one is not to be missed


  3. says:

    Because I am unable to resist the seductions of irony here is a uote from Robert Downey JrThis is probably going to get uoted in every publication just because I said it And I’m not even saying anything I’m not talking about my films I’m not talking about my life and I’m not talking about the world And yet the media will print it simply because I said it And at this moment in time I bet there is an artist around the corner of this hotel on the street with a mind far beyond ours but we will never listen to him simply because he has not appeared in a movieHe goes on to say “And that is what is fucked up about our culture” but that’s not the point I’m trying to makeInstead I’d like to appreciate for a moment the popularity of celebrities and the compelling nature of fiction in general We all have known the experience of watching a film and finding ourselves on the edge of our seats empathizing with the characters This even though we know that they are just actors in NO DANGER whatsoever and that even if “based on a true story” what’s actually happening on the screen is an artificial construct no real than a golem’s dream Yet there we are caring Somehow these characters in their imaginary worlds approximate truth in a way that actual reality confusing and indeterminate as it is cannotMany people particularly a certain stripe of intellectual would call us fools and escapists mere addicts of the phantasmagorical I know a fellow who foreswore all fiction and instead dedicated himself exclusively to documentary film and non fiction books and also joined a nudist colony David Foster Wallace in his essay E Unibus Pluram suggested our television obsession causes a chain reaction of disassociation in which American fiction writers get their dosage of reality from fiction – which is itself written by personages who have based their reality on consumed fiction – thereby creating a recursive spiral down the rabbit hole until what we think is reality is not real but an infinitely regressed telephone game garbled version of itEven if I were to agree in principle I would not agree in sentiment I think humanity’s capacity for empathy is nothing short of amazingI'd say that when we engage in narrative we are exercising our empathy muscles All forms of narrative do this but the intimate nature of written literature does it best A good book – with complex diverse characters and morally gray situations – is the empathy version of a Crossfit workout As such I’d claim that readers are if not the best people in the world at least the most empathetic I believe our pathetic little meatsack hearts brimming with narrative and character carry on the great work of humanity in a way that the mighty wielders of the sword and the hammer and the abacus do not I say that the greatest and most beautiful machine or theory wielded without empathy is not only inhuman but antihumanAlas Radiance demands little exercise of our empathy muscles or perhaps too much It’s not that it doesn’t contain complex characters morally gray situations or a great imagination but that they are not presented in an engaging manner Instead the author utilizes language structure genre and form as ends unto themselves rather than as means to an end that end typically being the exploration of humanity Put simply the author Catherynne Valente wanted to eat her cake and have it too To uote from an interview she had with John ScalziI’m not going to lie This book is crazypants I threw everything I had into it Heart and soul and probably some cartilage and eyeball fluid too I wanted to write a melodrama about a wild living and breathing and suabbling Solar System I wanted to write a horror romance about huge elemental aliens I wanted to write a non linear postmodern SF novel that was also a page turning thriller because I secretly always wanted to write a hardboiled noir murder mystery I wanted to write a badass adventure about film patents I wanted to write a book about movies About seeing and being seen About what the camera does to us when it never leaves our side About who has the right to speak and who has to buy it About the meaning of science fiction in a science fictional universe And through it all I wanted to write about a lost girl who didn’t come home It all hangs together I promiseAlas Catherynne Valente you’ve made a promise you couldn’t keep Not for this reader at least It doesn’t hang together It’s too much in too little space Worse you’ve committed the one sin no author – whether her book is a non linear postmodern narrative or not – can commit you didn’t give us a reason to careNow those who do like this book might argue that I’m committing the affective fallacy That I’m critiueing a piece of literature based on how it makes us FEEL as opposed to what it makes us think They would trumpet the book’s non linear narrative and metafictional elements as an explicit choice that may make the book difficult to read but that is NECESSARY to the story’s ultimate purpose To explore the subjective nature of reality and of film’s intersections with it and the methods and conseuences of how and where we choose to focus the spotlights of our eyeballs ears and mindsI would counter that not all non linear narratives are created eual Even if the mere EXISTENCE of a non linear narrative OUGHT to tell us the author is trying to make some metafictional comment about genre or narrative that doesn’t mean she actually accomplished her aims I’d go further still even the ACCOMPLISHMENT of these aims wouldn’t necessarily make the book worth reading Instead each reader must ultimately ask him or herself is the metafictional exploration of genre worth reading if the author has failed to provide a compelling underpinning of humanity?My complete lack of engagement with this novel would answer a resounding NOBut do not mistake this as MERELY an opposition to postmodern fiction True enough I consider postmodern