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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 require 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.


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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 require 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.

30 review for The Calculating Stars

  1. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    3.75ish stars. Mary Robinette Kowal writes some incredible female characters. And they're not stock "strong female" characters either, they're real. In this case Elma is brilliant and capable, but doesn't go on a tirade overthrowing the '50s sexist patriarchy because Kowal wisely wanted to represent things as they actually happened, even in this alt-history where she really could have done whatever she wanted. It's impressively well researched and feels just as real as the actual space race. The 3.75ish stars. Mary Robinette Kowal writes some incredible female characters. And they're not stock "strong female" characters either, they're real. In this case Elma is brilliant and capable, but doesn't go on a tirade overthrowing the '50s sexist patriarchy because Kowal wisely wanted to represent things as they actually happened, even in this alt-history where she really could have done whatever she wanted. It's impressively well researched and feels just as real as the actual space race. The alternate history elements are so subtle, one might not realize that this isn't straight historical fiction, even with the whole extinction event thing, because it's really more of a social issue novel than a "dying earth" or "post-apocalyptic" sci-fi novel. Kowal addresses so many topics related to discrimination and privilege that are sadly still relevant (race, gender, culture, mental health) without (often) feeling heavy-handed. So much so that it's overwhelming. Half of the book is frustrating bigotry and it's emotionally draining and I'm weak and honestly couldn't enjoy the book as much as I might have wanted to because of it. I think Kowal is a fine author, but her writing style doesn't always suit my personal fancy. I never felt any suspense or tension when it came to the plot, or much compulsion to keep listening. Add to that the fact that I don't love her audio narration, even for her own books of which she undoubtedly knows the characters and their voices inside and out. I would have liked another narrator interpreting the characters, and actually think it would have added more depth but whatever. If I read the next in the series it will be in print. Posted in Mr. Philip's Library

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I'll go out on a limb here and be mightily surprised if this novel doesn't get nommed for Hugo out of this year's candidates. It has all the right qualities, from good writing, exciting story, delicious premise, and timely application of hot topics and social issues. Huh? Well, it's like an alternate reality where a meteorite wipes out DC in the 1950's and forces everyone to get into gear with the space program for the best of all reasons... SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES. It's quick, fun, and crin I'll go out on a limb here and be mightily surprised if this novel doesn't get nommed for Hugo out of this year's candidates. It has all the right qualities, from good writing, exciting story, delicious premise, and timely application of hot topics and social issues. Huh? Well, it's like an alternate reality where a meteorite wipes out DC in the 1950's and forces everyone to get into gear with the space program for the best of all reasons... SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES. It's quick, fun, and cringeworthy in how women are treated... not to mention the racial element! Think Hidden Figures, add anxiety and mental health issues in a big way, mix with sexism, post-apocalypse, brazen and headlong optimism, and do it all with sheer human ability. Computers are people who compute. Everything else is '50's mentality and an underdog story that leads to getting women in space against all the odds. :) This is easily my favorite Kowal tale. I'm gonna tell everyone for next years noms that this is one to push. :) It may not be my ABSOLUTE favorite book of the year, but it is certainly the smartest, quickest, and easiest feel-good SF out of the bunch. It pokes a stick at all the big issues and drives the dagger in. This OUGHT to be a huge bestseller. If it isn't, then there's some big idiocy going on out there. ;)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Opposable Thumbs: “The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal “There is nothing to see but that vast blackness. Intellectually, I know that we’ve passed into the dark side of the Earth. We slide into her shadow and then magic fills the sky. The stars come out. Millions of them in crisp, vivid splendor. These are not the stars that I remember from before the Meteor. These are clear and steady, without an atmosphere to make them twink If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Opposable Thumbs: “The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal “There is nothing to see but that vast blackness. Intellectually, I know that we’ve passed into the dark side of the Earth. We slide into her shadow and then magic fills the sky. The stars come out. Millions of them in crisp, vivid splendor. These are not the stars that I remember from before the Meteor. These are clear and steady, without an atmosphere to make them twinkle. Do you remember the first time you saw the stars again? I am sitting in a capsule, on way my to the moon.” In “The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal I remember the one called "Duck and Cover". If I remember correctly, the instructions included: 1. Fill the bath with water 2. Take a door off it's hinges and prop it length-ways against an internal wall 3. Cover the door with a mattress 5. Get the family under the door. 6. Crouch down on the floor 7. Put your head between your legs 8. Kiss your arse goodbye Even at 10 I thought that wouldn't help much...and it was bloody nonsense. How is an entire family going to take a bath before the four minute warning is up? If you're into stuff like this, read on.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    I've read the short story of this series some time ago and was speechless by how wonderful it was. Naturally, I had to give the novel a chance. And I certainly didn't regret it! In March 1952, a meteorite strikes Earth. It lands in a body of water which, as it turns out, is even worse than if it had hit land. The protagonist, Elma, is on vacation with her husband (they are newly weds) in some mountains. He's an engineer and responsible for a US satellite program while she is a former WASP pilot ( I've read the short story of this series some time ago and was speechless by how wonderful it was. Naturally, I had to give the novel a chance. And I certainly didn't regret it! In March 1952, a meteorite strikes Earth. It lands in a body of water which, as it turns out, is even worse than if it had hit land. The protagonist, Elma, is on vacation with her husband (they are newly weds) in some mountains. He's an engineer and responsible for a US satellite program while she is a former WASP pilot (female pilots that flew during WW2), a physicist and mathematician (I think she has 3 PhDs in total but can't remember what the third was for). They both quickly realize that it wasn't an A-bomb and, thanks to their small private plane, make it out of the immediate danger and survive. Many Americans weren't that lucky, including Elma's parents and all of Washington DC. As you can imagine, chaos descends. But they bounce back and quickly establish that this is an extinction-level event so a plan needs to be drawn up for the future of humanity. The solution: the colonization of the Moon and Mars. But this is the 50s, the very first IBM is sold a few years after the disaster (yes, the book spans a number of years), calculations are done by "human computers". But they are, of course, highly motivated so the bravest and brightest work on an international space program, building rockets, planning manned space flight etc. Along the way, racism, misogyny, antisemitism and anti-space terrorism (religious nutters) hinder the progress. The topic of gender equality is not new and a complicated one. Actually, scratch that, it's not complicated at all. People just love to complicate things. While there are obvious physical and even psychological differences so there are indeed things men can do better than women, there are actually things women can do better than men as well. As a police officer's daughter, a former Army member's niece, a martial artist (though I've started only about 2 years ago) and someone who's paid attention in biology / is interested in anatomy in general, I know for a fact that there is a reason why sports teams are usually divided by gender. However, as a woman, the neighbour of a former university professor and a rationally thinking human being, I also know that women can be at least as good at mathematics and physics as any man. History has also proven that women can be at least as gifted at piloting planes as men. And yes, it's true that - depending on an individual's height - women can be better astronauts than men (the g-force affects them less). Sure, it takes training and dedication like any other thing that is worthwhile, but the only reason why female pilots during WW2 and female astronaut candidates haven't achieved more is that men held them back (sometimes through legislation even) , probably because they felt threatened. This book has a brilliant way of dealing with all that in a most realistic way. Moreover, the MCs brother has had polio when he was a child and is the perfect example of how one can overcome such an illness (though it can break out again, it never really goes away) and live with a resulting physical disability. Not to mention that the protagonist herself suffers from anxiety - and I mean REAL anxiety, the medical kind (projectile vomiting and all). So mental health issues come up here as well. Then we have the host of African American ladies (and gentlemen) that heartbreakingly show us what racism looks like from the receiving end (being black AND a woman was even worse). Oh, and have I mentioned that Elma is also Jewish? What did astonish me was how groups that were subjected to discrimination themselves managed to discriminate against others. I mean, shouldn't they have known better, been better? Anyway, the book also brilliantly shows how stupid and counterproductive discrimination is as it diminishes your workforce. Just look at all the real-life women (mostly African Americans) that did all of NASAs calculations in their heads or on paper until computers came along and proved to be reliable enough (it was a rocky start). That is seriously impressive. In that regard, the book often reminded me of the movie Hidden Figures, which I loved (yes, it was a feel-good movie, but wonderfully done). So on one hand we have the brilliant writing style that sweeps the reader off their feet and carries them along the suspenseful string of events and discoveries, accurately explaining the science(s) and making one share the characters' excitement, while on the other hand one is constantly frustrated about the sheer stupidity of so many (often otherwise brilliant) people! Of course, that is how it should be, the reader being invested and all. But it is also utterly exhausting. I cannot count the times I wanted to punch Parker or Clemens. *lol* What was a definite delight was how well researched this book was. The science regarding space flight, piloting fighter jets and other planes (I looked it up as much as I could), biology, geography, astronomy and mental health as well as the social aspects such as racism, discrimination, everyday/mundane encounters and politics were incredibly detailed and accurate and therefore realistic, which made this story come to life like few others. Last but not least, I read the audioversion (for now, the paperback is already ordered) and can testify to the brilliance of the author's own narration. I knew she had narrated for a number of other authors before so she has the experience, but her accents and variety in reading style (for example news broadcasts compared to dialogues between people) seriously impressed me. I'm just glad she'll be publishing the follow-up novel in August already (there is no actual cliffhanger here, but we're not 100% "there" yet either) so I won't have to wait too long. ;)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Yep. All five. What a wonderful ride this book was. I'll say more later. ***LATER*** A good, solid alternate history; a very involving story; characters I can believe in, invest in, and even identify with; and an author whose capabilities, established in earlier books, make the catharsis of reading this book as bracing as a pitcher of 'tinis. The Lady Astronaut of Mars, book 2.5 in the series that (chronologically) begins with this book, won the 2014 Hugo for Best Novelette. There is a reason this Yep. All five. What a wonderful ride this book was. I'll say more later. ***LATER*** A good, solid alternate history; a very involving story; characters I can believe in, invest in, and even identify with; and an author whose capabilities, established in earlier books, make the catharsis of reading this book as bracing as a pitcher of 'tinis. The Lady Astronaut of Mars, book 2.5 in the series that (chronologically) begins with this book, won the 2014 Hugo for Best Novelette. There is a reason this is so. Author Kowal honed her audience manipulation (her phrase, not mine, go look at her Goodreads AMA!) skills in live theater. The result is that her mastery of it doesn't Show. It simply is. A wonderful experience in being led and misled results from that skill's genesis. Be prepared to devote your primary concentration skills to this book once it's opened. Doing less will be frustrating. Reward yourself for enduring 45's antics with an escape to a better, albeit doomed, world.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    A beautifully researched and told alternate version of the space race from the point of view of brilliant woman pilot, scientist and mathematician with dreams of going to space. It's 1952, and Elma and Nathaniel Wexler are vacationing in the mountains when a massive meteorite strikes just off the US coast in Chesepeake Bay. Much of the East Coast, including Washington DC is destroyed or flooded, and it's only Elma's and Nathaniel's quick thinking in the face of the disaster that save them both. E A beautifully researched and told alternate version of the space race from the point of view of brilliant woman pilot, scientist and mathematician with dreams of going to space. It's 1952, and Elma and Nathaniel Wexler are vacationing in the mountains when a massive meteorite strikes just off the US coast in Chesepeake Bay. Much of the East Coast, including Washington DC is destroyed or flooded, and it's only Elma's and Nathaniel's quick thinking in the face of the disaster that save them both. Elma was a WASP pilot in WWII and also has doctorates in physics and maths and her husband is a brilliant engineer, and both work for the National Advisory Commitee for Aeronautics (the predecessor of NASA). NACA itself gains immediate prominence in the aftermath of the meteorite and even more so when Elma's calculations reveal that the meteorite has set the Earth on the path to a runaway greenhouse effect. What follows has the space race happening years earlier, and racing the diminishing habitability of the Earth rather than Russians. It's also a space race that begins with the International Aerospace Coalition rather than NASA, so has diverse nationalities from the beginning. But this is the 1950s and both racism and sexism are the norm, setting up barriers for many of the people who wish to go into space. This is the story of Elma Wexler as she works for NACA, IAC and strives to become an astronaut, and it's also the story of the community of people working with her and often against her as well. This is one of the best books I've read this year. A mix of Hidden Figures and Apollo 13 with a heavy dose of The Martian, and impeccably researched and imagined, this hits my sweet spot for space program fiction as well as covering issues like gender discrimination and racism and giving further welcome attention to the women who were active in the science and technology field when "computer" was a job, not a thing. Very much looking forward to the second part of the story.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    Definitely one of my favourite books of 2018. And to think I considered giving this a miss. I'm interested in space, but an alternate history of space exploration? What a colossal mistake giving this a pass would have been. This is a masterful alt history set in the 1950's that illuminates the very real issues of discrimination. Elma's character suffers painfully from discrimination because she is a woman. On top of that she is fighting a personal battle with severe anxiety. At the same time, whil Definitely one of my favourite books of 2018. And to think I considered giving this a miss. I'm interested in space, but an alternate history of space exploration? What a colossal mistake giving this a pass would have been. This is a masterful alt history set in the 1950's that illuminates the very real issues of discrimination. Elma's character suffers painfully from discrimination because she is a woman. On top of that she is fighting a personal battle with severe anxiety. At the same time, while trying to elevate herself and the other highly skilled women around her, she also quite rightly gets schooled on her privileged position via a vis people of colour. Something I really appreciated about this story is that it recognises discrimination on so many levels but does not try to minimize the pain or damage it causes to any class of persons who suffer it. This is a story of individual battles and personal growth within the efforts of a large group, and I thought it captured those myriad experiences well. Of course if you liked Hidden Figures this is an easy go to, but really, it's a wonderfully written story recommended for anyone interested in the personal and political forces at play in any group engaged in achieving a long term goal. This book can be read alone and finishes up nicely but fortunately the sequel, The Fated Sky, is scheduled for release right away in August.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melissa (Mel’s Bookshelf)

