Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut (Book 1)
Publication: Tor Books (July 3, 2018)

Description: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

My Thoughts: THE CALCULATING STARS was amazing. Fans of science fiction and alternate history won't want to miss it. Even if you hate science fiction, this book is filled with such interesting characters and fine writing that you won't want to miss it.

Elma York and her husband Nathaniel are weekending in the Poconos when the world ends. A large meteorite impacts near Chesapeake Bay and destroys Washington, DC, and most of the eastern seaboard. The formal government is gone except for the Secretary of Agriculture who was touring a farm in the Midwest.

Elma is a mathematician with a double doctorate. She was also a WASP ferrying planes during World War II. She and her husband who is an engineer in the budding space program find their way to Wright-Patterson airfield though she really has to do some fancy flying to get there.

She is surprised that her old nemesis Stetson Parker is in charge of the base and acts like he is the highest ranking military member remaining. He's also convinced that the disaster was probably caused by Russia. While waiting for more senior military personnel, notably General Eisenhower, to make his way to the base from Europe, Elma and Nathaniel begin to do some calculations. If their numbers are right, the meteor strike might be an extinction event on the same level as the one that caused the dinosaurs to die out. All of a sudden plans to explore space have become necessary and not just a whim of scientists and the military.

This story talks about the process of getting man into space to save humanity. Of course, it also talks about those who don't believe that the Earth will heat up enough for the seas to boil because "it's snowing in LA." Newspaper articles begin each chapter and it is easy to see the wide-reachng effects of the meteor on the world. More near to home, Elma has to deal with the chauvinism of the military which can't believe that a woman could ever qualify to be an astronaut. Also close to home is the reality of the United States's segregated society which makes it almost impossible for any Black American to become part of the space program.

Personally, Elma has other issues. She suffers with anxiety which makes her ill whenever she is forced to be the center of attention. Bringing this to the attention of the brass is an almost sure way for her to wash out of the space program. But hiding it gets harder and harder as more attention is focused on her as it is when she's invited on Mr. Wizard and becomes the face of the Lady Astronauts and a role model to young girls who also want to explore space.

This was a story that was hard to put down. I was so engaged with the characters and the situation. I can't wait to read the conclusion of the story in THE FATED SKY.

Favorite Quote:
"Really--no. You have nothing to apologize for."

"I was being thoughtless."

"I--" I stopped and narrowed my gaze. "I should remind you that I'm Southern, and you'll never win a politeness battle with me."

She laughed, and people down the sidewalk turned to glare as if she had begun cursing in public. "Truce?"
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I’ve seen this book around, but I didn’t know what it was about. I’m always ready for a good post-apocalyptic/alternate history story.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!


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