Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It


By Carter Scholz, Picador USA (2002) $24

Wednesday, Jan 30 2002
Carter Scholz's brilliant and densely researched first novel is a dizzying glimpse into the world of nuclear weapons research. Set in a compound similar to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (here simply "the Lab"), the book tracks a coven of government scientists charged with moving their research away from bomb-making in the early '90s. In theory, their focus is instead on post-Cold War concepts like "stewardship" and "dual use," but those terms are just convenient covers for an ongoing Star Wars-type missile defense program. Even worse, the scientists are so consumed by office politics and profiteering that they squabble like teenagers. In Scholz's fictional world, we're just one sleazy bureaucrat away from a global nuclear crisis, and dismantling warheads is as difficult as dismantling the flaws that make us human. So much for that peace dividend.

Scholz is a longtime Berkeley science-fiction writer, and Radiance has a simple genre-fiction plot: The bad guy, Leo Highet, exploits his position as lab director to push the lucrative but unworkable Radiance missile defense system for personal gain, while good guy Philip Quine is the low-level scientist blowing the whistle. Even so, there's remarkable depth to Scholz's approach. Borrowing less from sci-fi templates than from postmodern stylists like DeLillo and Pynchon (who've always had a thing for the Bomb), Scholz crafts a propulsive, conversation-heavy narrative that packs in scientific details but rarely gets bogged down by them. Few novelists ask dialogue to do so much descriptive heavy lifting, and fewer still pull it off so well. In fast-paced, almost stream-of-consciousness language, Scholz finds a direct line to Quine's conscience, as controlling Radiance becomes increasingly slippery. In doing so, Scholz has accomplished what all great science fiction attempts: to imagine a world that's both seductive and frightening.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"