    I really felt like listening to a sci-fi book and this one was in my audible recommended list. So without thinking too much about it, I started listening. What I got was not entirely what I expected. It's not so much a sci-fi as it is a historical fiction, alternate reality book. A REALLY good one! It's the USA in the 1950's. The Second World War may be over, but humanity is dealt another blow when a meteorite lands on Washington and obliterates the entire government and hundreds of thousands of I really felt like listening to a sci-fi book and this one was in my audible recommended list. So without thinking too much about it, I started listening. What I got was not entirely what I expected. It's not so much a sci-fi as it is a historical fiction, alternate reality book. A REALLY good one! It's the USA in the 1950's. The Second World War may be over, but humanity is dealt another blow when a meteorite lands on Washington and obliterates the entire government and hundreds of thousands of people. Then, just to make matters worse, super math wiz Elma discovers that the blast has created an extinction event and humanity as we know it will be wiped from the globe within decades. So what can be done about it? Humanity needs to look at the stars and planets for its future, and they need to get a wriggle on, as time is running out. However, putting people into space is not easy, and for those aspiring astronauts things are difficult enough without accounting for 1950's sexism and racism. Elma wants up. But her endeavour to get to the stars is going to be harder than she ever imagined. This book was historical fiction with a touch sci-fi, a splash of humour, and a pinch of fantasy and a LOT of fun! When I realised it wasn't going to be exactly the sci-fi epic that I imagined (no I didn't particularly read the description, obviously!), I was going to abandon it. But it has this beautiful charm which kept me listening. And I am so glad that I did keep listening, because it turned out to be absolutely one of the best books I have read this year! The writing is absolutely delightful. So easy to read (or listen to), flowing beautifully with a captivating storyline that may not sound the most enthralling, (I mean getting women into space isn't something I think I would have picked up if I HAD read the description properly!) But it was a really wonderful story! I adored Elma. I thought she may annoy me as the story went on, but I came to love her. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the fact that she has major anxiety, but is extremely high functioning. There aren't enough characters like Elma, or maybe I have just been reading the wrong books! Her HEALTHY relationship with her husband was so refreshing, and there were some characters that I loved to dislike. The audio version was AMAZING!!! I couldn't get over how good the narrator was and wanted to know if she has narrated anything else, and then I realised it was narrated by the author!! BRILLIANT! I loved the southern accents. It was utterly charming! I'm won over! I honestly don't have one bad thing to say about this book! I loved it! Would I recommend The Calculating Stars? Yes! If it sounds like your cup of tea, give it a go! And even if it doesn't you may still enjoy it like I did! I think I will neglect to read the description more often! I purchased The Calculating Stars at my own expense at audible.com. For more reviews check out my: Blog Facebook Twitter Instagram

