Radiance

Radiance

by Catherynne M. Valente

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Overview

Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own, from Catherynne M. Valente, 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 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.

Told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765335296
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 10/20/2015
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE's first major novel, The Orphan's Tales, won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. Her next, Palimpsest, was nominated for the Hugo Award, and her recent YA phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a New York Times bestseller that earned starred reviews from all three major review outlets. Valente lives on a small island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, and a cat.

Read an Excerpt

Radiance

A Novel


By Catherynne M. Valente

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2015 Catherynne M. Valente
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-2148-4



CHAPTER 1

PART ONE

THE WHITE PAGES


My soul burns to speak of strange bodies transformed!
O gods in heaven, you ardent lovers of mutation,
become the breath inside me
and draw up my song, untroubled, unbroken,
from the first beginnings of the world
to this very moment and this very day.

— Ovid, Metamorphoses


For an actress to be a success she must have the face of Venus, the brains of Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros.

— Ethel Barrymore


The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew

(Oxblood Films, dir. Severin Unck, 1946)

SC1 EXT. RED SQUARE, MOSCOW — DAY 1 LATE AFTERNOON [12 JUNE, 1944]

[Open on the pristine streets of sunny Moscow, lined with popsicle-carts, jugglers, dazzled tourists. The streetlamps are garlanded with lime-blossoms, sunflowers, carnations. The joyful throng crowds in fierce and thick; the camera follows as they burst into Red Square. The splendid ice-cream towers of the Kremlin beam down benignly. The elderly TSAR NICHOLAS II, his still-lovely wife, and their five children, hale in their glittering sashes, wave down at the cannoneers standing at attention on the firing pad at the 1944 Worlds' Fair. The launch site is festooned with crepe and swinging summer lanterns, framed by banners wishing luck and safe travel in English, Russian, Chinese, German, Spanish, and Arabic.]

SEVERIN UNCK and her CREW wave jerkily as confetti sticks to their sleek skullcaps and glistening breathing apparatuses. Her smile is immaculate, practiced, the smile of the honest young woman of the hopeful future. Her copper-finned helmet gleams at her feet. SEVERIN wears feminine clothing with visible discomfort and only for this shot, which she intends, in the final edit, to be ironic and wry: She is performing herself, not performing herself in order to tell a story about something else entirely. The curl of her lip betrays, to anyone who knows her, her utter disdain of the bizarre, flare-skirted swimming-cum-trapeze-artist costume that so titillates the crowd. The wind flutters the black silk around her hips. She tucks a mahogany case — which surely must contain George, her favourite camera — smartly under one arm. All of her crewmen strap canisters of film, a few steamer trunks of food, oxygen tanks, and other minor accoutrements to their broad backs. The real meat of the expedition, supplies and matériel meticulously planned, acquired, logged, and collected, was loaded into the cargo bays overnight. What Severin and her crew carry, they carry for the camera, for the film being shot of this film being shot.

The cannon practically throbs with light: a late-model Wernyhora design, filigreed, etched with forest motifs that curl and leaf like spring ice breaking. The brilliant, massive nose of the Venusian capsule Clamshell rests snugly in the cannon's silvery mouth. The metal beast towers over Saint Basil's, casting a monstrous shadow. Most of its size is devoted to propulsion. The living space within is surprisingly small. That etched silver forest will be jettisoned halfway to Venus, destined to drift alone into the endless black. But for now, the Clamshell dwarfs any earthly palace built for the glory of man or god.

They are a small circus: the strongmen, the clowns, the lion tamer, the magician, and the trapeze artist poised on her platform, arm crooked in an evocative half-moon, toes pointed into the void.

