Ms. Kowal’s heroine, Elma, is a wartime ferry pilot and also a crack number-cruncher—just what’s needed. But this is the 1950s. The Calculating Stars traces Elma’s progress through astronaut training, but her real struggle is for acceptance in a world where woman = homemaker ... This is what NASA never had, a heroine with attitude.
...a meteorite strikes Earth, causing a global cataclysm. The eastern coast of the U.S. crumbles, and the rest of the world faces a climate shift. A former WASP pilot and mathematician, Elma York works for the International Aerospace Coalition...expediting efforts to colonize other planets. Kowal once again strikes a fine balance of integrating historical accuracy—including mid-twentieth-century sexism, racism, and technology—with speculative storytelling. Readers will root for Elma as she breaks barriers and calculates lifesaving equations, all while dealing with sometimes-crippling anxiety. Recommend to fans of realistic sf.
In the novelette, we meet the Lady Astronaut in question, Elma York, already on Mars and nearing the end of her life. The Calculating Stars, the first of two books, takes us to the beginning of her space career. It opens in March 1952, moments before a comet crashes into the Eastern seaboard and changes everything ... The Calculating Stars occasionally feels like a preflight checklist, where we have to make sure we know about, say, Elma’s experience learning about the structure of racism and bias, just so the theme is adequately explored. It can feel manipulative rather than organically motivated ... Still, there are more scenes that fire on all cylinders than those that feel performative. The back third of The Calculating Stars is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying – and nicely sets up The Fated Sky, which is the second half of Elma’s story.
A fast-forward thrill ride, Hugo Award winner Kowal's exciting alternate history, the first in a duology, highlights the space race and the sexism of the time. Sf and space history buffs will enjoy this entertaining tale.
The Calculating Stars opens in 1952 as a meteor collides with Earth, devastating the eastern United States seaboard, and instigating a period of intense climate change. This results in the best (remaining) scientists in the world fast-tracking human colonization of the moon, with Elma and her husband Nathaniel thrust right into the middle of it ... It seems almost too obvious to recommend The Calculating Stars to anyone who enjoyed Hidden Figures, but the similarities and strengths are striking. They’re both stories about sending humans to space, rife with well-considered and striking socio-political themes, including racism and sexism, and they excel on the strength of their ensemble cast ... Full of likeable characters, sly humour, and a plot that deftly interweaves end-of-the-world action with thoughtful personal politics, The Calculating Stars is Kowal at the top of her game. There’s always a danger in prequels revealing too much, thereby destroying some of the mystery that made the original story so successful, but worry not, The Calculating Stars is a worthy addition to the Lady Astronaut series.
Hello, let me tell you how super great The Calculating Stars, the new novel by Mary Robinette Kowal, is ... It’s an alternate history of the world set in the 50s, in which a meteorite falls to Earth, causing what Elma, our protagonist – a lady scientist, physicist, mathematician and pilot to boot – calculates is an extinction event. This accelerates the space program since humans now have to GET OUT OF HERE as fast as possible, anticipating the moon landing by almost a decade. Getting to that point though, is what the novel is all about ... (The meteorite) decimates part of the US, killing thousands of people...and starting a devastating domino effect...Surviving the first few weeks is hard. Convincing the top brass, military and government officials that they need to speed up their space program to ensure humanity’s survival in the long run, is harder. Convincing these people that women should take part in the process of colonizing space, while being a woman scientist, seems almost impossible ... The novel’s greatest strength to me lies in its quietness – I know it probably sounds strange to hear this considering The Calculating Stars deals with topics as grand as an apocalyptic event, space exploration as well as overt systemic sexism and racism. However, it is Elma’s internal struggles with all of those that inform the story. From her sense of self-worth which wavers between a lack of confidence...and her obvious intellect, to her ongoing struggle with anxiety...from her unwavering belief that women wholly belong in the space program...to her blind spots with regards to women of color (white feminism is a thing and this book does not shy away from showing Elma’s ignorance and privilege).
... outstanding ... Kowal explores a wide range of issues—including religion, grief, survivor’s guilt, mental health, racism, misogyny, and globalism—without sermonising or subsuming the characters and plot. Elma’s struggles with her own prejudices and relationships, including her relationship with herself, provide a captivating human center to the apocalyptic background. Readers will thrill to the story of this 'lady astronaut' and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.