  9. 5 out of 5

    Colin Forbes

    I realise that my somewhat insipid 3 star rating is at odds with the majority of glowing reviews here. I see what she was trying to do, I really do, but I can't shake the feeling that MRK has tried to squeeze too many issues into one book. Let’s count. Main PoV character, Elma, is discriminated against because she is a woman. Also, people don't understand her Jewish heritage. She has mental health problems. Many of her friends experience racial discrimination. The public at large don't believe the I realise that my somewhat insipid 3 star rating is at odds with the majority of glowing reviews here. I see what she was trying to do, I really do, but I can't shake the feeling that MRK has tried to squeeze too many issues into one book. Let’s count. Main PoV character, Elma, is discriminated against because she is a woman. Also, people don't understand her Jewish heritage. She has mental health problems. Many of her friends experience racial discrimination. The public at large don't believe the global warming predictions which are driving the space race she is involved in. All worthy topics for exploration, but to try to cover all that ground in one story? It's too much. And it's not subtle. The casual misogyny which she recreates is probably authentic to the period and feels so jarringly wrong to the modern day reader that by the tenth or twentieth repetition it really feels unnecessary. Perhaps it's just not the book I thought it was but when, at three quarters of the way through the book, we have yet to experience spaceflight through The Lady Astronaut's point of view, I couldn't help but feel slightly cheated. Maybe it was always supposed to be a book about race/gender/religion/etc, with the space race as backdrop and not vice versa. On an intellectual level I had a major disconnect with the whole premise of the book. "A meteor impact has put in motion a chain of events which is going to make the earth uninhabitable - therefore we must go into space to secure the human race's future!" How is it ever going to be easier to build a habitat for humans on the moon or Mars, where there is literally no oxygen in the atmosphere, the gravity is all wrong, there's no easily accessible water and so on? Surely they should be concentrating on building habitats on the earth - in domes, or underground, where there is rather less effort than a rocket launch involved in getting supplies to where they are needed? (Okay, there would be huge moral issues around deciding which tiny percentage of the human race would be selected to be saved within the shelters, but that's an entirely different story.) With all that said, the storytelling picks up in the last few chapters and I’m moderately interested in finding out how the second book moves things forward. Dammit! PS Also contains a couple of scenes which are clearly intended to be erotic but actually contain the most painfully cringeworthy language. It's not cute, it's laughable. Can't believe that the editor let them pass.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Evelina | AvalinahsBooks

    I'm always excited to read astronaut books, as you might know from my posts like this one, this one or this one. So I was even more excited to read one where women fight their ground to get to be astronauts. As it turned out, it was not an easy fight, even if it's one written in an alternate 50's Earth. The Calculating Stars is no bright and easy read, but it deals with some really important topics, and is also very engaging and strong. I loved it, and here are the reasons why you might love i I'm always excited to read astronaut books, as you might know from my posts like this one, this one or this one. So I was even more excited to read one where women fight their ground to get to be astronauts. As it turned out, it was not an easy fight, even if it's one written in an alternate 50's Earth. The Calculating Stars is no bright and easy read, but it deals with some really important topics, and is also very engaging and strong. I loved it, and here are the reasons why you might love it too! So come and read 5 Reasons To Read The Calculating Stars! I thank Tor Books for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. Receiving the book for free does not affect my opinion. Read Post On My Blog | My Bookstagram | Bookish Twitter

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    This is a stirring and surprisingly intimate exploration of an inspired “what-if?” scenario: what if a globally-scaled natural disaster accelerated our space program? The resulting story feels extremely authentic and altogether possible, grounded by the entirely relatable narrator, a genius but altogether human Lady Astronaut. It’s incredibly refreshing to encounter a character whose intelligence and courage don’t always protect her from her own anxieties, nor from the machinations of a fearful, This is a stirring and surprisingly intimate exploration of an inspired “what-if?” scenario: what if a globally-scaled natural disaster accelerated our space program? The resulting story feels extremely authentic and altogether possible, grounded by the entirely relatable narrator, a genius but altogether human Lady Astronaut. It’s incredibly refreshing to encounter a character whose intelligence and courage don’t always protect her from her own anxieties, nor from the machinations of a fearful, male-dominated world; she is tested from without and within, and her journey feels totally believable. I look forward to the conclusion of her story in the sequel.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lata

    After reading about Elma as an old woman in Kowal's "The Lady Astronaut", I knew I had to read this story of an alternative history of space flight. After a literal, huge bang at the start, the book takes us on a character journey, as a young Elma, already an accomplished pilot, becomes a Computer, along with many other women, as part of an international effort to get to space. As this is the 1950s, sexism, racism and Jim Crow are alive and well, with many, very capable non-white women passed ov After reading about Elma as an old woman in Kowal's "The Lady Astronaut", I knew I had to read this story of an alternative history of space flight. After a literal, huge bang at the start, the book takes us on a character journey, as a young Elma, already an accomplished pilot, becomes a Computer, along with many other women, as part of an international effort to get to space. As this is the 1950s, sexism, racism and Jim Crow are alive and well, with many, very capable non-white women passed over for opportunities in the space program. Elma herself doesn't always see these women in pilot or astronaut positions, because of her own biases, despite her own experiences with sexism and racism (she's Jewish), but learns to open her mind and work to include these women for consideration in the program. Elma also suffers from at times crippling anxiety, and how she learns to deal with it is plausible; it's not often we get to see characters cope with psychological issues of this sort in speculative fiction. On another note, I loved Elma's and Nathaniel's loving and respectful marriage. I was excited when I heard about this book, especially after reading Margot Lee Shetterly's "Hidden Figures". Even though this is an alt-history, I enjoyed the way Kowal developed Earth's space program, and how she focused on the critical role of the human computers to all the engineering and launches. And how she showed that sexism and racism impaired and prevented the leaders and administrators of the space program from seeing and taking advantage of all sorts of talented and highly skilled individuals.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Boostamonte Halvorsen

    This book was okay. Nothing amazing though. Here's why: I've read something like this, and it was better. It was different, but the overall premise is the same. I point you toward Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. His book is so much better than this one. Yes, I agree that they are different in a lot of ways, but fundamentally, they are about saving the human race as the planet dies, with women being the key to the success. Mary's book empowers women, and I get that that is a primary focus...but I fe This book was okay. Nothing amazing though. Here's why: I've read something like this, and it was better. It was different, but the overall premise is the same. I point you toward Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. His book is so much better than this one. Yes, I agree that they are different in a lot of ways, but fundamentally, they are about saving the human race as the planet dies, with women being the key to the success. Mary's book empowers women, and I get that that is a primary focus...but I feel like she let it get in the way of the central conflict: getting a space program into space and saving the human race. I felt at times that the "men vs. women" conflict got in the way, like a big fly crawling around on the TV screen. I don't mean to diminish the conflict, or the historical accuracy of the battle for women's rights and respect; but I wish it would have been handled differently. I wish she would have done it like Neal Stephenson did it. Subtle background conflict that comes to a head in a marvelous way that makes women as powerful as they really are--where men and women both drop the book and stand and yell, "FUCK YES! THESE WOMEN ARE BADASS!" I guess I can put it this way: The world is ending because of Climate Change, and we are given a 10 year window to fix it...but instead, we spend 8 years fighting about how women caused Climate change and visa versa. During those 8 years, Climate Change isn't really talked about. It feels like this: "It's 120 in Vegas today, how is the progress on the Climinator going?" "It's going alright, but James keeps messing with the mathematics because he doesn't like my equations because I'm a woman." "Oh, well we need to get the Climanator going." "Oh I know, I just really hate that James won't let me do math the way I want to because I am a woman." "Well what are you going to do about it?" "Probably complain to my husband, who will then have really awkward sex with me to ease my tension, then meet with the girls at the bowling alley and come up with a way to defeat James." "Ah, well, we do need to get the Climanator going one of these days." "Yeah...but James..." All of that just got too distracting for me. And the awkward sex scenes....they were horrible. I guess this novel just felt like she was forcing too much together, and it didn't feel natural to me. I hate that I didn't love it, or like it more than I did...or...didn't.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Galloway

