Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Radiance” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.75  ·  Rating details ·  3,909 ratings  ·  985 reviews
Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own, from the phenomenal talent behind the New York Times bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are sti
Hardcover, A Tor Book, 432 pages
Published October 20th 2015 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Radiance, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Nehemiah No. Some parts are written like letters, some like a play or movie, and some parts are more narrative (like a traditional book).

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,909 ratings  ·  985 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Radiance
Re-read 5/24/20:

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. :)

Original review:

This was A-Fucking-Mazing.

This is what all SF
Dan Schwent
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, 2016-books
Documentary filmmaker Severin Unck never returned from her last project on Venus. Thus begins the meta-fictional odyssey into Severin Unck's life and fate.

Radiance is the story of Severin Unck's life (and death?), told by Severin and the people who knew her in the form of articles, journal entries, scripts, and films, most notably Severin's own. I was apprehensive at first, since this sounds like a first class ticket to fancy-pants town, like a lot of books that use meta-fictional devices. Howe
Because I am unable to resist the seductions of irony, here is a quote from Robert Downey Jr.:

This is probably going to get quoted in every publication just because I said it. And I’m not even saying anything. I’m not talking about my films, I’m not talking about my life, and I’m not talking about the world. And yet, the media will print it simply because I said it. And at this moment in time, I bet there is an artist around the corner of this hotel, on the street, with a mind far beyond ours, b
KL (Cat)
Nov 22, 2014 is currently reading it

that... that is like my aesthetic explained in 7 words. [dies]

Updated review after a second reading in November 2018.


"I used to look up at night and dream of the solar system."

Ms. Valente wrote the kind of book I wish I could write, and for that I am both in awe of her, and kinda pissed off. Seriously, the woman took some of my all-time favorite things, chucked them in a blender and then wrote this book.

A documentary film maker goes missing while she is shooting her final project, about a mysteriously deserted colonial settlement on Venus. Her story is p
Tom Merritt
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This science fiction book, which is not really a science fiction book, tells a story, which is not really a story that is part tone poem, part pulp novel, part experimental romance, and parts of many other things. In fact it's not really a book is it? Just pieces of one. And yet, I love it right in the face.
Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ Rabid Reads-no-more
Catherynne M. Valente is at the top of my list of authors whose talent makes me positively green with envy.

Her command of the English language is . . . humbling. Her words are not only strangely beautiful, easily understood despite the complete lack of anything familiar, but they are also riddled with truths . . . sometimes painful truths . . . that are wondrously expressed:

Come in from that assault on all senses, that pummelling of rod and cone and drum and cilia.
Come in from the great spo
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Watch a mini-review in my August 2017 wrap up!

Now THIS is a book that will stay with me...

Obviously, Valente's writing deserves all kinds of praise. It's lush. You just swim though her prose. I can understand her use of language being a bit too much for some people, but I ate it up like a rich meal paired with the perfect wine, topped off with a melt-in-your mouth dessert that leaves you uncomfortably full in the very best way.

This truly does not feel like other novels. It's epistolary, and that
Ashley Marie
May 02, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
DNF @ 23%

Gahhhh I just can't. Again with the oodles of description and minimal action. The writing itself is gorgeous but when I get so wrapped up in the words that I get lost and don't know how to find my way back to what's going on (assuming something IS actually going on) then it's a no go, unfortunately.
The prologue is the mother of the tale and the governess of the audience. She knows you have to bring them in slow, teach them how to behave.
Catherynne M Valente doesn't have a silver tongue; she has a 24 karat gold tongue studded with stars and diamonds of every color. Her vocabulary is a menagerie of tigers and dragons; white wolves and black unicorns.

