The Stars Change, Mary Anne Mohanraj. Circlet Press, November 2013, ISBN 9781613900840. Reviewed by Claire Humphrey.
The Stars Change opens with a rather boilerplate prologue — someone’s in a spaceship, looking down at the city they’re about to destroy — but don’t let that stop you. It’s one of only a few missteps in this intriguing book, and it’s quickly forgotten once the reader gets down to street level and sees the city through the eyes of its citizens. These citizens come from different cultures and walks of life, brought together superficially by the university at the city’s heart, and more deeply by their own desires. They’re ordinary people, all the more so for their variety — and on this night, they are called upon to take part in defending their home.
The Stars Change is billed as a novel made up of interconnected stories, but many of the sections wouldn’t actually stand up on their own; read as a novel, however, the fragmentary and shifting narratives dazzle. There’s some global plot stuff about interstellar war, but it’s mercifully kept in the background — what’s foregrounded is each individual’s experience, giving the kaleidoscopic illusion of many other such souls.
All of the characters spend a lot of time dealing with their relationships, especially their sexual relationships, affirming what matters in the face of dread and destruction. The cast is quite diverse, on just about every axis — gender, age, species, orientation, culture, religion, values, class — and lovers come together in a multitude of ways, for a multitude of reasons. Several scenes draw an explicit line from passion to compassion, but compassion is also shown arising from familial love, from philosophy, from community. Characters express many conflicting opinions and some antagonism toward each other, but even the characters who make terrible choices are depicted as having their reasons, and being capable of change.
The sense of connection, of love and goodwill, pretty much overwhelms the eve-of-war tension, with occasionally humourous results: at one point, a large family group takes a time-out to make samosas only a few hours before they’re supposed to save the city. The more compelling tensions in this book are interpersonal. Amara and Narita, sundered by disapproving families, struggle to trust each other and reconnect. Gaurav, a saurian campus cop, grieves his recently-dead partner and tries to live up to his memory. Many of the characters have individual needs that conflict with the expectations of their loved ones or their cultures. Watching each character level up in understanding, whether through an epiphantic flash or a slower burn, is the novel’s biggest pleasure.