lit a form of intellectual masturbation but a 1 star rating from me is an even greater condemnation I think Radiance is a particularly bad example of post modern litBy way of contrast I’d bring up Italo Calvino’s post modern book If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler That book is in many ways as difficult and experimental as Radiance But I love it I love it because underpinning its non linear structure is a humor and keen sense of the absurd that give readers a reason to careMore technically Calvino’s novel plays with structure by way of concatenation By this I mean it tells micro stories compelling in their own right but then ends them at the height of climax a level of tease to make any Arabian concubine proud A Winter’s Night’s meta story is then about the reader often pronounized as ‘you’ in his search to find the rest of the story and therefore closure Story structure thus mirrors story theme how readers engage with narrative as a whole and how our expectations for a standard narrative structure rising action climax falling action denouement have become inculcated in us and in fact now inform our fundamental conceptualizations of things like romantic relationships life and death and even our debates on intelligent design versus the theory of evolution Deep deep stuffCatherynne Valente as the above uote reveals thinks she’s also writing about deep deep stuff But the difference is that Radiance's form and content have a fractious dissonant and unengaging relationship In a different interview with Clarkesworld Magazine she writesI had to give myself permission to do certain things use certain tricks—like including scripts audio shifting POV and the other ephemera and metafictional elements you mention It’s pretty much a postmodern free for all At first I kept thinking I can’t just describe what’s onscreen in a movie inside the book That just makes it look like I’d rather be making a movie I had to get to a point where I could say I actually can do that because it’s my book and that’s the right way to do itThat phrase – “a postmodern free for all” – says it all The book is a mish mash of ideas and forms its structure a shotgun spread rather than a sniper’s intimate voyeurism The uote as a whole is an admission of self indulgence She includes scripts audio shifting POV and other ephemera and metafictional elements not because doing so highlights explorations on “seeing and being seen; on what the camera does to us when it never leaves our side; on who has the right to speak and who has to buy it; and on the meaning of science fiction in a science fictional universe” – but because she bloody well wanted to propagating the mistaken post modern confusion that MERE EXPLORATION of structure is BY ITSELF evidence of great and skillful artifice if not authorial courage and therefore worthy of being readWell I disagree I would uote Picasso when he wrote “In my opinion to search means nothing To find is the thing Nobody is interested in following a man who with his eyes fixed on the ground spends his life looking for the purse that fortune should put in his path The one who finds something no matter what it might be even if his intention were not to search for it at least arouses our curiosity if not our admiration”As I read through Radiance’s self indulgent epilogue which amounts uite clearly to the author justifying her decision to use a shotgun structure because “humans do not proceed in an orderly fashion from one scene to the next” – which by the by is a standard postmodern claim that is completely false Au contraire it is the tragedy of humanity that we have no choice but to creep in a chronologically linear fashion from scene to scene and tomorrow to tomorrow until the last syllable of our borrowed time; its boring essays from fictional film critics; its lists of ship’s manifest and here I thought I left that self important scheiss behind back on Walden Pond; and its long rants mistaking high octane purple prose like “the Earth fucked the sky and made a hundred children” for genuine exploration of humanity – as I went through all this I was never once engaged mano y mano This was no story but a magic show by a patchwork golem a dazzling array of images and words that held all the cohesive meaning of a fireworks display I was never shown why any of these characters might have a superior grasp than I do on eg who has a right to speak or what it means to be seen or what the camera does to us when it never leaves our side Worse I was never shown why I should CARE what any of these characters thinkIn short I would argue Radiance failed to ever find or demonstrate humanity in necessary uantities to overcome the artificiality of its narrative and structure Its demands on my empathy muscles came far too late far after it had lost me Earlier I brought up Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler as a successful example of postmodern literature It is therefore with great irony and thus also circularity that I believe the concluding paragraph from NY Times’ 1981 review of the book nails exactly how I feel about RadianceAnd then the book for all its formidable wit and skill is a confession of failure and I think we shall get it wrong if we insist on converting all its apparent misses into clever hits The stalled writer the one who is in love with beginnings says I would like to be able to write a book that is only an incipit that maintains for its whole duration the potentiality of the beginning the expectation still not focused on an object This is a desire not a program An expectation permanently unfocused will die and an expectation that can't be focused is simply a disappointment As a book about broken narrative promises this work is impeccable But its very success in this vein leads us to the sadness of its central subject the absence of the artist Dickens Tolstoy Stendhal Dostoyevsky who could brilliantly keep the promises he made


