Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After re-reading my gushing review from years ago and having just re-read the fantastic book, I wonder if there's anything I can add to it?
Ah, how about this: Getting a nice hardbound version and sipping the tale like a great wine is recommended.
Re-reads are not only welcome -- but delightful.
And damn... the ending is both nearly incomprehensible and immensely satisfying. Active readers will have a huge, huge kick. :)
This was A-Fucking-Mazing.
This is what all SF aspires to be when it grows up and speaks like David Foster Wallace channeling Roger Zelazny.
I want to have this book's babies.
Do I like this? Oh my lord... do I like this??? Okay. Word of warning: don't bother reading this unless you KNOW your mythology, and I'm not just talking about the greeks. There's a boatload of Sumerian in here, as well. Each and every city is appropriate. Each and every name is square on the mark. This book is brilliant. BRILLIANT. It shines with Radiance.
Okay. Now down to the nitty-gritty. We slide easily between motion picture scripting and stream of consciousness, with a few actual epistles thrown in. It's accomplished and speaks of a grand familiarity with traditional mainstream fiction, even going so far as to rise as high as any of the past masters. Don't be fooled into thinking that because this is SF that it is anything less than masterful. I'm going to have to read this one several more times to pick up everything, but even on my first quick read, I picked up more than enough to shiver with delight and drool from both sides of my mouth because I am, essentially, a level-headed person.
One thing that is common upon practically every level of this read, and the title gives it away. Radiance. It's all about bringing forth the best version through the magic of light.
You can read this story from the surface, getting into the magical mystery of Severin and her disappearance, or the magic of moviemaking, but all of that's just the easy route. Another route is to read between the lines, to see that every person and every place is a pure metaphor that works, time and time again, to bolster the initial and ongoing themes of bringing meaning out of death, magic out of life, and raising the standard of understanding everything else with eyes as sharp as the sun. All the artists in this book are on a quest to bring their Art to the next level, and none of them are failures. They are the embodiment of beauty-crafting, myth-building, and obsession. Percival and Severin is a perfect example.
An entirely different level of this same theme caught my attention right off the bat and turned me into a giddy mess. Ms. Valente turned our solar-system into a heaven and a haven, the best of all possible worlds, a place where everyone and everything could survive, custom-made to support life and happiness. I think of all the pulp SF out there, not forgetting Burroughs or Bradbury, that had lush life on Venus and Mars. Of course, she took it much farther. Mercury had it's own unique species, as did Jupiter and Saturn, their moons, and all the way to Pluto and Charon, which had a huge vegetable stalk connecting the two moonlets together in an endless dance, with strange cows and lotus flowers ready to provide life and sustenance for humans when they arrived. It was gorgeous. It was a dream come true, and artistic rendering that turned our hellish system into a horn of plenty, and yes, everywhere was giving us air to breathe. This, too, was the artist giving us a brilliant conception of the world through the Fae Light of movie magic, and I admit that I fell into its spell as deeply and completely as any of the very best books I've ever read. It was told so well that I drowned in not giving a fuck about having realistic science. This was all about dreams and magic, as only our deepest joys of a mythical Hollywood could conceive.
Is this enough to propel you to a wonderful reading experience? I hope so. But wait... I haven't even mentioned the Callowhales.
And I won't. They're very important, and increasingly so.
This is one of the best books I've ever read. Maybe it just speaks to me, and me alone, because I love complicated flights of immense imagination, detailed with such density and beauty that I was forced to slow the hell down and savor each word, each turn of phrase, each reference. Was I doubly amazed by the structure of the read when scenes replayed themselves as to throw all of my ideas about what I was reading into an entirely new light? Hells yes. The writing was masterful. I know I said that before. I'm saying it again because I have to sit back down with this book, SOON, and study it. I WANT to study it. It is so damn rich as to turn practically everything else I read into shallow piles of doo.
I can't believe this is just the first novel I've read of hers. I've been hearing about her works for years, and yet I just never got around to reading any of them. I wanted to. I really did, but something always got in the way. I seem to be saying that a lot about a handful of authors, recently. Well I'm FIXING THAT. I'm going to be reading the rest of her works very soon. No one that can write like this should ever be dismissed or ignored. Brilliance is Brilliance.
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