CUT TO: INT. Clamshell cantina, NIGHT 21:00 ERASMO ST. JOHN and MAXIMO VARELA pour vodka for the CREW and laugh uproariously:::FILM DAMAGED, FOOTAGE UNAVAILABLE SKIP DAMAGED AREA SKIPPING SKIPPING ERROR SEE ARCHIVIST FOR ASSISTANCE]


From the Personal Reels of Percival Alfred Unck

[A camera is on. The screen is black, for the camera is skewed toward the wall, a clandestine attempt to capture the child without her knowing she is being recorded. Occasionally, flickers of silver interrupt the darkness — echoes from a screen showing more lively activity somewhere behind the device that picks up the following quiet conversation.]

PERCIVAL UNCK

Now, in any film it is important that you know who is telling the story, and to whom they are telling it. Even if no one on-screen talks about it, the director must know, and the writer, too. Now, who is telling this story?

SEVERIN UNCK

Daddy is telling the story!

PERCIVAL

[laughing] Well, Daddy made the movie, but Daddy is not telling the story. Look at the characters and how they speak to each other. Look at how the film begins, how the very first scenes shape everything else. Now, who is telling the story?

[There is a long silence.]

SEVERIN

The camera is telling the story. It's watching everything, and you can't lie to it, or it will know.

PERCIVAL

My girl is so clever! No, the camera witnesses the story and records it, but it is outside the story. Like a very tiny god with one big, dark eye. Baby girl, look at the lovers, and the villain, and the doting father, and the soldiers, and the ghosts. Which one of them is the authority? Who controls how the story is told? And who is the audience, for whom all these wonderful things are meant?

[Another long silence follows. There is a rustling, as of a little girl twisting her lace skirts while she tries to work out an answer.]

SEVERIN

They are all telling the story to me.


Preproduction Meeting, The Deep Blue Devil [working title]

(Tranquillity Studios, 1959, dir. Percival Unck)

Audio recorded for reference by Vincenza Mako, screenwriter


PERCIVAL UNCK: If you want to know about the beginnings of things, you have to talk to the dead.

I know how that sounds. The dead should do endings. Surely that's their squat. In the space after the story, they're kings and queens, ruling with bony hands, pulling epilogues, last acts, climaxes, pulling finality from declining action like spinsters at black wheels.

I wouldn't know. I've always been aces at endings. At the Fin I'm like a ball player, balanced hips over knees, brandishing my bat, pointing to the outfield, pointing like I've been doing from the first word spoken, the first frame shot, at the revelation I intended to hit all along. Lean into the last scene; you can hear the whiff and the crack of my swing. If anything, I've always been too eager to get to the ending. I'll throw the haunted, wild-eyed gamine from her tower too soon, slaughter a soliloquizing retinue complete with bicyclists and bears five minutes in. Endings are lush and lascivious, Vince; they call to me. All spread out on satin inevitabilities, waiting, beckoning, promising impossibly, obscenely elegant solutions — if you've been a good lad and dressed the house just so, for its comfort, for its arousal. All the rest of the nonsense a story requires is just a long seduction of the ending. You throw out murders and reversals and heroes and detectives and spies, juggle love affairs and near escapes and standoffs with marvellous guns, kidnappings and sorcery and comic relief and gravediggers and princesses and albino dragons, and it's all just to lure an ending into your bed. The right ending can't resist a spread like that. She sidles up like she's lived there all along, sleepy-eyed, hair a fright, asking the antihero for coffee and be quick about it, wouldn't you? There's a love.

But I'm rubbish at beginnings. Listen to that mess. My metaphors all rumpled about my ankles. So I talk to the dead. They're the only ones who can see the whole story. All they've got is story. Look, say the ghosts, she was doomed all along because of how it began. You watched her to death. She started disappearing as soon as she was born. Just to get away from you. No one could have gotten out of this thing alive. Not with Acts I-V stacked against them like that. If Hamlet couldn't swing it, what hope did she ever have?

Anyway, nobody bothers with real beginnings anymore. We stopped making up stories about the creation of the world ages ago. But the deadest of the dead — the ancient, toga-tugging, sheep-fucking, olive-gobbling, laurel-spangled dead — they rattled on about nothing else. Gardens and clay and the Sky slinging back a nebula or two for courage then slicking back his hair to make nice with the Earth. They had it right. It's downright dishonest to begin with anything but the Creation of the Known Universe, and a tale that ends before the destruction of all and sundry is a damnable lie. By fire? Well, that's too obvious. And floods always look amateurish. Maybe it just winks out. Cut. Print.

