The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel

This inspiring sci-fi (432 pages) was published in July of 2018 by Tor Books. The book takes you to the US space program. David read The Calculating Stars and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Calculating Stars

A Lady Astronaut Novel

Mary Robinette Kowal

This story of hope and determination begins with a disaster. It’s 1952, and a giant comet has hit the Chesapeake Bay. Washington, DC, is destroyed, the Secretary of Agriculture has just been promoted to President (as everyone is dead), and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard is — bad.

The meteor strike also creates a climate catastrophe that starts a ticking clock: In about 50 years, the Earth will be uninhabitable to humans. All the water in the air will create a miniature Ice Age. Then, there will be a sharp increase in temperature due to the greenhouse effect. Eventually, oceans will boil, and most life will go extinct.

But all is not lost because this is the story of Elma York, a pilot and mathematician who works for the International Aerospace Coalition. And they’re going to save humanity by putting a man on the moon.

One of this book’s many charms is how the author neatly ties real history into the narrative. It’s historically and scientifically accurate: There are fascinating glimpses of rocket science in 1952. The intuitive leaps and how scientists made them are thrilling and may make you feel better about humanity. It’s also socially accurate: Our heroine Elma desperately wants to be (and, frankly, deserves the opportunity to be) an astronaut. But there’s a whole slew of sexism and bigotry standing between her and the moon.

This is a satisfying emotional ride, and it’s not hard to sympathize with Elma as she strives to fight past her demons and the societal norms that would keep her on the ground. There’s also a lot of hope in this story, a reminder that it’s never a bad thing to reach for the stars.

Do you remember where you were when the Meteor hit? I’ve never understood why people phrase it as a question, because of course you remember. I was in the mountains with Nathaniel. He had inherited this cabin from his father and we used to go up there for stargazing. By which I mean: sex. Oh, don’t pretend that you’re shocked. Nathaniel and I were a healthy young married couple, so most of the stars I saw were painted across the inside of my eyelids. — Mary Robinette Kowal

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