Friday Review: The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 4 out of five stars

This is the last in the short works reviews for now. I have more in the TBR pile, and will get to them at some point.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars won the 2014 Hugo award for Best Novelette. It is the story of Elma York, who led the expedition that led to the colonizing of Mars. She has longed to go back into space since, but as she gets older, the chances get slimmer. She is given her chance at last, but is faced with the decision to fulfill her dream or stay with her dying husband.

If you read my reviews, you know I like Mary Robinette Kowal’s writing. She has an identifiable voice, whether she is writing sci-fi like this story, or her more fantasy-oriented novels. This story originally appeared in the audio anthology, Rip-Offs, which had every story start with the first line of a classic story. Here, the first line is from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy then becomes a character in this story. The setting is interesting, as the colonization of Mars was driven by catastrophe on Earth in a retro-setting, as if we had needed to colonize other planets in the 50’s or 60’s. It’s a different take on sci-fi and space travel, and it works well here.

The main driving force of this story is the characters. Elma is torn by the impossibility of the choice she is given: live her dream of going back to the stars on what will be a one-way mission, or stay with the husband she loves who is dying. The agonizing decision is emotionally true. You feel Elma’s conflict and pain. But, along with that, is the very true to life realization that other people (in this case, Elma’s husband) can make their own decisions, also. The relations and the process are complex and very real.

The science here is fairly light, with no big, expansive explanations and mechanics. Of course, in a short work, there isn’t as much room for all of that. And it works well here. The ideas are plausible, and the retro feel is authentic. And, really, this is, at heart, a character story, not a tech manual. It is a very enjoyable read, and short enough to finish in one sitting. It is available to read online at the site.

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