Liz Williams’ 2020 Comet Weather is a standalone contemporary fantasy novel.
The Fallow sisters — practical Bee, DJ Stella, fashion-designer Serena, and the peripatetic Luna — are unremarkable save for their whirlwind love-lives, their vanished mother Alys, and the stars who occasionally descend from the sky to manifest as humanoid incarnations in the Fallow home Mooncote. Oh, and the occasional ghost.
With Lerninsky’s Comet soon to be visible in the sky, the sisters (and a few friends) gather at Mooncote.
Alys vanished without a word to her daughters. Murdered, on an urgent errand, or some other possibility — no one knows. In her absence Bee maintains Mooncote. One might expect that the stars and ghosts who sometimes visit Mooncote might clarify Alys’ status but alas, those of them who are not habitually enigmatic are constrained by otherworldly rules about what they can say.
Serena’s on-again, off-again relationship with Ben (also visiting Mooncote) seems to have ended; Serena finds that she has been replaced by Dana Stare, a young woman of the neighborhood to whom Serena takes immediate dislike. Dana appears to revel in Serena’s ire. Even though the two have no shared history of which Serena is aware, the young woman seems to revel in taking Serena’s property (Ben) for her own.
But there are larger matters on which to focus. The comet is not merely an interesting astronomical phenomenon. It is a metaphysical opportunity for some, a dreadful danger to others. If only the entities with whom the Fallow sisters interact were in the habit of expressing themselves clearly….
You may wonder how stars, which are vast bodies of superheated gas, could also be people, who a few senior politicians aside, generally are not vast bodies of superheated gas. The text does acknowledge the question, but … if you’re looking for a Greg Egan-esque answer, look elsewhere. There are things in Williams’ world that humans do not comprehend, despite having to deal with them as daily realities.
This book reminded me somewhat of Diana Wynne Jones, in particular of her book Dogsbody. (Which surprised me; I don’t usually think of Jones and Williams as satisfying the same tastes.) Perhaps a more apt comparison is the fantasy of the late Graham Joyce.
Despite the friction between the Fallow sisters, Williams takes a genial view of families, unlike Jones, whose fictional families tend to be highly dysfunctional. When one Fallow does not help another, it is because they cannot or they don’t know how to help. In general, with the marked exception of Dana and her brother, the characters in this book are people one might want to know (Dana and kin are people about whom it is amusing to read, but with whom it would be distressing to interact.)
As one expects from Williams, the prose is solid. This appears to be a standalone, which is a bit of a pity.