Radiance is a alt-history space opera noir set in a solar-system where every planet has been colonized by mankind. The moon is home to a
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it

A wonderful present from Lys, I literally squealed when I saw it. :*

It's close to 5 but I'm not sure how to rate it yet. Deathless is still my favourite of Valente's books and this one maybe didn't "flow" like I wanted it to. However I can't do anything but be amazed at her writing style and ideas and, most of all, knowledge of mythology. Radiance is extremely complex and full of references to mythology...I probably could re-read it all over again and find completely new elements.

The blurb d
Executive Summary: This book just wasn't for me, but then I don't like literary fiction. The parts I enjoyed were just too infrequent.

Full Review
This book wasn't on my radar at all. Ms. Valente was on the Sword & Laser podcast late last year, but I apparently forgot all about it. That should have been my first warning.

I'm a big fan of movies. I'm a pretty big fan of science-fiction. This should have been a happy marriage for me, but it wasn't. I've seen hundreds of films. I've read hundreds
I full on genuflect to the brilliance, imagination and gorgeous mind behind this book. It's recognizably the woman who wrote Palimpsest, but even more tender, even more full of such stuff as dreams are made on. I'll never forget this patchwork of glorious pieces.

I hope to write more soon.
Sep 22, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars - I think I'm going to be the odd one out on this one but it just didn't work for me. It had moments of brilliance but it just didn't come together as a cohesive whole. I love weird books and books that don't follow linear narratives and that use different ways of telling the story. This has all of that so I should have loved it but unfortunately I didn't and by the end I just didn't care.
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book about a movie producer and his daughter's disappearance/death that I have read. Only this book isn't written as a typical thriller-that-could-be-real-life, this is (amongst many other things) space opera!

In this alternate solar system, life is everyhwere. There are even whales on Venus (and boy, did I love those!). Due to Edison's family being pricks (hoarding patents), there are only silent movies but space travel is a normal occurrence for humanity.
Severin Unck's father
Helene Jeppesen
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was one of a kind! I can honestly say that I've never read a novel like "Radiance" before, and I love it when I encounter those kinds of reading surprises.
"Radiance" takes place on different planets, and it follows different plots and destinies in a non-linear way. It sounds confusing, and it is! But it's amazing how Catherynne M. Valente is still able to make sense of everything and maintain a common thread throughout.
It's hard to describe what this book is about, but basically we f
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction, 2015
Outer space is the ultimate gothic mansion. What better place to search for things that go bump in the night?

Radiance unfolds in a bygone era that never quite existed. The golden age of silent film... on the moon. Diving bells for the seas of Venus. The Ottoman empire stretching to Jupiter. These are the familiar bare bones of our solar system, clothed in the feathers and flesh of extraterrestrial fauna, and wearing a dandy top hat.

It's an image partly reminiscent of a lot of classic sci-fi (f
Katie Lumsden
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
A truly brilliant read, one of my favourites of the year so far. This book is incredibly written, with a fascinating well thought out structure and a brilliant world fantastically built. There is so much in this book that it almost shouldn't work - and yet it does, brilliantly. I would highly recommend.
Chris Berko
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
There's a scene about half way into Reservoir Dogs where Mr Orange is developing his "story" for the undercover work he's about to do. His boss encourages him to have one, says every great undercover officer has a "story", and the next ten minutes of the film is truly some genius filmmaking,among the best sequences ever filmed. We watch Mr. Orange go from reading the story, to reciting the story, to acting it out, to adding his own flavor and presenting it, to finally when he's telling the story ...more
The press release for this book describes it as “a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood, and solar system, very different from our own” and if you think that sounds complicated, you have no idea.

I’m not going to lie; this is not an easy book to get into, and it’s not a light read. This is not the sort of thing you can pick up while on the edge of sleep, when your brain has started shutting down and you just want to relax.
Stories are like that. They love havoc, espe
Jul 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
DNFed @ 150 pages-- Though I did enjoy this one substantially more than Space Opera, I realized at some point that while I can admire the project here, I did not care about it. For me, this is more style than substance, and I didn't enjoy the style enough to continue. I'm very sadly reaching the conclusion that this author may just not be for me... which bums me out. I really like the idea of this book & the idea of her works more broadly. I'll give her one more shot with "The Girl Who Navigated ...more
Peter Tillman
I was looking forward to this, until I tried it. I really didn’t get far — tried the start, then skipped around, looking for something to like. Beyond the concept, and chapter names, well, nothing appealed. Seemed a muddled mess to me.

