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Radiance: A Novel by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance: A Novel (2015)

by Catherynne M. Valente

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This is an interestingly constructed story. It's in the form of a jumbled series of ephemera: diary entries, bits of film scripts, spaceship manifests, etc. The upside is that the reader gets a really rich picture of the world the story takes place in. The downside is that it takes forever to get a sense of where the story's going and what it's really about. The first half or so was a bit of a slog. But in the second half, it picks up. The eventual conclusion is pretty satisfying, answering the main mysteries while giving a glimpse of something much bigger.

I really liked the characters of Erasmo St. John and Mary Pellham. Both were well-developed and had plenty of personality, dreams, and ambitions.

The motif of "X, which was not really X" was probably supposed to evoke a certain fairy-tale style? But it was really super annoying how often it was repeated, interrupting the flow of the storytelling. ( )
  lavaturtle | Jan 21, 2017 |
I found Radiance to be a weird and rather scattered narrative. Considering the basic story it contains, the book seems at least twice as long as necessary. The padding comes in the form of exposition. So many analogies. So many ways of saying the same thing in different ways. Replete with allegory and fluff, I found the first half a bit of a slog. At nearly halfway through, (on page 198 of 432 in the kindle edition), I found this passage...
"In film, even in realitè such as Severin's, these sorts of human intermissions are happily elided with jump-cuts or montages. Action to action, point of interest to point of interest, that's the way! In life they must be suffered, wallowed in."
... which neatly sums up my thoughts about this book. I find it ironic in a meta sort of way that Valente makes this point and then continues to fill the book to overflowing with the same sort of suffering and wallowing she describes. Perhaps that was intentional on her part? If so, I consider it a questionable choice.

Complaints aside, I do like Valente's writing style. She has a talent for turning a phrase in interesting ways. There are also many clever uses of language and a wealth of references to our own world and history - even though this tale takes place in an allegorical alternate reality. The script-like layout employed throughout was an interesting technique. I also enjoyed the various viewpoints that were all looking at the same things from differing angles. But that head-hopping also proved exceptionally challenging to continuity.

The second half picked up quite a bit and almost rescued the book for me. I was ready to give it 2 stars at the halfway point but the balance of the story managed to claw its way back to 3 stars. At the end of the day, while Radiance was not exactly a great introduction to Valente's material, (for me), I am more than likely to give her another try in the future. ( )
  ScoLgo | Jan 20, 2017 |
this was not a book to read in the hottest month of summer. it needs cold storm-winds and crackling radios to give it a fair try. ( )
  melannen | Jan 5, 2017 |
I found this book to be beautiful but ultimately frustrating to read; Valente's virtues and vices as a writer are on full display here. More thoughts here. ( )
  elucubrare | Dec 29, 2016 |
Catherynne Valente tackles a hefty raft of ideas in Radiance: The novel is self-described as a decopunk pulp science fiction alt-history space-opera mystery set in Hollywood.

With that as the introduction, I was rather prepared to tire of Radiance pretty quickly, yet there was no doubt that there was some attraction. And somewhat surprisingly, the weariness never did arrive, except in small doses toward the end. What Valente has done here is use language beautifully in a way that truly does transcend time and place, hinting that there is something, shall we say, more metaphysical that grounds us or sets us free.

The mysterious death of docu-filmmaker Severin Unck is the central point of the story, told from varying points of view and with jumps in chronology and location. The world of Severin is not Earth; in fact, here the entire solar system as we know it is actually fully populated by humans. (Homo-sapiens as the ultimate colonizer is a rather attractive hook, one that I did not fully grasp when I read the eye-popping introduction.) Severin had set off to Venus to make a documentary about the disappearance of a diving colony on that planet, but although some of her crew perished, she herself disappeared and is presumed dead. Her father, legendary director Percival, is trying to cope with her loss by crafting a film that aims at constructing an 'ending' for his truth-obsessed daughter.

Read full review at https://devikamenon.blogspot.com/2016/10/readings-radiance.html ( )
  dmenon90 | Oct 20, 2016 |
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For Heath, who taught me about light
and my father, who taught me how to get the shot.
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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.

Aesthetically recalling A Trip to the Moon and House of Leaves, and 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.
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