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August 19, 2018

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal ~ an @Audible_com Review

by Donna Huber




I was a bit apprehensive when I chose The Calculating Stars as it is an alternate history novel set in the 1950s, but, wow, it was so much better than I had expected.
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free audiobook was provided by Audible for an honest review.


The Calculating Stars
July 2018; Tor Books; 978-0765378385
ebook, print (432 pages), audio (11hrs 41 mins)
science fiction
When I started the book, I thought it would be mildly entertaining but would kind of drone on in the background while I worked. I fell in love with Elma and Nathaniel. I was rooting for Elma the whole time and couldn't wait to get back to the book each day to see if she succeeded. I've already recommended The Calculating Stars to members of my post-apocalyptic book club.

The 1950s space race takes on new urgency when a meteor strikes earth causing catastrophic damage. Not only is a large portion of the population killed (the east coast of the United States is decimated), but it is rapidly changing the climate. In a matter of years, the earth will be too hot for human habitation.

A lot is going on in this novel, which is a prequel to the short story The Lady Astronaut of Mars published in 2012. Elma and her husband Nathaniel were on vacation when the meteor hit. Elma is a pilot, having flown with the WASPs during WWII and had flown them to their retreat. When they fly out to return home or to whatever civilization remains, they are intercepted by the Airforce. Nathaniel is an engineer with the space program and they are quickly pressed into service to help figure out what happened and what they will do.

First, though, they have to convince what is left of the government that it was not a Russian attack. Then they must convince the powers that be that the earth will soon be inhabitable - you'll hear some of the same comments we hear today in regards to climate change. And finally, they have to convince the international space commission that woman (and people of color) must be allowed into the program.

The story touches not only on the role of women but also on civil rights issues facing people of color. Out of necessity, some issues moved more quickly than they did in our own history, but there were still a lot of discrepancies between how women and blacks were treated compared to white men.

Elma is quite a flawed character which made her very interesting as the heroine of the story. She is often amazed when she is confronted with her own subconscious views of race. Like when she is looking for a part of her plane, she checks with all the mechanics in the area - all the white ones at least. Elma is also a genius. Like she does super difficult math in her head. And faster than we could do today with a calculator. And then there is her debilitating anxiety. So there is some commentary on women health as it relates to mental health.

While Nathaniel is a secondary character, I really liked him. He is such a sweet and understanding husband. He knows his wife is incredibly smart - he often asks her to help with his reports. He is not what one thinks of as the typical 1950s husband. This makes him a great foil for the lead astronaut who is the epitome of a male chauvinist.

At first, I thought it was funny that the goal of the space program was to create a colony but they didn't want women in the space program. As it is pointed out, how do the men think they will have a viable, sustainable human colony without women going into space? It kept coming up though and the men kept refusing to even think about training women to be astronauts (though they did finally concede that some women were really good at math and were needed for the calculations). I wondered if it was just an overstatement for the sake of the plot or if that was really how deep seeded the notion of a woman's place was at that time.

While the ending is quite a cliffhanger, it definitely leaves you wanting to know what happens next. Luckily, the next book in the series, The Fated Sky. comes out on Tuesday, so now is the perfect time to pick up this novel. And the audiobook was wonderfully done if you don't have time to sit down and read.

Buy The Calculating Stars at Amazon
or get it free as part of your free trial of Audible

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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