Review by Dan
The space race is a familiar story to us, one that has been retold countless times in books, movies, and TV shows. However, that story is largely one of white men. Although women and non-white people certainly played a role, as Hidden Figures showed, the major players and the astronauts, in particular, were all white and male. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Sally Ride and Guion Bluford broke those barriers. In The Calculating Stars, the first book of the “Lady Astronaut” series, Mary Robinette Kowal imagines an alternate history where that wasn’t the case. In 1952, a meteorite strikes the Eastern seaboard. The impact and subsequent flooding is bad enough, but the bigger problem is the approaching runaway global warming caused by the sheer amount of water vapor sent into the atmosphere. The only way out is to take to the stars, and therefore the nascent space program is kicked into gear several years earlier than in our history. Our protagonist, Elma York, is a human-computer for the space program, calculating the trajectories of launches and paths of orbits, but she dreams of going to space herself. The novel follows Elma as she negotiates the entrenched sexism of the 1950s in her attempt to become the first “Lady Astronaut.” This book is a superb period piece, and Elma is a wonderful character to root for (although she’s not without flaws.) If space is your thing, this book is definitely worth your time. Also, take a look at the subsequent books in the series: The Fated Sky, which tells a tension-filled story of the first mission to Mars (along with a hard look at the effects of racism), and The Relentless Moon, essentially a spy novel in space.