Thursday, December 6, 2018

Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut (Book 2)
Publication: Tor Books (August 21, 2018)

Description: Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

My Thoughts: This is the continuation of THE CALCULATING STARS. This alternate history space adventure begins in in 1961. Elma is returning from the moon where a small colony has been established when the return ship goes off course and lands in Alabama instead of Kansas. They are invaded by six armed men who hold them hostage because they are angry that scarce resources are being devoted to the space program instead of dealing with problems on Earth that have been caused by the meteor strike some years earlier.

Elma is rescued but the incident has long-lasting consequences. Some of the men who hijacked the ship were Black which just highlighted the racial divide that existed in the United States at the time. The racial divide is also apparent in the space program where there are very few who aren't White and those are often given lesser jobs.

The main focus of this story is the plan to colonize Mars. Because good publicity is needed and Elma is famous as the Lady Astronaut, she is asked to join this Mars expedition. This is a hard decision for her and her husband Nathaniel in many ways. It will mean another separation and putting off starting a family. The trip will take at least three years. Nathaniel's job as an engineer in the space program means that he will have to remain on Earth. Additionally, adding Elma to the mission one year in means that another astronaut - her friend Helen Carmouche, nee Liu - is being bumped from the mission. Helen is from Taiwan which causes more conflict as the switch makes the mission even less ethnically diverse. Elma faces resentment from her fellow crewmates because she bumped Helen and because she is so far behind in the training. It doesn't help that Stetson Parker is the mission commander. He and Elma have been at odds since they met during World War II.

The mission begins and many problems are faced including clogged toilets, an E Coli outbreak on the other ship which kills the ship's doctor, an ammonium leak that forces the crew of Elma's ship to move to the other ship until it is repaired. One of the most enduring problems is that the co-pilot of the second ship is from South Africa and really believes in Apartheid which makes it even more difficult for the Black members of the mission. Then, the mission loses contact with Mission Control on Earth which makes them all feel abandoned and concerned about their loved ones left behind.

This was a book that I couldn't put down. Each scene was so suspenseful that I had to keep reading to find out what happened next. The politics on Earth and within the space program had enough detail to make the story very realistic. In fact, many of the newspaper articles the began many chapters were actual articles from papers of the day.

Favorite Quote:
"This is the first time I've literally worried I would never see you again." He leaned forward to grab the towel off the stand

"I was never in any real danger." I grimaced with the weight of memories. "Aside from the reentry."

His jaw went slack with surprise. "Elma. You were held hostage by six armed men."
I bought this one. You can buy your copy here.

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