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The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal #BookReview

Title: The Calculating Stars | Series: Lady Astronaut #1 | Author (and Narrator): Mary Robinette Kowal | Publisher: Tor Books | Pub. Date: 2018-7-3 | ISBN13: 9780765378385 | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 5 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased audio book

The Calculating Stars

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. 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—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

Book cover for The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars Review

This was fucking awesome. (I know, I know, Elma would scold me for using that word, but sometimes it’s just the best word for the situation. Even she understands that. )

Okay, so if you liked Hidden Figures, you’re probably going to like The Calculating Stars The same type of feeling – of women struggling to overcome – is there. Except this time the ambition is a bit further reaching.  It’s set in the same time frame, but with a world that has went slightly (at first) off-course due to a massive meteorite impact that sets about changes on several levels.

I do admit to having some uncertain feelings about Hidden Figures and The Calculating Stars. The fact that this book comes on the heels of a very successful story about computers that were all female and black is obvious, and then the fact that it’s (mostly) white women this time in the limelight… Well, yeah, it bothers me a bit. However, the main character is beset by her own issues (extreme anxiety to name a biggie), has to overcome the loss of nearly all of her family, and does slowly come to be aware of wrongness of the racism and begin to work against it. While I can’t completely say I’m okay with what I see, I do appreciate that the author worked to set the main character up against several strongly hampering issues, even if they couldn’t quite be the type of significant barriers she can overcome simply due to her white privilege. (It helps that the author is, from what I’ve seen on Twitter, aware of the privilege given just by being white.)

That’s the only problem I have with The Calculating Stars, though. In all other aspects, this book is perfect. I adored each and every page of it. Beyond dealing with the aforementioned racism, it also deals with climate change, feminism, and mental health. There’s also lots of action, starting with – of course – the meteor strike, and building from there. The author, who is also a professional narrator, did a fantastic job bringing the book to life on audio. I could picture the characters, taste the tension, and felt frequently like I was right there in the room with Elma and the other cast.

The dialogue had me either intensely interested, or giggling so hard I had to re-wind to see what I might have missed. Elma York is a lady, a southern lady, and she can turn on the sweet sarcasm in a way you can’t help but applaud. And the ‘dirty talk’ between her and her husband is hilarious. Yes, they talk sex the way you’d imagine two rocket scientists might.

“We are go for ignition.”

“We were going to have a very successful….rocket launch…that night.”

I adored Elma and her husband. In fact, her husband is one of the things that really cemented my love of this book. He is truly, unabashedly supportive of his wife and believes that she can and should succeed. He respects her intelligence, loves her drive, and the relationship between them truly feels like a partnership. It was so clean and pure that it made me feel all sorts of warm and fuzzy.

Even the antagonist of the book wasn’t outright unlikable. I mean, yeah, there were several times where his face was begging for my fist to punch it, but he was a good teacher, he admitted when he owed someone and so on. He was a good ‘bad’ guy that wasn’t straight up evil.

Overall, even though alternate history really isn’t something I normally like, I am very glad I decided to purchase this book. The Calculating Stars is definitely on the short list for Best Books of 2018. Its a must-read.

This book is available at: Thriftbooks | Kobo | Amazon | B&N


Published in5 RatedScience Fiction Book Reviews
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  1. This has such an amazing cover! I didn’t read Hidden Figures, only watched the film, shame on me!

    • I have only seen the movie myself even though I own the book!

  2. It sounds good! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • My pleasure! Such a wonderful read!

    • I hope so! You will be missing out if you don’t!

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