- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 902 KB
- Print Length: 433 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0765378388
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Solaris (10 April 2019)
- Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07QKTNM2P
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer Reviews: 422 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #12,143 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Praise for The Calculating Stars
"This is what NASA never had, a heroine with attitude."--The Wall Street Journal
"In The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal imagines an alternate history of spaceflight that reminds me of everything I loved about Hidden Figures."--Cady Coleman, Astronaut
"The Lady Astronaut series might be set in an alternate past, but they're cutting-edge SF novels that speak volumes about the present."--The Verge
"Fans of [Hidden Figures] will definitely find something to like in this novel."--SF Revu
"Readers will thrill to the story of this "lady astronaut" and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Kowal's book was revelatory for me, because here is a version of history where men eventually, finally, listen to women."--Tor.com
"If you like: lady scientists and lady astronauts, space science, lovely romance, the historical fight for equality, if you read or watched Hidden Figures and loved it, if you watched the Netlfix's documentary Mercury 13 (about the very real 13 women who underwent secret testing to become Astronauts in the 60s), please don't miss this one."--Kirkus
"A fine balance of integrating historical accuracy--including mid-twentieth-century sexism, racism, and technology--with speculative storytelling."--Booklist
"Readers will be hooked."--Library Journal
"Kowal has produced a novel that sheds light on how we can build a better future."--Escapist Magazine
"I couldn't put this paperback down, and I was mad at everything that kept me away from it."--While Reading and Walking
"This is a book about fortitude, about preservation, and strength in the face of injustice, resilience as a flag against oppression and politics. Parts of this book makes me cry. I cry in rage, in defiance, in support, and in triumph."--Utopia State of Mind
"An engrossing alternate history with a unique point of view, The Fated Sky dramatically demonstrates the technical problems with going to Mars--but the technical problems are the not the only ones. Never backing down from vital issues of race and gender, The Fated Sky confronts the human issues of space travel in a United States made increasingly desperate by a massive meteor strike. Plausible, convincing, and ultimately moving."--Nancy Kress, author of the Hugo Award-winning Yesterday's Kin
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A still a great sci-fi read.
An amazing read- one that my mind and heart is the better for having read it.
Top international reviews
In a nutshell the book is a wish fulfilment fantasy masquerading as Alternative History. It has no validity as such. To start with there is more than one Point of Departure, at least two, Dewey is elected president of the USA and a large meteorite hits near the eastern seaboard of the USA, both in the 1950s. Unfortunately we readers are left with no idea how having Dewey as president allows the USA to beat the Soviet Union in to space. It just happens because the author wants it to happen. The presentation of the meteorite strike and its immediate effects are not credible. Particularly noticeable is the insignificant death toll on the USA’s east coast and the lack of destruction whilst at the same time there are huge waves in ‘nasty Venezuela’. It just happens because the author wants it to happen. The even nastier Soviet Union collapses. Just because that is what the author wants to happen, I suspect there may be badly thought out patriotic aspirations at work here. The super intelligent mathematician heroine deduces from mathematical analysis alone that climate change as a result of the meteorite is likely. She does this about 35 years before this process was understood in the real world as the result of the work of thousands of scientists. Science just does not work the way it is portrayed in the book. Oh wait it does in this story, again just because the author wants it to. Then they allow this mega-prodigy that has made an intellectual jump that even Einstein, Newton, Clark-Maxwell and Michelangelo together could not make into space. This happens just because the author needs her wish fulfilment. What else? Women’s rights and racial equality are resolved quite reasonably and the author seemed to have little grasp of the history of the women’s movement and civil rights even just in the USA. Then the best bit of the lot climate is changing so the world’s response is “lets go into space” a complete non sequitur and laughable response to the situation. I cannot recommend this book in any way it is awful.
That said, the initial set up is anything but bright and shiny. This is an alternative history in which Dewey beat Truman in one of the elections they fought, and America entered the space race early, beating the Russians into orbit. Super perky mathematician and pilot, Elma Wexler, and her squeaky clean (and inevitably perky) husband Nathaniel (rocket scientist) are on holiday in a cabin in the woods when a meteorite strikes off America’s Atlantic Coast, wiping out large parts of the Eastern Seaboard, including Washington DC.
The meteorite demonstrates the fragility of the earth’s biosphere and prompts the US and other governments to accelerate their space programmes in order to colonise outer space.
