Book review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Crossposted from my goodreads review.

Cover of Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Cover of Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

This novel is set in an alternate universe where space travel and colonization happened faster, and the early (silent) days of cinema were shot on the moon. Filmpunk, if you will.

The plot focuses on the mysterious disappearance of Severin Unck, a second-generation filmmaker. Valente has structured the novel like a shooting script, with other documents interspersed, including snippets of other films and correspondence.
The characters are compelling, deeply flawed, interesting people, all doing interesting things for their own motivations.

Radiance is about parents and children, and point of view before and behind the lens, and storytelling, and how the people who tell stories on film would like another take in life quite often, please. What is true? What is not? How does that change based upon your quantum position in the universe? What happens when the center of your universe goes missing?

This is, of course, a vastly oversimplified description. The setting and the structure matter utterly to this novel. The worldbuilding is epic, whimsical, and utterly alien while still being quite relatable to human foibles and perspectives. Valente’s authorial narrative voice keeps coming up with a sentence I’d like to frame and hang on the wall to stare at for a bit about every three paragraphs, on average. It’s not overwritten–the prose style is quite penetrable, but there’s a whole lot of depth in those short sentences.

This novel was not a breathless, quick read– you’ll want to chew on it a bit. But it is absolutely a meal worth savoring.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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