Ahoy there me mateys! Me first read of 2018 was a novelette called the lady astronaut of mars. I had gotten it from the library only to be surprised that it was only 19 pages! I expected it to be a full length novel. But the story was absolutely wonderful and so this year I wanted to read the two novels in the series.
So this book is an alternate history which posits the idea of what would have happened if in 1952 a major meteorite hit the Earth and was going to lead to an extinction style event on Earth. One option is to accelerate the space program to establish colonies in the stars before Earth becomes too unstable to live on.
The book follows Elma York who works with the government as a mathematician, called a computer, to help calculate the trajectory to the stars. There are lots of female computers who work in her department. Yet as these women work on the space program, they begin to wonder why they too can’t be astronauts and go into space. Elma leads the fight to get women in space while confronting both her own prejudices and those held against her.
Both of these books were fantastic and I read them back to back as they did seem more like one entire story arc. What I absolutely loved about this series was how real all of the characters felt and also how well researched it seemed to be. While Elma was fantastic, I also really loved Myrtle, Nicole, and Nathaniel as well. And while Parker was a jerk, I was surprised at how me viewpoint eventually changed about him. The juxtaposition between scientific advances and social prejudices is stark.
This was not an action-heavy book. Instead ye get a look into the day-to-day functioning of the space program and its unwilling female star. The bigger picture seems to be of humanity’s overall adaptivity despite the sometimes equally strong objection to and fear of change. I particularly enjoyed the racial aspects of these novels. Elma is dealing with the prejudice of being a woman in the 1950s male dominated sphere. Yet her interactions with the black community and especially the smart wonderful women were poignant.
I know I am not discussing the plot much but it is because this really is a book about the ideas driven by character study. And women power. I certainly consider meself a member of the Lady Astronaut fan club. Arrr!
Also check out this awesome article Five Really Cool Things I Learned at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab” about what the author learned while researching for this book.
And also “My Favorite Bit: Mary Robinette Kowal talks about THE CALCULATING STARS” where the author talks about her favourite parts of her book that she didn’t write.
Side note: Apparently the author is writing two more books in the series. I am not sure if I will read them because I liked where book two ended. Both books have blurbs out already on Goodreads. Book three sounds good because it focuses on different characters and takes place alongside the events of book two. So maybe . . .
The author’s website has this to say about the first novel:
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.
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