    This novel was utterly fantastic. I cursed every hour of work that kept me away from it! The plot of the novel -- a devastating meteor strike means that Earth must accelerate the space program -- is fascinating enough. Then you throw in the diversity and the civil rights issues and the awful sexism that needs to go away for it all to be successful and that makes the book even better. But what makes this absolutely stunning is the voice. Elma is just an absolute joy to read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I haven't been this disappointed by a book in a long time. I should learn not to get my hopes up so high, but this one really pulled the wool over my eyes. It is a continuation of a story I did like: I read the short story (called "novelette") of Kowal's featuring the main character, Elma York. It's a simple but well-written story, and I considered Elma to have both heart and gumption. I liked her a lot. The story won a Hugo award, which is pretty notable. So when I heard this novel was being pu I haven't been this disappointed by a book in a long time. I should learn not to get my hopes up so high, but this one really pulled the wool over my eyes. It is a continuation of a story I did like: I read the short story (called "novelette") of Kowal's featuring the main character, Elma York. It's a simple but well-written story, and I considered Elma to have both heart and gumption. I liked her a lot. The story won a Hugo award, which is pretty notable. So when I heard this novel was being published to tell the prequel story of how Elma York, the first Lady Astronaut, helped colonize Mars, I was here for it. 1950s Cold War era alternate timeline? A reimagining of the space race from a female perspective, in which a plucky heroine tears down prejudices and stereotypes? Cool, smart references to Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite authors? Real science in my science fiction? Yes, yes, yes, and YES. My body is so ready. Did the book deliver on any of these things? Not really. And in a rather cruel fake out, too, because the first one hundred pages or so is quite engaging. The depiction of Elma as a young married woman trying to get her life together in the post-World War II period only to have to grapple with a large scale disaster like the meteor strike rang quite true. I appreciated that she had bucked tradition and flew planes to aid the war effort. I appreciated that her background was Jewish, so that she would understand what it was like to come from a marginalized community. I thought it was interesting for her to discover that the rescue efforts by the government were divided along racial lines, and that she cared enough to do something about it. All of this is good stuff, often overlooked in fiction, which feels more important than ever to explore in our current tumultuous times. After a time-skip, however, it's like the author decided to drop her own meteor on the narrative. It is difficult to encompass just how spectacularly this novel falls apart, but I must attempt to count the ways. Characters. I realized halfway through there were either no characters I felt like I knew - or if I did know them, I didn't like them. Obviously we are with Elma the entire time, but she became insufferable so fast. What came off as a world-weary snark in the original story turned into self-absorbed arrogance and incomprehensible mood swings. She also had a strangely privileged background: despite growing up in Depression era 1930s as a girl in a Jewish minority community in the south, she somehow possesses a mathematical genius that allowed her to attend college in her early teens and earn a PhD in mathematics. .... Sure. And then during the war she was able to fly planes and avoid sexual harassment of other officers because she was the daughter of a general. Okay. Handy. Never mind that this novel is unapologetically set up to be about underdogs prevailing, as it states on the back cover: "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." Because of this, I found the incredible advantages she starts out with to be a strange narrative choice, to say the least. And she only stumbles from there. The other most frequently seen character is her husband, Nathaniel. Again, I liked him at first, but soon his role as the Most Understanding Husband in the World grew wearisome. At every turn, Nathaniel knows exactly what to say! He's dedicated to the success of his wife's career, even though it's 1952! He's so compassionate! He never blames Elma, even when she is so out of it she forgets to pay the electric bill and their power is shut off! How did she find this AMAZING catch of a man? The book never tells us. I kept waiting for some memory of a meet cute, a wartime love story against all odds, but it never happens... though we do get a few out of place harlequin romance-esque sex scenes. So that was disappointing, as was the inhuman ability for Nathaniel to avoid any potential conflict between him and Elma (view spoiler)[even when she vomits all over his office from nerves and he thinks she's pregnant. But when it turns out she's not, he's super cool about it. I kept waiting for some discussion of having a family, since, you know, it's the fifties, but nada (hide spoiler)] . Everyone else in the book is barely more than a caricature of the worst variety: we get a (usually non-American) name, a mention of what makes them part of a marginalized group, and a sole defining quality of their character has something to do with said marginalized group. The Asian character has stilted English. The Arab character has to stick to Muslim prayer times in the rocket-ship. The French character speaks French. Women of all stripes complain about the men who are always groping them in the workplace. The disabled character talks about his disability. The Jews talk about their religion. I know this was some attempt by the author to show diversity and inclusivity, but these ensemble characters are so poorly drawn the effect is ironic: reducing these people to the one thing that makes them the "other" instead of taking pains to draw them as complex human beings reinforces the stereotype. You can't just stuff your book with exotic names and achieve proper representation. World-building woes. One of the things I was really interested in with this premise was the alternate history aspect. How would the post-war Cold War era progress with some sort of catastrophic event decimating the US, with repercussions felt around the world? Would it ratchet up tensions between America and the Soviet Union? What would the space race look like if it was to Mars to live, not just the moon to say we can? What about the very real climatic changes the earth would be undergoing as it was slowly dying? What about decolonization? Western democracy versus Communism? The nuclear arms race? So much was happening at the time on the world's stage and I couldn't wait to see how it played a role. Boy, was I disappointed. I realized by the end I had no idea what had happened in most of the United States, let alone around the world. There is a vague mention of the former Soviet Union (when did it collapse? Why?), what sounds like the beginning of the Algerian war, and local food riots, and Communist China also having a space program, but the characters don't really react to any of these events. (It is revealed in the "historical note" in the back that the author pulled most of the news stories that start each chapter from real newspapers, and these provided most of what I understood about what was going on in the world, and they were largely divorced from anything the characters interacted with, much to my confusion when I was reading. This makes me suspect maybe she plopped these in after the fact to try to simulate current events without having to write them into the narrative herself.) The space program is somehow hiring a number of foreigners, but there's no explanation of why or how. Worse, despite predictions in the first part of the novel that the earth would soon become uninhabitable, there is no real indication of hard times in the characters' periphery, nothing to put the pressure on to solve problems and get those people to Mars. There was even a section where some one-off characters posit that the notion that the earth was warming as a result of the meteor that destroyed the eastern seaboard and killed millions of people and displaced millions more was a hoax. Reader, I get the wink and the nod, but I would think this was a harder event to deny than gradual climate change. Pacing and plot. This is where the book really started to get counter-intuitive. It is a not-short 400+ pages, and it has a second book. That's fine. There's a lot of time to cover here. Decades, really. But things go glacially. (view spoiler)[For instance, I really figured we'd get to Mars by the end of the book. Spoilers, we do not. Elma doesn't even break atmo until the last sentence. (hide spoiler)] Then, instead of the plot being taken up by high-stakes situations, like how to make a foreign planet hospitable for longterm human life while people are slowly choking to death outside by the bad air and starving from world-wide crop failures, what is the main obstacle for Elma? Is it institutional sexism that keeps her from the space program even though she is clearly the most qualified for the job? Is it the crushing societal expectations coupled with social pressure and ostracism trying to force her into a domestic life she doesn't want nor need? Nope. It's stage fright. That's right. She can do Einstein-level math in her head, avoided German bombers in WWII, but she just can't talk in front of a crowd. She throws up every time, because some boys were mean to her in school I guess? This is literally the main conflict of the book. It's not Elma against a broken system, or humanity against all odds. It's Elma against herself, and it's baffling because it seems to be the exact thing that would feed the misconception that women are too emotional to go into space. I found myself thinking she did seem too emotional to go into space! What if she has a panic attack while trying to do some maneuver that got the rest of the crew killed and the bajillion dollar rocket destroyed? How far would that set the program back while the rest of humanity was at stake? Then, the solution comes up quickly with a ham-fisted "it's okay to ask for help" message and some anxiety pills seem to give her an immediate cure all. Never mind that I'm pretty sure most medication for nervous disorders back then knocked you off your feet and/or were highly addictive. Surely Elma is space-worthy now! I could keep going, because plenty more happens that defies explanation, but I'm tired. I'm especially tired of books that try to shove modern day agendas into period pieces. I'm certainly for more nuanced discussions of mental health issues, but reducing Elma's struggles to some minor and frankly first-world problems is a kick in the teeth to anyone who weathered real persecution and forged a path to progress through social activism. This book, despite its promising premise, betrays a shallow understanding of these historical struggles on almost every level. Needless to say, I'm skipping the sequel.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenne

    Super cool premise! But it felt like she was trying so hard to do justice to the women who inspired the story, that actually it got in the way of it feeling realistic.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carmen Bollinger

    This book covers a lot: feminism, mental health, civil rights, and climate change, just to name a few things. I'm a sucker for alternative history, and this starts out as that: a meteorite takes out Washington, D.C. in 1952. The space race is on, but with a twist---the lady "computers" get a much bigger role. Engaging read, fast-paced, with real *jargon* written by actual astronauts. Great for fans of Stephenson's "Seven Eves," "Hidden Figures," any alternate history, or Ben Bova's hard SF.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    I just loved this. A very very real alternate history of the space program, starting in a disaster that lends it much more of an urgency than a Cold War race to the stars. Features a wonderful main character!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    Earlier this year, I read "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...) and fell in love with Elma York really hard. That tiny little story packed such a huge punch about love, grief, passion and space: it took me a few days to recover... and it was less than 50 pages! When I heard there would be two upcoming Lady Astronaut novels, I actually screamed. And dropped everything else I was reading almost as soon as my copy was delivered. In spring of Earlier this year, I read "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...) and fell in love with Elma York really hard. That tiny little story packed such a huge punch about love, grief, passion and space: it took me a few days to recover... and it was less than 50 pages! When I heard there would be two upcoming Lady Astronaut novels, I actually screamed. And dropped everything else I was reading almost as soon as my copy was delivered. In spring of 1952, a meteorite hits the Atlantic ocean just off the east coast of the United-States, and destroys Washington D.C. But this impact has more dire consequences than the flooding of the cities on the coast: the cataclysm triggers an extinction event not unlike that which lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs. If humanity is to survive, they need to find a way to get off the planet. Fast. Elma York is a former WASP pilot and a brilliant mathematician. She and her husband Nathaniel work for the NACA - NASA's ancestor agency. Her calculations and discovery earn her a place on the team put in charge of figuring out how to put a man on the Moon, and eventually colonize it to save humanity. She soon decides that she wants to be more than a computer: she wants to become an astronaut. But a few things stand in her way, mostly the simple fact that she is a woman... If you've seen (or read) "Hidden Bodies" and enjoyed it, you'll love this story of incredibly brilliant women working their asses off to be recognized for their work, and not just as someone's wife or daughter. Not unlike the tiny short story that lead me to this book, I went through it wondering how Kowal managed to talk about so much in so few pages: feminism, civil rights, science, politics, mental health! Each issue is approached with realism and compassion, doing what the best science-fiction books do: make you understand what being human really means while appearing to tell you a story about space exploration. Elam's character is strongly built, and as you read her story, you share her love of her work, her anxiety about public-speaking, her anger at the way women in the program are being treated by the men in charge, her frustration and powerlessness in the face of other discrimination and prejudices. Her relationship with her wonderful and supportive husband Nathaniel is sweet - perhaps a touch too sweet, really - but it's heartwarming to see her partner treating her like an equal as she has to fight tooth and nails to prove that she is just as qualified as the men she works with. I enjoyed the ever-shifting rapport with her nemesis, the horrid Stetson Parker: they hate each other, but begrudgingly respect each other at the same time, which makes their interaction fascinating. I also appreciate that Elma has some prejudices of her won she has to confront and overcome, showing that we can all do better. Kowal might have written an alternate history novel set in the 50's, but her commentaries are quite relevant to current events: the real world is still full of people who feel that women and black people can't do certain things or should be treated differently, not to mention people who don't believe that science is real... Speaking of which, she clearly did her homework with scientific and technological research: I don't know if her aviation and engineering jargon is accurate, but the way the scientists talk and behave feels absolutely authentic. If you like good sci-fi, strong and well-realized female leads, alternate history and excellent writing, do yourself a favor and read this book! I can't wait for "The Fated Sky" later this summer!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cathy (cathepsut)

    At first glance a story about the apocalypse—a meteor strikes Earth in the 1950s with devastating longterm effects. At second glance this is more an exploration of discrimination against women and persons of colour in that time in the US. And an exploration of the Space Race, this time not against the Russians, but against the end of the world. A quarter into the book I wasn’t sure, if I liked the book or the main protagonist. Well written, a bit too linear and straight forward for me in this ins At first glance a story about the apocalypse—a meteor strikes Earth in the 1950s with devastating longterm effects. At second glance this is more an exploration of discrimination against women and persons of colour in that time in the US. And an exploration of the Space Race, this time not against the Russians, but against the end of the world. A quarter into the book I wasn’t sure, if I liked the book or the main protagonist. Well written, a bit too linear and straight forward for me in this instance and maybe a little bit boring. Good beginning, but seemingly fairly flat story telling. And I just wanted to smack Elma around the head on many occasions. But I guess she is a product of her time, although she wants more. I couldn‘t really see the Elma of the short story in this. Surprisingly, not a lot of tension at first. Yes, the Earth is about to end, eventually. But that didn‘t really drive the plot forward a lot. Character driven stories are not really my favourite books, and if they are, I want more character development than this. The plot sort of ambled along in a more or less predictable fashion. I had expected something different, after reading the Hugo Award winning novelette Lady Astronaut of Mars. Nonetheless, it is a well told story with a lot of food for thought and the last chapter was just fabulous. I almost cried. Elma‘s love for flying and space shines through and the writing is very imaginative and poetic at times. So a well-deserved 4 stars, despite what I wrote above. I didn‘t love it enough for the five star treatment. I will maybe read the next book, because Space! Right? perhaps I‘ll have talked myself into 5 stars soon, if I keep thinking about the book some more. I recommend reading this article for further inspiration: https://www.tor.com/2018/07/06/17-boo...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carla Estruch

