Friday Review: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This alternate history story starts when a meteorite strikes the ocean off the southern coast of the United States and immediately causes wide-scale destruction of much of the eastern part of the country, including Washington, DC. The aftereffects of the meteor will cause global climate change on a disastrous scale and will eventually make the Earth uninhabitable for humans. The international community comes together and accelerates the space program with a goal of colonizing the moon and Mars before that happens. Elma York is a calculator with the space program. Her husband is chief engineer in charge of space flights. Elma is, along with her outstanding mathematical ability, an accomplished pilot, and wants to be an astronaut, only to come up against discrimination because she’s a woman, and a personal vendetta from one of the male astronauts.

It’s a pretty decent alternate history story. Kowal obviously did her homework on the time frame and the science involved. Everything feels right, at least as far as the internal workings of the story go. Some license it taken with history and science, but it is fiction and alternate history. Characters are interesting, if a little heavily tipped to the racial, gender, and other reasons for the prejudices against them. The “bad guy” astronaut, while he is a jerk, is also given some good qualities, as well. (He’s an excellent teacher, for one, something that Elma, though she doesn’t like him, does admire.) Elma’s husband, Nathaniel, supports his wife’s desire to be an astronaut and her efforts to overcome the prejudices against her and her female pilot friends (several are black and other ethnicities). But he also seems a bit too good to be true. He’s endlessly patient with Elma’s mental health issues (she has severe anxiety when confronted with a group she has to speak to), he never loses his temper or gets even a little bit grouchy, and he always knows exactly what to say and do. That said, their relationship is solid, and it’s nice to see that in a main character marriage.

I read the short story from several years ago that was the first published piece in the Lady Astronaut series (it falls further along the story timeline), and enjoyed it. I also enjoyed this first book in the series. It’s not perfect, but it’s readable, the premise is interesting, and the execution is decently solid. If you are willing to forgive some heavy-handed social commentary, it’s worth a read.

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