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The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 424 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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|Book 1 of 3 in Lady Astronaut|
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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"
About the Author
- File Size : 3295 KB
- Print Length : 424 pages
- Publication Date : July 3, 2018
- Publisher : Tor Books (July 3, 2018)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- ASIN : B0756JH5R1
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #17,993 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It's really not a badly written exploration of life in the 50's, and the struggles women and people of color had just to be taken seriously, but that novel could have been written just as well without the world threatening opening. It just seemed light and trivial. Antisemitism even pops up later in the book - for about a page - but then, "Oops, never mind, I didn't mean to be antisemitic. Sorry!." "Oh, you were just being a grump. We forgive you! Group hug!"
It just came across as too light in general. I doubt I'd bother with any other books in the series.
Protagonist Elma Wexler York and her husband Nathaniel are taking a brief semi-honeymoon, prior to returning to jobs with the newly founded National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in Washington, DC. He is an engineer, she a mathematician, although that title is not used for her. Rather, she and her fellows are called computers. Both served during WWII, he as an Army captain, she as a WASP.
Although the catastrophic meteorite ocean strike offshore Washington DC, at 9:53 AM on March 3rd, 1952, is the foundation of the story, this story diverged from our timeline before that event. We are told that Dewey actually did defeat Truman, and also that NACA has launched three satellites. No additional background is provided, but the author explains that she made the changes so that Wernher von Braun and his crew could receive funding from a Dewey Administration.
Elma pilots the couple to the nearest open airfield. There they meet with Air Force colonel Stetson Parker. He is delighted to see Nathaniel, as he believes that the catastrophe may be a result of a Russian rocket attack, and wants to use his expertise to prepare a counter-attack. He is far from pleased to see Elma, though, as he believes she reported him for sexual harassment ('conduct unbecoming for an officer') when they happened to be serving in the same area during WWII. NOTE: Throughout the book, he remains the Bad Guy.
Elma is able to gather data which predicts global extinction within 50 years. The nascent American space program is funded to research immediate development of off-planet colonies. NACA is absorbed into the new International Aerospace Coalition, IAC.
Elma recruits a cadre of women, including some black aviators, as well as a Chinese woman, to run the calculations necessary to develop the hardware for the space program. She is also preparing the women to participate fully in the operational aspects of the program, by the formation of a women's flying club.
Elma's contact with the black women opens her eyes to the segregation in the system. The refusal of the IAC administration to consider women for training as Lady Astronauts, as well as the exclusion of non-white candidates, and her efforts to overcome that choice, provides the text for the remainder of the book.
Stories classed as science fiction absolutely get to take liberty with facts. Even so, at points, the narrative seems stretched.
I think the author is wildly optimistic about implementing race- and gender-free recruiting for military programs in a post-meteor US.
Three of the Lady Astronaut trainees participate in an exercise which simulates an aircraft crashing in water. The “Dilbert Dunker” is a real device used in training, but in this scene, the women are given bikinis to wear, instead of a flight suit, and are photographed by a horde of reporters as they go through the process. I found the scene to be clownish and grotesque, and it utterly took me out of the narrative.
Top reviews from other countries
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.