During WisCon this year I happened to sit in on quite a few panels featuring Mary Anne Mohanraj. Mohanraj is the founder of Strange Horizons, a highly-regarded speculative fiction magazine, so it was cool to get to dive into some of her work this month with The Stars Change.
Whenever I get through something on my WisCon list I feel accomplished. Firstly because as a fantasy author I want to stay up-to-date on new books in my genre. Secondly, as a self-pubbed author I want to support other indie authors, and thirdly because I want to expand my reading horizons beyond traditionally published work, which as we know is not representative of the diversity in our world. Let’s take a look at how The Stars Change holds up to the Scale.
Not offensive to women; Passes the Bechdel test; Features a woman as a main and/or supporting character = full points
Yes, yes, and yes. Passes similar dialogue tests between characters of color and LGBT characters.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
Stars is a short novel and to me it was the perfect length for the story Mohanraj wanted to tell. The story takes place over the course of one night. On the cusp of an interstellar war, students at the University get a first taste of what life at war might be like when a missile hits part of the campus.
During the chaotic and uncertain night, we are introduced to several characters all linked by their connection to the University–and frequently by sex, as this is an erotic novel. Sex and the University ae pretty much all they have in common, for humans and aliens of all origin coexist on the University planet, mostly in harmony.
I really enjoyed the introduction to the world though different characters. The plot is about thwarting further attacks on the University, but the core of the story is romance. The main romance is between Amara and Narita, two women who were lovers many years ago, and are reunited during the dramatic evening.
I’m not a huge romance reader but this story had enough rich detail to keep me interested and the rest of the plot pulled me along. Characters were fascinating sketches and it seemed like each one could’ve been the focus of their own novel.
Above and Beyond the General Media = 5/5 pts
For being billed as an erotic novel, there weren’t that many sex scenes. The focus stayed on emotional connections throughout most of the book: There’s Amara, a natural-born human whose parents disapprove of her relationship with genetically modified Narita. “Polyamorous” (for lack of a better word) insect-aliens with a male, female, and neuter family group. Cross-species hook ups between young reptile-aliens and old humans. Decades-long marriage between traditional, natural-born humans.
That’s what I love about sci-fi–it can and should push boundaries of our own world. Mohanraj, who identifies as poly and bi herself, is clearly showing her feelings on love–that it can exist in many, many forms. Yes, there are aliens in the book, but the representations of different forms of love and relationships are what really matter. This representation is definitely what sets this book above and beyond!
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