Well, YMMV. But if you like a traditional, coherent SF/F storyline, transparent prose and somewhat believable characters, you're likely to be disappointed. 1.5 stars, courtesy roundup.
Thomas Wagner
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it
After some days of thought, realizing I admired this a bit more than I initially thought, settled on 3.5.

Radiance is a book whose brilliance is in some ways a liability. It's impossible to deny the mastery of its craft, but if you aren't prepared for what you're getting into you can easily find yourself overwhelmed early on. It throws up so many layers of artifice that it's difficult to feel much but the most cursory emotional investment in its characters. But the way in which the book is essen
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Things I know to be (sort-of) true about this book:

01. It's unlike everything I've ever read. It is quite possibly the strangest book I've ever read, but in the very best way.

02. Nothing is real and everything is real at the same time.

03. I have no idea what really happened there at the end, but I believe that that's the point. I love a messy ending, so for me, it works. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who likes their stories tied up with neat little ribbons at the end. It left me feeling a
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I'm in love the worlds that Valente creates in this, along with the central mysteries and characters, but ultimately felt a little let down when it came to how it all hung together. Very glad I read it, though.
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
very interesting novel though a little frustrating in that the story doesn't ultimately cohere and the strange, occasionally awesome universe building feels underutilized in the end; of course one can look in a different way at the novel and see the above as a feature not a bug, but at least for me this would require a different style that would captivate me mostly through the words not the story or world building as here

overall, I would say that if you are a fan of the author and love her writi
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Steampunk & alternate history are not genres I seek out. I read this one for a book challenge, and saved it for the absolute last book. So to my surprise, I liked this one. I've read four other books by this author and have enjoyed her creativity and her writing.

The fact that this story is so far out there with the alternate history part, the author did a great job at anchoring it down with the emotions. The characters were unveiled little by little, and I was constantly learning more about the
Oct 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have no idea what to rate this! It made me cry at the end but wow, what a tough read. And by tough I mean I struggled to finish it. Full review to come.
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fab-16
This is a sometimes glorious, sometimes chaotic, and always odd and wildly creative gambol through a solar system as it might have been imagined during the silent film era, where colonialism had gone outwards and sound never took off. It’s a wild jigsaw puzzle of a novel, and was more mentally demanding of me than I was willing to give at the time, but I can see how many people would have a lot of fun with this outrageousness.
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, sci-fi
catherynne m valente did it again and by "it" i mean WRECK ME COMPLETELY

every time i read a book by her i have really high expectations but somehow her books are always BETTER than anything i could´ve hoped for, larger than life, the stuff of dreams
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Pokój światów
  • Marrow (Great Ship, #1)
  • Чуров и Чурбанов
  • Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth
  • Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1)
  • Gloriana
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War
  • A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • The Doors of Eden
  • The Paleblood Hunt
  • Queen of Angels (Queen of Angels, #1)
  • Beowulf: A New Translation
  • Darius the Great Deserves Better (Darius the Great, #2)
  • Carmilla
  • Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2)
  • The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex
  • Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr
  • The First Sister (The First Sister Trilogy, #1)
See similar books…
Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and cam ...more

Related Articles

Author Diane Cook's debut novel, The New Wilderness, explores a mother's attempt to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change and...
56 likes · 22 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“She is dead. Almost certainly dead. Nearly conclusively dead. She is, at the very least, not answering her telephone.” 53 likes
“Buck up, baby blowfish. Just puff up bigger than your sadness and scare it right off. That's the only way to live in the awful old ocean.” 34 likes
More quotes…