    Agarraos, que viene reseña larga. Esta novela de Mary Robinette Kowal me ha enganchado de principio a fin. Prueba de ello es que anoche la terminara a las cuatro de la madrugada. Pero vayamos por partes. TRAMA: Supongo que aquí es donde debo avisaros de que, si buscáis una novela de ciencia ficción en el espacio, desechad la idea. The Calculating Stars es una ucronía ambientada en los años 50. ¿Qué cambia? Pues que choca un meteorito en la Tierra y provoca una catástrofe parecida a la que causó l Agarraos, que viene reseña larga. Esta novela de Mary Robinette Kowal me ha enganchado de principio a fin. Prueba de ello es que anoche la terminara a las cuatro de la madrugada. Pero vayamos por partes. TRAMA: Supongo que aquí es donde debo avisaros de que, si buscáis una novela de ciencia ficción en el espacio, desechad la idea. The Calculating Stars es una ucronía ambientada en los años 50. ¿Qué cambia? Pues que choca un meteorito en la Tierra y provoca una catástrofe parecida a la que causó la extinción de los dinosaurios. El incipiente programa espacial se adelanta unos años, porque ahora de repente hay prisas para crear cuanto antes colonias en la Luna y el resto de planetas. Pero la trama sigue ambientándose en los años 50 con todo lo que ello conlleva (tecnología, moral, leyes raciales y misoginia de la época, entre otras cosas). PERSONAJES: La novela está narrada en primera persona, desde el punto de vista de Elma York, una matemática que pilotaba aviones en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Está casada con Nathaniel York, ingeniero, y desde ya os digo que esta relación es muy bonita y realista, con sus altibajos, sus sesiones de quererse mucho (soy muy fan de las escenas de preliminares al sexo) y su obsesión con el trabajo. TEMAS QUE TRATA: -La ansiedad social: me sentí muy identificada con el proceso que vive Elma a la hora de aceptar su ansiedad. -Machismo: The Calculating Stars no trata sobre cómo las mujeres llegaron a la Luna en esta ucronía creada por Kowal, sino sobre lo que tuvieron que sufrir las mujeres para llegar a ser dignas de convertirse en astronautas. La novela relata esa lucha y hay veces en las que te dan ganas de coger a un personaje por el pescuezo y tirarle un cohete a la cara. Hacia el final se hace especialmente frustrante. Tampoco ayuda que, al leer las notas finales de Kowal, descubras que algunos de los recortes de prensa que encabezan cada capítulo son reales. Os vais a cabrear mucho, os aviso desde ya. -Racismo: Elma es una mujer blanca de clase media. A través de sus ojos vamos descubriendo cómo ciertas situaciones que ella consideraba normales (espacios completamente blancos, por ejemplo), no deberían serlo. Aún le queda mucho por aprender, y más de una vez se lleva las manos a la cabeza al no fijarse en que no había tenido en cuenta a sus compañeras racializadas. VALORACIÓN FINAL: Cinco estrellas y quinientas lunas. Por qué no tengo el segundo ya, a ver.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    This is one of those books that is objectively good - interesting premise, well-defined characters, sturdy prose and story structure, sufficiently exciting climax, etc. Its un-shy about its feminist/progressive perspective, which I should be fine with because I'm a big 'ol pinko lefty myself, but there's a big difference between positioning your ideology within a narrative and pandering to a particular kind of reader. The Calculating Stars does the latter. Like it desperately needed me to congra This is one of those books that is objectively good - interesting premise, well-defined characters, sturdy prose and story structure, sufficiently exciting climax, etc. Its un-shy about its feminist/progressive perspective, which I should be fine with because I'm a big 'ol pinko lefty myself, but there's a big difference between positioning your ideology within a narrative and pandering to a particular kind of reader. The Calculating Stars does the latter. Like it desperately needed me to congratulate it for validating my personal beliefs and I'm supposed to just say "Okay, fine!" and throw a Hugo at it so it will let me off the hook. And now that I've said that it will probably win all the awards. Congrats.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Hutchinson

    I really enjoyed this. I'm a sucker for books involving space, and I loved the enthusiastic geekery that runs throughout the entire book. What a gem.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Baker

    *Read-along with the paperback and audiobook.* My first reading experience with Mary Robinete Kowal was last year when I read Ghost Talkers. I loved the novel so much that when I saw she released a new novel, I knew I had to read it. I’m so glad that I did, because I loved it! The Calculating Stars is just as entertaining as Ghost Talkers. This alternative history novel takes place in the 1950s. A meteorite hits Earth destroying much of the east coast of the U.S. including Washington, D.C. The gov *Read-along with the paperback and audiobook.* My first reading experience with Mary Robinete Kowal was last year when I read Ghost Talkers. I loved the novel so much that when I saw she released a new novel, I knew I had to read it. I’m so glad that I did, because I loved it! The Calculating Stars is just as entertaining as Ghost Talkers. This alternative history novel takes place in the 1950s. A meteorite hits Earth destroying much of the east coast of the U.S. including Washington, D.C. The government realizes that it needs to start colonizing outer space, so Elma fights to become the first Lady Astronaut to assist with the program. It’s hit or miss when authors narrate their own novel. Sometimes they don’t do so well and other times they do a wonderful job. Ms. Kowal is one of those authors who does a fantastic job narrating her own audiobook. I loved the different voices she had for the characters. There are so many things that I love about her novels. She’s a talented writer with fantastic prose. She knows how to tell a story and keep the reader turning the pages. This world was so vivid and so real with great character interactions. The characters sound like people that you either know or desperately want to be real, such as Drs. Elma and Nathaniel York, our MCs. Elma York is a WASP pilot and a genius mathematician. Her husband, Nathaniel, is no slouch. He’s a rocket scientist with the NACA. Elma sounds like a human calculator doing complex math problems in her head almost instantly. God, I’d love to be able to do that! When Elma is anxious, she recites Pi to 19 decimal places, 3.1415926535897932384, or recites prime numbers, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71. I can’t even think of prime numbers without recalling fifth grade math class when our teacher made us play “truth or consequence”. We had to stand in a circle and one-by-one, we recited the next prime number. If we messed up, the teacher made us do something embarrassing. Out of intense fear, I never messed up. Since it was the 1950s, there was both racial and sex discrimination issues. Only white women were allowed to become pilots, but they still couldn’t fly combat. The government didn’t want any woman becoming astronauts. Some of the characters had a great way of dealing with the discrimination. They had great sarcastic comments and some of them exaggerated their southern twang. It was funny hearing Ms. Kowal doing the various voices. This is where I’d insert quote, had I written down a page number. Some of their comments were directed at Colonel Parker who is a condescending, sexist, jackass. The ending made me cry tears of joy. I’m still thinking of the characters and fortunately, book #2 of this duology has already released. Highly recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    First off, this book starts off with a disaster and, what most of you probably don’t know is that I’m one of those people who loves disaster flicks. Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, Dante’s Peak, Volcano…even crap like 2012–I will go see all of them. So when a disaster happens in the first few pages I was like ‘oh crap, she’s not pulling any punches’ and I was on board right away. Also, with where she decided to drop the meteorite? One has to wonder if she was at all inspired by those fake Giant Met First off, this book starts off with a disaster and, what most of you probably don’t know is that I’m one of those people who loves disaster flicks. Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, Dante’s Peak, Volcano…even crap like 2012–I will go see all of them. So when a disaster happens in the first few pages I was like ‘oh crap, she’s not pulling any punches’ and I was on board right away. Also, with where she decided to drop the meteorite? One has to wonder if she was at all inspired by those fake Giant Meteor 2016 campaign bumper stickers. 😀 I also really appreciated that Maryland basically got wiped out because my home state often gets left out of these things–it’s usually always New York or LA getting destroyed. Yeah, I’m weird. 🙂 This book filled me with so many different emotions throughout reading it. There was sorrow, joy, and at one point I was so angry, so filled with burning rage at the way some of the women characters were being treated. I felt myself being filled with a feminist fury that ran about as hot as a thousand suns. I kind of wanted to crawl into the book and punch a few guys, but that wasn’t possible so I just kept silently seething at them as I read. I feel like I wouldn’t have been so wrapped up in the book if it weren’t for the characters been so well-written so kudos for that. They felt like real people living real lives. Although there was one small part when I think Elma took the high road where in reality most people probably would have and usually I don’t like it when characters are too ‘nice’ about things but this was a single incident and I did feel like it was a decision rather than what the character’s first instinct was to do. Kowal tackles a lot of subjects with this book. Sometimes in the past I’ve felt like some of these subjects she’s wanted to explore were not integrated well into the story lines and felt almost tacked on, but that’s definitely not so with this one. This book is a story largely about feminism right from the get-go. Every other subject fits seamlessly within the plot and sub-plots and keep the story moving forward. In addition to feminism, she’s tackling other issues like racism and the stigma surrounding mental health issues such as anxiety. As someone who has lived with anxiety disorders for over half of my life, I felt like this was handled in such a great way. I could really empathize with Elma’s character and feeling like a failure if you have to take meds, or feeling like this illness is some kind of weakness–these are all things that I’ve struggled with myself so it felt very realistically done to me. There were quite a few things that surprised me in this book–the use of the word ‘fuck’ several times (not sure why that was such a shock except that I haven’t seen it much in her other books, and was pleasantly surprised), the amount of sexy times (heck yeah), and all of the math! One thing I was not surprised to find (and greatly appreciated) was the wonderful and supportive relationship between Elma and her husband Nathaniel. I wish there were more books like this that feature such relationships instead of there always being so much drama! Sure there were times when they weren’t always completely on the same page but they communicated and they worked things out because that’s what you should do if you’re a team. You can show people being in love without manufacturing so much unnecessary nonsense. And as much as I love the falling in love aspect of romantic relationships it was so refreshing that theirs was an already established relationship at the beginning of the book. Also, I really appreciated the acknowledgements and notes on the history at the end and how she veered off from the real timeline before the start of the book. She put a heck of a lot of research into this book and it seems like she had some fun while doing it. Overall, The Calculating Stars is an unrepentantly feminist novel that will make you laugh, cry, and at times fill you with a boiling rage. I loved it. I’m definitely going to have to shuffle around my top five reads of the year after this one. 5/5 stars.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Allison Hurd

