Back to Radiance

The Quarterly Conversation has just published a thoughful review of Radiance, a 2002 novel by Carter Scholz set in a post-Cold War research lab. The book didn’t attract the attention it deserved at the time; its study of scientists squabbling over a how to transform nuclear weapons into “dual use” initiatives (and pretty much winding up with nuclear weapons anyway) has the kind of intelligence and grim humor that any fan of Pynchon or DeLillo would admire. So Sacha Arnold‘s thoughts on the book are appreciated—at least by me, and I’m sure by others too:

Scholz shares with [Jonathan] Lethem a love of the more speculative genres, and of their antecedents (Borges, Calvino, and of course Kafka). With Richard Powers he shares an enthusiasm for building his works around scientific ideas, and with the Don DeLillo of Ratner’s Star he holds in common an irrepressible impulse to satirize the scientists responsible for them. But he departs from his contemporaries in the way he melds his observations of the descendental world of scientific practice with a reverent sense of the scientific vocation.

The result of such a melding is an alternately satirical and spiritual book. The harsh skepticism that Scholz the satirist brings to weapons science is not unlike the skepticism William Gaddis brings to business and law in his novels J R and A Frolic of His Own. Both authors begin by assuming that corruption and fraud are the rule; they then set the better natures of their characters (when present) against the evils of the field being satirized.

I don’t believe Scholz has published anything since Radiance, which is unfortunate. You can read a goodly chunk of the novel via Google Books.

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