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By Catherynne Valente

Discussed August 2017

Buy Radiance from

Main characters:

  • Severin Unck: director, daughter of Perceval Unck, missing person
  • Perceval Unck: director
  • Erasmo St. John: director of photography and Severin’s lover
  • Mary Pellam: actress, one of Severin’s stepmothers
  • Anchises St. John: the boy from Adonis
  • Also: Andromache: a lovesick komodo dragon


  1. Did you finish the novel? Did you like it?
  2. In her Electric Lit interview, Valente mentions one of the main ideas behind this novel: “What is speculative fiction in a science fictional universe?” Where is the speculation within the world Valente has created?
  3. Radiance is composed of several different narratives told in different styles: interview, screenplay, diary, and recorded conversations. Do you think they pull together into an effective overall narrative?
  4. Valente describes the screenwriting process of Perceval Unck and Vince Mako as the “core narrative” of the novel (, 12/1/15). Do you agree?
  5. There’s a lot of blurring between real and fictional characters in the novel. Most of what we see of Anchises is fictional, Cythera Bell is both a security chief and a fictional assistant, Mary Pellam blends traits of Madame Mortimer into her personality, etc. How does this affect your perception of the “real” characters?
  6. Radiance presents a type of alternative family: in this case, Severin, her father, and her seven stepmothers. We’ve seen alternative family structures in other novels we’ve read recently. Thoughts about that?
  7. Do we ever see Severin or hear her voice when she isn’t on camera?
  8. Most of the explanation about callowhales and their role in the multiverse comes in the script sections of the novel. Should we give these any credibility, or are the callowhales as much of a mystery when we finish the novel as when we first learn about them?
  9. What do you make of the references to The Wizard of Oz?
  10. What do you think about the last chapter? Does it resolve the story? Could the novel stand on its own without it?
  11. Do we really know what happened to Severin?
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