    An endearing, enraging, hope-filled alt-history where the "what if" is that a meteorite wipes out Washington DC and most of the east coast, starts a highly escalated version of global warming and kicks off the space program. CONTENT WARNING (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics): (view spoiler)[ misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, mental health stigma. (hide spoiler)] Things to love: -Elma. Plucky, flawed but earnest, and incredibly brilliant, she's a great, honest person to share a head with. -Th An endearing, enraging, hope-filled alt-history where the "what if" is that a meteorite wipes out Washington DC and most of the east coast, starts a highly escalated version of global warming and kicks off the space program. CONTENT WARNING (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics): (view spoiler)[ misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, mental health stigma. (hide spoiler)] Things to love: -Elma. Plucky, flawed but earnest, and incredibly brilliant, she's a great, honest person to share a head with. -The inclusivity. I loved that the author made it a point to remember that the 1950s did in fact have women and Jews and people with disabilities, and Black people and Taiwanese people etc. In the control room. In the capitol. In board rooms and living rooms, these people have not only existed but have actively participated in the furtherance of human achievement. This was wonderfully handled. -The writing. A highly technical book that focused on math, piloting and the uneasy intersection of our various life experiences in a post WW2, pre-Civil Rights Era United States could have been full of infodumps, technobabble, and lectures. Like the main character, the author handles all of this with obvious extreme competence and easy grace. Also, it is a quick, fairly "fun" read about a dire topic. That's a lot to wrangle into one novel, and yet Kowal did just that. -The reality of it. This isn't a sugar-coated re-imagining of some romanticized era. Men and women are not treated equally. People of color are discriminated against so subtly but obviously that there's no way to get around it either in terms of impact or resistance. The misogyny and casual racism, even from the "good" people is palpable. The evil people aren't hell-bent on mass destruction--they're petty, used to power or privilege, and angry that anyone is making them feel bad about themselves. Things that weren't as strong for me: -The pacing. It was a bit uneven. This is more a "slice of life" tale than a story of socio-political progress or the real-world drama of human achievement. We're in a story about cataclysm in a time of huge social pressure and upheaval. I expected a bit more tension. -The sex talk. Yeah, I get it. Loving, nerdy couple. But it was too much at odds with the rest of the story. I actually didn't like how sex was used in most of the book. Not only was it eye-rolly most of the time, the way they said things like "launch is a go," before foreplay (which, I'm not sure about you, but just sort of wilts my enthusiasm lol) but Elma used sex a lot kind of against her husband. Each relationship is unique, of course, but if my spouse used sexy times to get me to be a yes-man as frequently as they did, we'd have some things to discuss. -The medication's description. Smaller quibble, but the book went out of its way to add some less-glamorous parts of real life to its narrative, and yet we have multiple characters medicated for anxiety in a time when we didn't even really have Lithium figured out, who had no side effects other than slight delay in reaction time? And it was "take as needed" with no discussion of toxicology build ups or addiction possibilities? Man. No sense of diminished self-worth, decrease in libido, weight gain (or crazy weight loss), impacts on other hormones or horror stories of people it drove to commit suicide (real spoiler) (view spoiler)[Especially for someone with Elma's history (hide spoiler)] ? Where do I get this miracle drug? It'd almost be worth an extinction level event to have something like that! I imagine the author was hoping to say that it's okay, go on medication! It's way better than living sick without treatment! And that's so true. But if you go into treatment expecting it to flip like a switch, most folks will be disappointed. Like I said, super nit-picky, but it was something that caught my attention multiple times. Highly recommended read if you are looking for a lighter sci-fi with strong feminist tones that neither preaches no erases. We have always been here. And, thanks to this book, soon we'll have always been on the Moon and beyond!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    The Calculating Stars is an alternate history with a very strong female protagonist that is pushing the gender boundaries of her time. The premise is that a meteorite struck there earth with catastrophic consequences.The initial destruction was obvious, as it wiped out much of the east coast, either from the initial impact or the flooding that occurred after. However, our protagonist does some impressive calculations and determines that what they’ve seen so far is nothing compared to what is to The Calculating Stars is an alternate history with a very strong female protagonist that is pushing the gender boundaries of her time. The premise is that a meteorite struck there earth with catastrophic consequences.The initial destruction was obvious, as it wiped out much of the east coast, either from the initial impact or the flooding that occurred after. However, our protagonist does some impressive calculations and determines that what they’ve seen so far is nothing compared to what is to come. And with the most dire consequences set years down the road, convincing people to take the threat seriously can be a challenge (and likely even more so when you are a woman trying to do the convincing). There is a very real threat that the earth may not be inhabitable in the future, so Elma and others (including her engineer husband), work on a plan to start colonization outside of earth. The thought of going into space is terribly exciting for Elma. She was a pilot in the war, part of the group of women trained to help shuttle aircraft around. It’s an elite group, but no where near equal standing to their male counterparts. The book deals with both racism and sexism and trying to break through boundaries to allow women and minorities to participate in roles previously reserved for white men. The role of astronaut is one of these roles, and logically for any colonization to live past the initial generation, they must include women. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, even with this, there is still a great deal of resistance. Once again, Kowal displays her skill at setting a strong atmosphere for a historical setting. The 1950s in this story may differ from our own history, but it still very much captures the time period in a way that feels effortless on Kowal’s part. Meaning, as a reader I just get it without noticing the process, which is wonderful because then everything remains about the story. I love Elma’s personality. She has a true love of math and has a very impressive talent in the area, able to do complex calculations in her head at impressive speeds. Her weakness really is more on the social side of things. She suffers from anxiety, but not from the pressures of being a pilot or having to quickly calculate the best trajectory given conditions and fuel. Math is actually calming for her, it centers her and keeps her focused. Ask her to talk to reporters or put her on the spot with a group of observers, then she can panic to the point of making herself ill. I am not to either extreme as Elma, but I have always loved math, and do find it calming, and I find people stressful, so I really relate to her. Overall I felt this was a very enjoyable read. In the beginning I was a bit concerned that some of the messages might feel a bit heavy handed, but as the story progressed, and I became more invested, I quickly forgot about that and everything became about the characters and the story. If you enjoyed Kowal’s other books, I do recommend this. It’s different from Glamourist Histories, maybe not quite a light or fun, but still engaging with a wonderful historical feel.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dara

    Mary Robinette Kowal has always been known as a fantasy writer to me. I've had Shades of Milk and Honey for a few years but it never really called to me. But as soon as I heard of The Calculating Stars, I knew I had to read this book. It has so many things I enjoy. Women doing science, NASA, and alternate history. And Kowal knocks it out of the park. The story starts with a meteorite obliterating Washington DC and much of the East Coast, prompting NACA (NASA) to accelerate plans for humans to col Mary Robinette Kowal has always been known as a fantasy writer to me. I've had Shades of Milk and Honey for a few years but it never really called to me. But as soon as I heard of The Calculating Stars, I knew I had to read this book. It has so many things I enjoy. Women doing science, NASA, and alternate history. And Kowal knocks it out of the park. The story starts with a meteorite obliterating Washington DC and much of the East Coast, prompting NACA (NASA) to accelerate plans for humans to colonize the solar system. Elma York is a computer for NACA and her greatest desire is to go to space. She has such a clear voice and personality. I immediately wanted to be friends with her and related to her in so many ways. Kowal has such a distinct writing style for Elma. I loved spending time with her. Elma and her fellow computers and WASPs face enormous amounts of systemic and obvious sexism on a daily basis, along with the racism her Black and Taiwanese colleagues face. It's true to the era and a necessary part of the story. I spent a good portion of the book furious on behalf of these women who deserve better but are trapped by the standards of the era. Kowal really did the legwork for this novel and it shows. The science terminology, mathematics, and engineering are magnificent. She consulted with former astronauts, scientists, and mathematicians to make sure it was all accurate. Not only is all of that awesome but her story is a very human and grounded story. I had a hard time putting the book down and always looked forward to spending more time with Elma. This is without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year and probably of all-time. A

