Valente imagines an alternate solar system and sends her heroine, a filmmaker, to Venus, where she disappears.
Severin Unck is a headstrong and passionate young woman, a director of documentaries whose hints of confession are as artful and scripted as only someone who grew up with the movies can manage. The daughter of a famous director in the old Hollywood mold, Severin lives in a universe where the movie industry occupies the moon but films remain silent and where various planets are claimed by the Earth’s nations but persist in being flamboyantly alien. When Severin travels to Venus to make a film about a colony that vanished, leaving only unsettling rumors behind, it becomes her last creation—she never returns. The story of her disappearance emerges in a variety of forms and voices—gossip columns, fragments of screenplays, diary entries, advertisements, and, in a dizzying layering of fictions, a movie made by her father that mutates from noir to gothic to fairy tale. The narrative stretches back to her childhood and forward to the investigation following her crew's return, veering from tense adventure to sly probing of how we choose to make the stories of our lives. An unnamed narrator claims it's a story of seeing and being seen. “We shall endeavor to make ourselves equally naked, equally bare, equally vulnerable to iris and pupil, whose bites are ever so much fiercer than teeth.” Valente’s (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, 2015, etc.) descriptions are lush and striking, her worlds reveling in the dreamiest of nods to classic science fiction, where alien planets are full of life and easily reachable.
A heady, strange, and beautifully written novel about how stories give form to worlds.