Sunday, December 13, 2015

Radiance Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Space Opera, Literary Science Fiction
Series: Standalone
Pages: 432

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The original transcript of this review has been lost. Click here for more info.

Below is a re-write of the original review.

In the early twentieth century humans have colonized all nine of the planets in our solar system and most of the moons. Film is a newly developed form of art, but despite the abilities to create “talkies” most films remain silent in order to avoid paying the Edison family for their copyright patents. Severin Unck is the daughter of the famous director Percy Unck; she disappears while making her last film on Venus, leaving all who knew her to wonder about her fate.

As Valente so elegantly puts it in her prologue:

“Real life is all beginnings. Days, weeks, children, journeys, marriages, inventions. Even a murder is the beginning of a criminal. Perhaps even a spree. Everything is prologue.”

Radiance is a lot more than the alt-history murder mystery-noir that it paints itself out to be. It is a collection of many different people’s stories, all of whom revolve around Severin Unck and her disappearance. In effect, it is a collection of beginnings, which in turn lead to more beginnings.

Radiance is very much a post-modern formatted story. Plots are told out of order, characters are unreliable, and the formatting and typography looks like it belongs in a Mark Danielewski book. The story of Severin and all those who knew her before and after she disappears, comes to the reader in radio transcripts, found footage, movie scripts, interrogation documents, and more. Readers are given pieces of plot and are asked to put them together into a cohesive and meaningful story - which this most certainly is if you're willing to do the work.

At first glance this may come across as a mystery story about finding Severin, but that's really not the focus. It's a story that's more about how this one woman affected so many lives, and it's about the people who affected hers. Severin group up in front of a movie camera her entire life, always in the shadow of her fathers legendary reputation. She also went through a number of different mothers like a family goes through automobiles. 

Severin herself would also go on to have multiple lovers and make films that are very much the antithesis of what her father was making. Besides being a father daughter story, Radiance paints a mesmerizing tribute to filmmaking, and as the Afterward in the book states Valente was inspired to write this because of her own father's love of movies and how that impacted her artistic career.

Valente is an excellent writer. Her prose counts her amongst the best of fantasy and science fiction authors, and for that alone I would recommend this book. I do understand people are more likely to be critical of this story with it being a more challenging book to read, and it's plot not being traditionally linear, but I really loved this story and I couldn't recommend it enough.

Score: 9.4

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