  4. says:

    DECOPUNK PULP SF ALT HISTORY SPACE OPERA MYSTERYthat that is like my aesthetic explained in 7 words dies


  5. says:

    Updated review after a second reading in November 2018 I used to look up at night and dream of the solar systemMs Valente wrote the kind of book I wish I could write and for that I am both in awe of her and kinda pissed off Seriously the woman took some of my all time favorite things chucked them in a blender and then wrote this bookA documentary film maker goes missing while she is shooting her final project about a mysteriously deserted colonial settlement on Venus Her story is pieced together through movies depositions hard boiled detective style remembrances and her own “video diary” entries It sounds choppy and yes you must pay attention to the dates of the various entries to not get confused but Catherynne Valente knows just how to weave all these elements together to form a beautiful completely original storyThe world Valente crafted for “Radiance” is an alternate Earth where the Golden Age of Hollywood has remained one of silent black and white movies because of patent wars where humanity has explored the solar system and colonized all its planets where the “milk” of mysterious Venusian creatures known as callow whales is what enables humans to experience space travel safely and where making documentary movies is considered “genre” because everyone is so obsessed with lurid fantasy that it's now the mainstream Of course that can be too rich for some readers’ blood and I can’t really blame them But I am an absolute glutton for this deco punk phantasmagoriaI enjoyed this novel immensely and while it is not perfect it has a fairy talesci fiwhat the hell is going on vibe to it that just blew me away I kept thinking of the Georges Meliès movies the exaggerated movements and expressions the surreal plot lines and beautiful cardboard sets I loved the non linear patchwork flow of the book and the alternate history where inter planetary travel is just as HG Wells might have imagined it The narrative is a postmodern mosaic I seem to be reading a lot of those lately and its a colorful glittery literary puzzle and it is also a love letter to silent films to a certain dramatic aesthetic that went out of fashion but for which Valente clearly still pines It is dizzying occasionally frustrating; but I also found it dazzling and exuberant This is not really an escapist read it’s a book that you need to chew on a bit I’ve come to find that those are the books I usually end up enjoying the most the challenging ones the ones that reuire patience and brainsI enjoyed and probably understood this novel even the second time around If you are a fan of Valente or are looking for a book that’s unlike anything you’ve read before this might just be what you are looking for


  6. says:

    This science fiction book which is not really a science fiction book tells a story which is not really a story that is part tone poem part pulp novel part experimental romance and parts of many other things In fact it's not really a book is it? Just pieces of one And yet I love it right in the face


  7. says:

    Catherynne M Valente is at the top of my list of authors whose talent makes me positively green with envy Her command of the English language is humbling Her words are not only strangely beautiful easily understood despite the complete lack of anything familiar but they are also riddled with truths sometimes painful truths that are wondrously expressed Come in from that assault on all senses that pummelling of rod and cone and drum and cilia Come in from the great spotlight of the sun sweeping across the white sands making everyone and therefore no one a star I just finished reading the preview chapters of RADIANCE and my impression based on the excerpt is that it is a kind of sci finoirsatire mashup A starlit is dead Maybe Probably At least it's possible that she's dead Her name is Severin Unck She is ten years old She is talking to her father Percy She is dead Almost certainly dead Nearly conclusively dead She is at the very least not answering her telephone What follows is gossip rag speculation in depth dissections of her life as captured on film and also observations on the practices of stock celebrities that make our culture pop And unlike the finely coiffed and trained Hollywood types it isn't prettySuffice it to say I am well and truly hooked and will be counting down the days to RADIANCE's release October 20 2015


