Written by Cathryne M. Valente
Published by Tor
Where does cinema end and the real world begin?  Can a camera really film the truth?  And which is more real?  Life, or the film that captures it?  These are the questions that overshadow the life of documentary filmmaker Severin Unck.  Filmed from the moment she appeared as a baby in a basket on the doorstep of Gothic director Percival Unck, she has constantly rejected his brand of fantasy in favor of the truth.  Living in an alternate reality where movies never advanced past black-and-white silent films and every planet and moon in the solar system is both habitable and welcoming, she documents food riots on Mars, end of the world parties on Neptune, and of course, her own larger than life childhood.  But when Severin disappears on an ill-fated voyage to document the destruction of a Venusian settlement, the truth may be the one thing that is indistinguishable.
Compiled from witness interviews, abandoned film treatments, and radio transcripts, Radiance is an ambitious and strange epistolary novel about the life of a realist documentarian in a fabulist universe.  The novel rarely follows a conventional prose format, and when it does, the authenticity of these sections is explicitly suspect.  But the fascinating worlds that Valente creates make sifting through the story puzzle she creates a sheer delight.  The walls between the events of Severin and her associates’ lives, and that of their film counterparts jumble together in an epic spanning a night flower-carpeted Pluto to a tropical Venus that is home to the Callowhales, island-sized aquatic creatures whose milk is essential for long-term survival in space.  But of course, they aren’t really whales, and their milk isn’t really milk.
In this novel, Valente invites us into an editing booth and lays out all these pieces in a lush, fantastic sci-fi mystery.  Like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, It leaves the challenge of constructing a linear narrative to the reader, and leaves the reader not with the satisfaction of a completed story, but the wonder of a messy, complicated, and beautiful life.  This novel is not to be missed.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it.  Donate via Patreon for exclusive content and other bonuses.