Review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance by Catherynne M. ValenteSeverin 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.

Taken from Goodreads

Catherynne, Catherynne, Catherynne. Will you ever fail? If I had to sum up this book in one line, it would be: This book is everything I have ever wanted from Sci-Fi and more. (Or a ‘a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery’ as is more accurate, and brilliant.) Let’s face it, space whales. It’s so very me.

I am a self-confessed Catherynne M. Valente fangirl, I claw and clasp at everything she writes and can’t get enough (around seven months ago, I got words from Deathless tattooed onto my right bicep, and intend to get another from the same novel on the back of my left calf). But I am not ashamed to say that, I wasn’t sure about this one – I’d never read a novel which uses so many different kinds of storytelling. However, there was no way I wasn’t going to read it.

Boy, I’m glad I did. It is a beautiful, spiralling mystery, which seeps like paint. I loved piecing together each little snippet and clue, and I loved the descriptions of the creatures which still had their Earth names but were very much not the same as their earthly counterparts. As ever with a Valente work, the world building was complete and phenomenal, packed with little details that, while they do nothing to further the plot, solidify her version’s of planets and moons in a way that I never quite expect, even though I am used to seeing it in her work.

Valente is as poetic as ever and uses the different formats excellently, I’ve very rarely found myself enjoying reading a script but at this point, I am sure that I would adore reading everything she writes. Including her shopping lists. But not in a creepily stalkerish way. In a ‘I bet even they are poetic’ way. Rein it in, Elou. Anyway! The different formats in the book makes for some interesting typesetting, I particularly love the icons at the beginning of each chapter denoting on which planet it takes place.

The cover featured above is from the US, the book doesn’t come out in the UK until March but I adored the US cover desgn and had to own it (not to mention, I wanted to read it as soon as I possibly could, especially as I have to wait for the paperback editions of the Fairyland books to match my existing collection). Like I said, I claw for her writing.

What began as a short story in a zine, which I am listening to as I type, turned into a beautiful journey through space, and time, ever chasing a phantom of a girl who will always be a mystery that I would love to solve.

Thank you for another beautiful novel.

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