  8. says:

    Watch a mini review in my August 2017 wrap upNow THIS is a book that will stay with meObviously Valente's writing deserves all kinds of praise It's lush You just swim though her prose I can understand her use of language being a bit too much for some people but I ate it up like a rich meal paired with the perfect wine topped off with a melt in your mouth dessert that leaves you uncomfortably full in the very best wayThis truly does not feel like other novels It's epistolary and that's what elevates this book so much Because of the format you're not just watching the characters try to solve a mystery You YOURSELF are piecing together this book trying to solve for what exactly the mystery IS Because of the format you don't meet all the players and certain documents may seem out of place or utterly confusing What is going on? You're forced to go on a similar journey as the characters They are trying to figure out this mystery while you are trying to figure out the mystery of this book It's meta and it's amazingI do think a passing understanding of film theory makes this book even better Valente clearly knows her stuff when it comes to film her father's first love was film making and it shows Knowing a bit about gaze perspective and the role of the audience in film is integral to picking up some of this book's moments of sheer brilliance The best films play with their audiences By this I don't mean they play tricks on their audiences though that's fun too but rather that great films are aware that they are being watched voyeurs in plush seats in a darkened room This book manages to do the same The reader is the voyeur but much like the characters in this book readers are forced to step into the light The format of the book reuires a kind of active reading Because you have to pieces this book together Valente doesn't allow her readers to be passive voyeurs peering into this world into this story It's sheer brillianceThis book is definitely not for everyone The dialogue is nowhere near the way people speak in real life Place is given just as much page time as character and plot The narrative structure is intentionally fairly nonsensical And I loved every minute of it


  9. says:

    DNF 23%Gahhhh I just can't Again with the oodles of description and minimal action The writing itself is gorgeous but when I get so wrapped up in the words that I get lost and don't know how to find my way back to what's going on assuming something IS actually going on then it's a no go unfortunately


  10. says:

    The prologue is the mother of the tale and the governess of the audience She knows you have to bring them in slow teach them how to behave Catherynne M Valente doesn't have a silver tongue; she has a 24 karat gold tongue studded with stars and diamonds of every color Her vocabulary is a menagerie of tigers and dragons; white wolves and black unicorns Radiance is a alt history space opera noir set in a solar system where every planet has been colonized by mankind The moon is home to a silent film industry Uranus has cities of towers grown from pink and green and yellow anemones Pluto is covered in fields of infanta flowers and connected to it's moon by a bridge of blooms The universe Valente creates is so wildly imaginative and vividly brought to life I wouldn't have minded one bit if the whole novel was just a guided tour of the cosmos describing each planet in rich glorious detailBut of course it's much than thatSeverin Unck is a documentary filmmaker and the daughter of a famous director She and her crew travel to Venus a planet largely covered in water and home to the callowhales a mysterious lifeform who's milk is the very thing making it possible from humans to live on different planets They're there to make a movie about a village that disappeared over night leaving no one behind but one mysterious boy Once they get there strange things start happening and then Severin disappearsRadiance is the story of her disappearance or rather it is the story of the story of her disappearance as told by the ones who got left behind and through a variety of mediums; journal entries gossip columns film scripts transcripts Some of it remembered some of it imagined It's a riddle of a book; a puzzle where the pieces make something greater than a whole I loved watching it all unfold from those tantalizing first lines all the way to the enigmatic end And when the ships made landfall the stories having conserved their energy burst free and ran wild changing into local clothes and dancing up on stages and wearing flowers in their hair Stories are like that They love havoc especially their own Radiance playlistFrank Sinatra Fly Me to the MoonFather John Misty Only Son Of The Ladies ManChopin Nocturne op9 No2John Grant MarzHighasakite Lover Where Do You Live?El Vy Return to the Moon Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing with CrescendoDavid Bowie Life On Mars?