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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Book Review: The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal

I try to read a little bit of everything, but there are always genres that fall at the bottom of my priority list, and of which I think I don't like an awful lot of the books they contain. A couple at the very bottom are alternative history and science fiction. But, the exception proves the rule! This particular book is both, and I LOVED it!

Elma, a physicist, was a WASP in WWII. It is now 1951 and she and her husband, an engineer for NACA (the precursor to NASA), have left DC for the Poconos for the weekend. As he is getting another log for the fire, they see the brightest flash in the world outside. After less than a minute's discussion, thanks to their informed knowledge, they correctly presume it is a meteorite, and get the heck out of there while they still can. It has hit in Chesapeake Bay. Delaware is gone. Washington DC is gone. Most of Maryland is gone. Everything from New York City to Charleston is on fire. They flew in Elma's 2-seater to the cabin, so they are able to fly out, despite chunks of things falling from the sky unpredictably, and the closest airfield they can find to land at is Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio. There, and later in Kansas City, the country attempts to put itself back together again. Luckily the Secretary of Agriculture was giving a lecture in the Midwest as he is the only surviving member of any of the three branches of government. But some people are whispering in his ear that the Russians must have had something to do with this. Elma's husband asks her to calculate the size of the meteorite and the force it would have taken to shift it off its course. In addition, she comes to a terrifying conclusion. In case it hasn't already occurred to you to think about the last time a meteorite hit earth (dinosaur extinction), she plots out the average temperature over the next few years, and when she gets to the point, around 10 years in the future, when the ocean starts to boil, the conclusion is inescapable: we have to get off this planet. Now.

As you can guess from the name of the series, Elma wants to be one of the first "Lady Astronauts." The desperation and also the fact that NACA (and DC) were wiped off the planet, means there are more opportunities for women and for minorities. But it is still the 1950s.

The book is so much fun! It's based on a short story that won a Hugo award, and when I read than, when I finished it, I felt in physical pain that it was over (I hate short stories and that one proved me right--just as I get into it and get to know the characters and their dilemma, boom, it's over. Wonderful short story. I just wanted it to be 300 pages longer.) It will be a wonderful beach read that is still very smart and one that rockets forward at great speed. And if, like me, when you get to the last page you howl "Nooooooo!", you're in so much luck! The sequel comes out in just SIX WEEKS! Also, these are trade paperback originals, so they're at the less expensive price right out of the gate.

You must go get this book now!

This book is published by Tor, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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