Point is, the Greeks had their heads on straight: If you're going to bother beginning at all, you have to throw up a believable theory of origin or it's got no anchor. No root. Why four seasons? Why seasons at all? Why just the one moon? Why green trees and red roses and not the other way round? Why death and time and is there such a thing as fate, and what, percentage-wise, is the efficacy of human sacrifice? You have to answer those questions before anyone comes on stage, you know. In even the littlest story about a ... let's say a housewife in an aqua-blue print dress and matching apron making a roast, only she's planning to kill herself later, obviously, or maybe her husband — otherwise why should we care one soggy whit about the vagaries of beef at temperature? At any rate, someone's got to die. That's why she's wearing aqua. Blue invariably means death. Even in poor lost Millicent's kitchen — yes, Vince, her name is clearly Millicent, do try to keep up! Before she even pricks the meat to slide the garlic in, it's all been arranged for her. Does death do its thing, in this universe? Yes. Time, in Millicent World? Progressing one second per second, twenty-four and seven and three hundred–odd. Seasons: four. The moon: intact, in orbit, in phase. Green elm, red peony. Seventeen per cent sacrificial success rate under ideal conditions, results not peer reviewed. And of course in stories there is always fate. It goes by the name of foreshadowing and it is the emperor of everybody. Given all these parameters, husband Humphrey should be dead by dessert. See? It's only that the answers in most stories are boring because they are supplied by the real world rather than — well, something better. Something more stimulating. Sit down with the Greeks and the Romans, and the boring answers get more interesting. Seasons because a girl and a crocus. Death because a girl and an apple. The moon because a girl keeps driving her daft chariot into the sea.

It's all down to girls, one way or another. [indistinct]

All right, all right, I'm boring you. I'm babbling. I haven't made up my mind about this one yet. I don't even know how to go about making up my mind. I would rather not have death. I would rather that. Time is terribly tawdry, as well. And let's see what we can do about that percentage.

Let us begin properly. This is what I'm thinking: She came from nowhere. She came from the sea. She came from the dark. The Earth fucked the Sky and made a hundred children — or maybe just nine. Mercury, Venus, Mars, the whole ragtag family. And the nine had their own kids: Phobos, Triton, Io, Charon, all the brats. Maybe we can do this like we used to do, way back when. You know I can never quit Vaudeville. Toga up the main cast as the planets and the moons: rings around Saturn's head; Venus dripping wet; Mars in a cowboy getup; Neptune, I don't know, up on strings like the levitators, maybe? Stupid on af-yun, all heroin eyes and running makeup. Stand them in tableaux against a spangly cloth backdrop. Then they can start killing each other. It'll be Shakespearian. Barking big knives. Buckets of blood. Blood and callowmilk.

So the little bastards stab the Sky to death and throw the spangles into the sea, and they turn into the title, and that's where she comes from. Out of the words and the water. She can rise up on a clamshell naked and covered with blood and milk. That's what birth looks like, after all. Naked, with a myrtle branch in one hand and a camera in the other.

I have no ideas for casting. Someone new. I don't want anyone whose face has been someone else. I'll have to call Richard. He'll find somebody fresh off the rocket who looks like her. He always knows what I want. So, whoever she is, she'll look through the camera in her hand at the camera in my hand. The waves hit her and wash her clean. Mostly clean. Leave a mark on her face. Like a wound. Presto: Birth of Venus. [indistinct]

Yes. Severin's birth, too. No difference.

But that's the last time we use her name, Vince. What's our rule? You can't name the subject. You can't say the word death in a murder mystery after the body gets discovered; no more than you can say love in a romantic flick until the end, until it's a bullet firing, the bullet you've had on deck since the scene-one-take-one clapper smacked its lips. You circle it. You stalk it. But you don't call it out.