The major thread of the book is then concerned with Elma’s struggle, confronted by institutional sexism, and personal animosity to become an astronaut. She fights with nothing other than her brilliant mathematical brain, her amazing piloting skills and, of course, her natural perkiness. On her journey she comes into contact with institutional racism as firstly the rescue effort after the disaster focusses entirely on Caucasians, and secondly as African Americans wanting to become astronauts face seemingly insurmountable barriers..
It is therefore true that the Calculating Stars raises issue of gender and race, but it does so in a very simple way. The message – sexism and racism bad, inclusion, diversity and equality of opportunity good – is one which is likely to be acceptable to all but the most unreconstructed Neanderthal Trumpian knuckle dragger. The closest it gets to any depth is when the Jewish Elma cannot avoid meeting Werner Von Braun.
The book concentrates so exclusively on Elma that the meteorite strike is reduced to little more than a plot device to stimulate the acceleration of space exploration. We only live in Elma’s bubble, while the disintegration of global society is referred to peripherally in passing.
And then we come to the sex scenes. Elma and Nathaniel enjoy a lively and regular sex life. The author doesn’t stop at the door of the bedroom, but only ventures a couple of steps in. Even so, Calculating Stars has got to be a front runner in the bad sex awards as Elma and Nathaniel use language which a 16 year old boy would find irredeemably naff.
I realise I’ve made fun of Calculating Stars, but I hope I’ve done so affectionately. In fact it is so relentlessly positive that I found it impossible to dislike.
In short, this is a cross between the Right Stuff and Hidden Figures with the tiniest bit of the Big Bang Theory thrown in. Elma becomes a star guest on a TV Science Show aimed at children, and while the presenter was Mr Wizard, I couldn’t help but see Bob Newhart as Professor Proton.
The positives. The lead character is actually quite good. A math prodigy but with quite severe anxiety. I know people who are sick if they have to appear in public but otherwise very competent. Also a plus for hiding the stress and symptoms. I've seen that happen too. This was possibly the most engrossing parts of the tale. As a reader I was there with the character.
Another tick for an antagonist who is not all bad. Who is has there own vulnerabilities.
Now the cons which might derail some readers. Accuracy and world building around the space program. Ben Bova and Martin Caiden gave real in depth detail of the program and behaviour of rockets . Most especially during launch. The "pogo" effect for the example. That is mostly missing or glossed over.
Some other reviewers have mentioned the polemic where modern attitudes to race and sex are translated back in time but online for the the goodness guys. There is a bit of that but it is only slightly annoying. The pre-knowledge of climate change was just not real.
The feel for a country which has been hit by a meteor seemed very shallow. So much so that other than as a device to spur space exploration I felted nothing much had happened. "Washington go. Ho hum. What's for dinner."
So, yes a decent night book. No, no brilliant.
The Calculating Stars (which has just won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel) is the first novel in the four-book Lady Astronaut series, which takes place in an alternative history where a meteorite strike in 1952 threatens the future of the human race. The title refers to the main protagonist, Elma York, a WWII transport pilot and mathematician who finds herself at the forefront of the mission to save the human race. This effort involves a multi-national effort via a trans-national space race involving thousands of people.
Numerous issues are raised and explored by The Calculating Stars, including an exploration of the Space Race starting earlier, using less sophisticated 1950s technology; a confrontation of sexism and racism in the setting; the damage caused by the meteorite and resulting climate change, complete with deniers refusing to believe anything bad will happen; and an exploration of the intersection of science, societal change and technology.
This multitude of plot points contributes to the book's length. At over 500 pages, it's a fair bit longer than most SF novels tend to be these days, but the sheer amount of material that needs to be explored means the pages fly by. The Calculating Stars is also written in an extremely easy-to-read manner, with prose that lacks artistry but also doesn't get in the way of the story. In this sense The Calculating Stars feels like an old-fashioned Hugo Award winner, like Spin or Rendezvous with Rama, eschewing stylised prose and in-depth characterisation to instead focus on the plot and the high concepts.
The book does adopt a more modern outlook by tackling 1950s issues of sexism and racism head-on. An interest social point from World War II is that women were able to take on a multitude of roles, from working in bomb factories to flying non-combat aircraft (apart from in Russia, where they were able to serve more freely on the front lines), but the second the war ended they were expected to go back to being housewives and mothers. The meteorite crisis means that once again women have to take a front line role as mathematicians, programmers for the very early computers and in other roles that a lot of men are unhappy with. Some have suggested this problem is overstated in the book, but if anything it probably undersells it (if anything, Elma's husband being a paragon of equality-supporting hunkness who supports her every decision feels a bit convenient, but given everything else going on it's an understandable approach), and not tackling the issue would be highly unrealistic.
