So this week I was reading Radiance, by one of my favorite authors, Catherynne M. Valente:
Now, this book is deeply weird even by Catherynne M. Valente’s standards. It bills itself as “a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” and unlike many cases where somebody crams a word salad into a book description in the hopes of latching onto as many searches as possible, this time, that description is wholly accurate. Basically the premise is that the planets of the Solar System are much closer together than they really are, thus making it feasible to travel between them via capsules fired out of giant cannons, a la “A Trip to the Moon”:
But beyond mere proximity, this Solar System also differs from ours in that all the planets and moons are inhabitable. Like, all of them. Mercury? Just a little warm. Pluto? Just a little cold. Mars, Earth, and Venus? Just right. The only problem is that there’s still radiation, but fortunately, it turns out there are these things known as “callowhales” living in the seas of Venus, which are the size of islands or possibly small continents, which may or may not be animals and may or may not be intelligent, and from which something called “callowmilk” can be harvested; and drinking callowmilk apparently makes you immune to radiation and various other space hazards. Awfully useful stuff. Like, babel fish-level useful.
[She is quiet for a long moment.] I think we are all suckling at a teat we do not understand. We need callowmilk. We cannot live without it. We cannot inhabit these worlds without it. But we made a bargain without thinking, because the benefits seemed to be endless and the cost nothing but a few divers, a few accidents—what’s that next to what we stood to gain? My god, it was nothing, nothing at all.Catherynne M. Valente, Radiance
Does that callowmilk bargain remind you of anything? Fossil fuels? Nuclear energy? Automobiles? Oysters? Mmm, oysters …
Now, the astute reader will have noticed that the preceding Teaser is not formatted like a normal paragraph, but rather, like a screenplay. That’s because Radiance consists not of regular novel parts, but instead, of a mishmash of movie scripts, interviews, actual movies (well, descriptions of actual movies, anyway), interrogations, and, yes, occasionally, regular novel parts. I actually found this structure somewhat off-putting at first, but the book gradually—almost without my noticing it, in fact—developed quite a head of steam, such that by the end I just kept turning pages (or rather, pushing buttons) to find out what the hell had happened to everybody that things had happened to, and why.
Meanwhile, speaking of things that may or may not be exactly what they seem to be and worlds that are not exactly this one, work continues on Blue Roses:
The squirrel came into view, having climbed up from somewhere beneath the draft animals to rapidly gnaw through the straps—leads, Baxter had said, but Felix had decided he would continue to call them straps, because he was no wagoneer and would not pretend to talk like one—on the near side. It had no doubt already done considerable damage to parts of the harness that could not be seen. Notorious pests, squirrels, with their digging of holes and their chewing.James V. Viscosi, Blue Roses
I’ve been having a little trouble with second guessing word choices and dialog and rewriting and figuring out character voices, which has been slowing me down considerably; but that excerpt comes from the last section I wrote, where I just sat down and decided to run with Felix as the narrator. And I think it worked out okay. So it seems I need to do more writing and less thinking …
One thought on “Teaser Tuesday: “Radiance””
I’m getting Dune vibes. How brave and cool of Valente to write in a non-traditional narrative style.
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