Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Synopsis: Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own, from Catherynne M. Valente, the phenomenal talent behind the New York TimesbestsellingThe 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 universe.
But 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.
Told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.
Huge thank you to Raincoast/Tor for this ARC!
So, Radiance is a weird, weird book. It’s not bad weird, just very out there. If people were to ask me how I described the book, I’d probably tell them it’s a confusing, yet charmingly deceptive book about film-making in space. There’s Hollywood glitz and glam and it’s all happening in the solar system. The book is alsovery old Hollywood, which is something I adored about it.
Here’s the thing, the writing in this book is stunning, and not in Valente’s usual way. It’s gritter, much more technical through the use of mixed media (such as scripts, letters, etc) and she really does this amazing job of painting space-Hollywood in a way that feels so familiar, and yet at the same time she puts enough distance between the world and the readers to remind them that not everything is as it seems on the surface. I loved that about this story, and really the writing and the world building were the parts that really kept me involved and drawn in to the overall narrative.
But if I’m being frank, I’m not sure I totally understood the story on this one. Parts of it felt slow or all over the place, and there’s this feeling of franticness that fits what is happening the story, but it makes it hard to follow. Furthermore, I wasn’t in love with these characters and I did find them memorable at all. What I was in love with was how film-making techniques were integrated in the story, the old world Hollywood elements just captured me in a way that made me want to rewatch classic films. But I wanted to connect to these characters, and struggled, hoping one of them would be someone I could connect with.
I think if you’re a hardcore Valente fan like I am, you’ll probably find something to love about this book. I do not recommend this book if this is your first time reading her work (I’d also say start with Fairyland or some of her short stories) because he writing is very unique and it’s definitely not for everyone. I think there’s a lot to enjoy about Radiance, I just found it for me personally, to be a tougher reader than some of her other works.