Months and sometimes years flash by in chapters and the sheer scale of the effort to save the human race is impressively depicted. The novel does not shirk away from the darker side of human nature in the time period, but it also highlights its good points, such as the much greater acceptance of scientific discovery and exploration. Some may question the realism of us being able to get to the Moon more than a decade earlier than in real life, but Kowal's afterword provides some compelling arguments.
The Calculating Stars (****) is both a traditional, even classic-feeling SF novel and a modernist, revisionist take on a fascinating time period, celebrating the human spirit in full. As others have said, it is an enjoyable mix of The Right Stuff and Hidden Figures. It is followed by The Fated Sky and the forthcoming The Relentless Moon and The Derivative Base.
There are many characters in this book and they are all firmly people of the 1950s in terms of their prejudices, mannerisms and ambitions. You might say that the way in which they stick to these archaic traits makes them stereotypes or you could say that the author has done a great job of painting a portrait of a bygone age; your choice.
The tone/voice of this book is one of the biggest problems I had with it. It's rather twee and whimsical in that I continually felt that I was reading a Mills and Boon romance story set in some past time; a light-hearted historical drama. There's some science involved (mainly equations), but it's not that hard and it's not overly sexy. We do get inside spacesuits and rockets near to the end (these are my favourite scenes), but by that time, the book is almost done.
And that's my biggest problem here: it's obvious from about half way through this book that it's just a small part of a wider arc. Of course, I knew this before I bought it, but I still feel obscurely cheated by the fact that I got to the end of this volume only to find that the whole story was only just beginning and that everything I'd read (431 pages) was just foreplay. Probably that's why this volume is 99p on Amazon and the next volume in the series is nearer to 500p.
This novel then is an introduction to the situation (a meteor strikes Earth and everything is going to go tits-up), the characters (the ladies and gentlemen who will bravely go into space and build new homes), the prejudices (that provide obstacles on the route to the new homes in space) and, in general, the alternate universe/timeline that hosts all these things.
The themes of the novel are easy to spot: feminism, racism, ambition, disaster/recovery and getting into space at all cost. I suppose that some are an extension of this being set in the 1950s and the others come about naturally when a big meteor hits your planet. So, yeah, no problem with the themes.
Style-wise, this is an easy book to read and digest. It's written in simple English with words that most of us can understand. Where there is technical language, the characters are aware of this themselves and so do a good job of explaining it. So, yeah - you'll romp through it if you're into the subject-matter and the era.
If you're looking for a stand-alone novel and don't want to buy into an ongoing franchise, then you will be disappointed with this volume, but If you're into long sagas and you want a good intro to one, then read this and then the next one and the one after that and etc. etc.
The diverse characters, the prejudices and discriminatory behaviours they face in the alt 1950's are not shied away from, indeed the author steers the plot directly at these issues to remind us that despite how far we have come - there is still more to be done.
This book is exceptionally well written and you can tell that vast painstaking research was done before and during the writing - this book has rightfully won all sorts of awards and most definitely secures Mary Robinette Kowal a place amongst the greats of science fiction.
Go read this, then get a copy for your friends! Its so good!
The book is very readable, and manages to be entertaining while it depicts the minutiae of a space industry, which is more undramatic engineering and mathematics than it is fireworks. It doesn't shy away from the racism as well as the sexism of the 1950s; women win inclusion, but people of colour will, I guess, be included in the next book. It also doesn't shy away from depicting anxiety; Elma suffers badly from panic attacks through the book, and it is realistic in showing her struggles with stigma as well as the attacks themselves, and succeeding despite that.
What I experienced was a well researched case for humanity reaching for the stars mixed with a counterfactual historical novel of a space race and an intersectional feminist view of politics, science and engineering. Perhaps it's because I was in the process of becoming a father to my first child, a daughter, but the book strongly effected me. The book is about space, and struggle but also about the importance of role models. I'd recommend it to the scientifically minded and those that hope for a better future for our species.
Excellent narration. Well plotted. Enjoyable throughout. I was hooked from the beginning.
What a story though! So well written, so entertaining, so emotional, so challenging. Such a great hero, even if she wouldn't think so herself, can't wait to read how she gets on in the next book.
Read this in one sitting, can't wait to download the next.