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trike

    This book is awesome, full stop. In 1952 a giant meteorite slams into the ocean off the east coast of the United States, wiping out Washington DC and most of the federal government. It not only kills hundreds of thousands of people, it creates millions of refugees. Not just in America but also in Europe and Africa as the resulting tsunami wrecks coastlines. Then follows a near-perpetual cloud cover that lasts for years, causing a worldwide drop in temperature, creating famine and riots across the This book is awesome, full stop. In 1952 a giant meteorite slams into the ocean off the east coast of the United States, wiping out Washington DC and most of the federal government. It not only kills hundreds of thousands of people, it creates millions of refugees. Not just in America but also in Europe and Africa as the resulting tsunami wrecks coastlines. Then follows a near-perpetual cloud cover that lasts for years, causing a worldwide drop in temperature, creating famine and riots across the globe. That’s the background. The story starts with the newspaper headline: PRESIDENT DEWEY CONGRATULATES NACA ON SATELLITE LAUNCH Those first four words declare immediately this is an alternate history. That’s got to be some sort of record for efficiency. NACA being the forerunner to NASA, and of course Truman beat Dewey, but it was so close that it resulted in one of the most famous mistaken headlines in American history: https://goo.gl/images/SGdHXS The novel is full of actual history as well as the imagined history where this world deviates from ours. There’s a saying that goes, “If he’s wrong about the things I know, how can I trust he’s right about the things I don’t?” Well, the reverse is true, too. This book is lined up with a startling number of my interests, thus I was constantly comparing the story against my knowledge of real life. And every time it passed the test. So the things I’m not familiar with I feel confident that Kowal got right. The things she changed for the sake of story are no big deal; every author does that. After the meteorite strike, our two main characters, genius mathematician and pilot Elma York and her husband, engineer Nathaniel York, escape the falling ejecta in their private plane. They were on vacation in the Poconos when the rock hit and through a combination of quick thinking and good luck were able to survive the initial blast wave. I like smart characters. The nearest safe haven is Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I grew up in Dayton and lived right next to Wright-Patt. Kowal doesn’t go into specifics about the city, which is understandable for anyone who doesn’t live in the area it’s set in, but the braid strokes she talks about are accurate. Without exaggeration, Dayton is one of the most important cities in the modern world, and this week you have very likely used a number of inventions from Dayton. (The electric starter for your car, the cash register, both the pull-tab and pop-top aluminum can, the step ladder, LCDs, plus the airplane, etc., etc.) I grew up a few miles away from where Orville and Wilbur Wright built the first airplane, and Dayton is *the* Air Force town. A huge percentage of my friends and neighbors are/were in the Air Force, including a couple astronauts. Arguably the most famous astronaut in history, Neil Armstrong, is from a small town north of Dayton. More astronauts come from Ohio than any other place in the world. Dayton is a huge car town, known as the Hot Rod Capitol of the world, because there are more modified cars per capita than anywhere else. It’s a GM town. If you own a GM vehicle, it likely has Delco parts in it. “Delco” is an acronym for Dayton Engineering Laboratory. One of America’s early poets, African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, was a Daytonian and friend of the Wright brothers. As a result, Dayton was a magnet for a diverse population, which is why finding Jewish and black characters in prominent positions wasn’t unusual in the 1950s. That’s how Dayton was then. My mom was a nurse for 50+ years beginning in 1955, so she has given me lots of insight into the changes in medicine over the years. The use of the anti-anxiety drug Miltown in the book is based on real life. We have always been a pill-popping society, and drugs like Miltown and Thalidomide became instant hits because they were improvements over existing sedatives. Barbiturates knocked you out and most people frowned on downing three martinis at 9 am. My mother-in-law once enthused to me, “I loved speed!” Speed was dispensed by doctors as a “pep pill”, which kept your energy up and your weight down. Today’s opioid epidemic is nothing new. So that aspect of the book rang true, too. The only thing I found unrealistic was the lack of smoking. Seems like there would be more of that going on. But it’s not a big deal that only a couple of the men smoke. American history has been whitewashed and male-dominated to the point of absurdity. To this day most people have no idea that there were black cowboys in the American West. Not only did they exist, but they formed a huge percentage of frontier settlers. Same goes for women. They were there as pilots, as scientists, as engineers, as inventors. Most people don’t know we had black astronaut candidates, or that there was a parallel program to the Mercury astronauts comprised entirely of women. So that aspect of the book is based on reality, too. Even the fact that one of the women chosen as astronauts in this book is the wife of a Senator is based on a real woman, too, pilot Jane Hart. The WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and FLATs (First Lady Astronaut Trainees) were real things. Genius women mathematicians who did the vast majority of the calculations which made spaceflight possible were also real, their story recently told by the hit film Hidden Figures. The fact the best and brightest of those computers, as the women were called, were black, is also real. In his autobiography, test pilot Chuck Yeager talks about the difficulties the black astronaut trainee Ed Dwight faced, basically saying that Dwight needed special tutors and extra attention and still was only there basically because of what we would later know as Affirmative Action due to the intervention of President Kennedy. That’s all lies. Other (white) pilots who were there relate how Yeager told them, “We won’t have no n****r astronaut.” Astronaut (and Ohioan) John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth, testified before Congress during the hearing about women astronauts alongside Jane Hart and Jerrie Cobb that he didn’t think women belonged in space and that only military pilots (coincidentally all men) would be the best candidates. Thus the examination of both sexism and racism is absolutely real. It is frequently uncomfortable but is important to discuss. The misogyny and racism that stupidly kept qualified trainees out of the programs is some5jng we need to talk about, and it is a timely message still. The fact that Elma is forced to deal with this nonsense but also is confronted with her lack of awareness about racial inequality is crucial to this story, giving it more depth. The social anxiety she feels when forced to do public speaking or give interviews, eventually forcing her to reluctantly resort to taking Miltown, is a nice touch. It brings a real aspect of history we don’t hear about any more to bear. I also like the fact that there is none of the nonsense of “their relationship is in jeopardy” between Elma and Nathaniel. Despite their professional strains, their commitment to each other remains strong. Again, I would refer to the story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, whose husband willingly and wholeheartedly took a backseat to her career and professional aspirations during this same era. So it’s not like Nathaniel’s support of Elma is unprecedented, nor would it be a rare occurrence in my estimation. Due to knowing so many pilots, including Air Force test pilots (my friend’s dad was a test pilot in the group just after the Yeager era), I’ve picked up some jargon here and there, and the pilot/astronaut lingo used in the book felt accurate to me. Come to find out, Kowal’s father-in-law was also a test pilot from that same era, so he was able to give her first-hand accounts of these things, and she asked actual astronaut to fill in the jargony bits. She says she asked them to “play Mad Libs” with the text. So the chatter sounds real because it is real. But all of this stuff — the accurate technical details, the basis in real history, the exposing of society’s darker aspects — would be pointless without a compelling story with engaging characters, I’m happy to report that Kowal crushes that part of it, too. Which, unsurprisingly, is the part anyone would be least concerned about. The last three stories in Kowal's short story collection Word Puppets are the original versions of this story, and the first Lasy Astronaut story deservedly won the Hugo Award. This book is so great on so many levels that this is a serious contender for my favorite book of the year. I already bought the sequel, The Fated Sky, and I can’t wait to continue the story of the Lady Astronaut. I’d love to see this as a TV series (are you listening, Netflix?). I can see Lizzie Caplan as Elma and Tom Huddleston as Nathaniel. Get this done, universe!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rachel (Kalanadi)

    Video review! https://youtu.be/RBF8XNFtUEs

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