The Stars Change
by Mary Anne Mohanraj
On the brink of interstellar war, life (and sex) continues. Humans, aliens, and modified humans gather at the University of All Worlds in search of knowledge… and self-knowledge… but the first bomb has fallen and the fate of this multicultural, multispecies mecca is in question. A thought-provoking work on sexuality and the connections between people–whether male or female, human or alien–The Stars Change is part space opera, part literary mosaic of story, poem, and art.
The Stars Change: an erotic science fiction novel-in-stories. On a South Asian-settled university planet, tensions are rising, and as they reach the brink of interstellar war, life (and sex) continues. Humans, aliens, and modified humans gather at the University of All Worlds in search of knowledge… and self-knowledge… but the first bomb has fallen and the fate of this multicultural, multispecies mecca is in question. Some people will seek solace in physical contact, some will look for spiritual answers, while others will find their strength in community, family, and love. Some will rush home to make love to their wife. Or wives. Or husbands. Or indeterminate gender human and/or alien partners. Others will be forced to decide where they stand — what is worth fighting for, or maybe even worth dying for.
I can’t remember where I first encountered this novella, but I know that once I saw it I immediately went out and bought it.
As much as I love SFF I don’t read science fiction very often, and this novella had the potential to be the kind of sci-fi I love. I love quiet, character-focused sci-fi, such as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, so a story about a multicultural, multispecies university in which the characters seek comfort in one another on the brink of war sounded right up my street.
For the most part, though, The Stars Change couldn’t quite seem to decide what kind of story it was, which meant I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. I still enjoyed it – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again that three stars isn’t a bad rating – but this novella had the potential to be a five star read for me, and it never quite got there.
There’s a lot in this book that I loved. There are different species and genders and different kinds of relationships, from one night stands to rekindled lost love to healthy polyamory, but The Stars Change surprised me when it went from what was essentially a book of interlinked short stories – each side character in one story becoming the lead in the next – to a more compact story that suddenly became more plot driven. Plot isn’t what I picked this book up for, but characters, and while I did like the characters in this novella I felt as though the plot got in their way a little, to the point where I wish Mohanraj had either got rid of the plot or extended The Stars Change into a full novel so that she had more room to explore everything she clearly wanted to explore in more detail.
The plot itself isn’t even a bad plot! A multicultural and multispecies university suddenly finds itself on the brink of a terror attack from a group of people who believe humans should be the superior race, and a group of the university’s inhabitants come together to put a stop to it. It’s an incredibly timely story, and also an incredibly refreshing story in that the majority of the human characters are people of colour; the university was founded by a community of South Asians many years before.
So is it a bad story? No, not at all, but is it a plot much more suited to a novel than a novella? Absolutely. To me the blurb sells this story as a character-focused story about people connecting through sex, family and spirituality, and while there were strong elements of that throughout The Stars Change there was something missing for me. I wonder if this might be one I should re-read in future now that I do know it’s a little more plot-focused, as my surprise may have got in the way of me enjoying this book as much as I’d hoped to.
All that aside, I still really enjoyed this novella and, in many ways, I wish it had been a full novel. I’d love to spend more time in this world with these characters – I’d especially love an origin story about the creation of the university – and I’ll certainly check out more of Mary Anne Mohanraj’s work in future.