MAKO: But everyone will know who it's meant to be. What's the point of being coy?

UNCK: Coyness is what makes it art, darling. Otherwise ... otherwise it's nothing but a funeral.

[long pause] We'll call her something else. Hell, I named her once, I can do it again. Something bombastic, something mythic, something Venusian. All the names have to come back to Venus in the end. I remember what you said when we were writing Rocketship Banshee — we went up to that cabin on the Sea of Fertility and trotted out our old dance, writing movies instead of fucking. Two rooms, two typewriters, the blue cassia forests, moon-daisies by the door. We swam naked in the bitter silver sea and you floated on your back under the Earthlight with water running off your colloidal blue breasts and said: Names aren't loners, they're connected, even in real life. You name your kids for someone dead or what you hope they will become or what you wish you were and your parents did the same to you and that big, glittering net of names tells the story of the whole world. Names are load-bearing struts. Names are destiny. You wouldn't just let me name our hero John and his demon bride Molly.

MAKO: This is different.

UNCK: We'll call her Ares. I gave her a boy's name the first time around, so why not this time? It's perfect. Ares went and shagged Venus when he should have stuck to what he was good at, which was fighting with anyone who'd put up half a fist. Good, right? Yeah. Yeah.

MAKO: Let her have her name, Percy. Let everyone have her own name. She'd hate you for changing it. You know that.

UNCK: [Clears his throat several times. His voice quavers.] I don't want to. I don't want to write it at the top of every page. I don't want to have to say it. Every day. All day. I don't want to have to call some nobody actress by my daughter's name.

MAKO: Too bad. It's my script, too. I'm not your secretary. Her name is Severin. You don't get to turn her into one of our demon brides.

[Sounds of typewriter keys and cigarettes extinguishing, lighting, smoke exhaling.]

UNCK: Fine. Fine. You win. Severin bloody Unck forever and ever amen.

Back to it. Once we've got the world created — Sky, Earth, clamshell — we move on to more important business. The Plot at Hand. We switch scenes entirely. I want to go full noir: neon fritzing signs reflected in rainy streets on Luna. Unless it shouldn't be Luna. Could do somewhere more interesting. They get vicious storms on Uranus. Wrath of God–type stuff. We shot something in Te Deum once, didn't we? What was it? Thief of Light? The Oberon Assassin? Christ, I can never remember. We've made too many movies, you and I. Or too few. Always too few. Too many to have any meaning, too few to say what we meant. But TD is a spectacular city, really. All those coloured towers — bioluminescent, you know — thick as a fat man's fingers, stubbing up pink and purple and hot green to the stars. Cheap as hell, too. Pubs everywhere like mushrooms in the morning. Good gravity, at least in the winter.

MAKO: If you insist on shooting on location, at a minimum we'll need permits for Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter. We're fine for principal photography on Luna, obviously. Venus?

UNCK: Oh, Vince, I don't know. I don't know if I can. Isn't there somewhere on the Moon we can dress for Venus? We have enough seas. I'll hose down half the globe if it means I don't have to go to Venus. Or we could try Earth. Glum old Earth. Moscow, maybe. Or Chicago. Could try Australia, but the red tape is absolutely frightful. Melbourne, perhaps. I can't stand Sydney. We almost did Hope Has No Master down there, remember? Looks quite a bit like the older parts of Mars. Then again, Mars actually gave us a better deal, when you figure in the tax incentives. Guan Yu is a fabulous town. You can see Mons Olympus from every balcony.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. Copyright © 2015 Catherynne M. Valente. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
Chronology,
Locations,
Epigraphs,
Come Forward!,
Oh, Those Scandalous Stars!,
Part One: The White Pages,
Part Two: The Blue Pages,
Part Three: The Green Pages,
Part Four: The Gold Pages,
Part Five: The Red Pages,
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,
Books by Catherynne M. Valente,
Copyright,

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