Sunday, November 27, 2016


RadianceRadiance by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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 day.

Told 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 techniques are actually relevant to the story.

The 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 unique setting indeed.

There's not a whole lot more 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 mysteries.

4.5 out of 5 stars. This one is not to be missed.

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