The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Reviewed by GGGinny
What I drank: Rose (just imagine the accent) and a seltzer. I had a movie night and then another drink or two while winding down for the evening.
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.
Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. 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.
Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
Drunk Overview: In the 1950’s an asteroid hits the ocean, and a scientist, Elma, realizes this means the Earth will most likely no longer be habitable. Between her history flying planes in WWII and her husbands history in rocketry, they end up deeply embedded in the effort the space efforts move faster.
Drunk Thoughts: Dear god, I loved this book.
- The opening starts with a literal bang, aka the meteorite.
- And that grabbed my attention quickly
- As did the partnership between Elma and her husband, Nathaniel. With the catastrophe at the center of the book it was made so clear that the two of them have this delightful relationship
- The book literally opens with a quip about the two of them having an active sex life
- But it was one of the amazing things that I loved about this book. The two of them have such a strong respectful relationship.
- I love the way they discussed sex between the two of them (lots of talk of “rockets”)
- I mean, this is one of those books where the husband is wildly supportive of his very ambitious wife.
- This book also didn’t shy away from the racism and sexism of the day.
- The sexism is pretty obvious. Elma is a computer and deals with the white men underestimating her
- But this book does a great job of mentioning racism (in a way that reminded me of Hidden Figures)
- Specifically, Elma specifically reaches out to a group of black men and black women and they (more politely than she may deserve) point out her blind spots around race.
- And this happens throughout the book, it’s not just a one time thing. And that’s what makes it so good.
- And Elma is headstrong, but the best part is that she takes a minute to think and tries to do better!
- But also, she’s Jewish, and the book centers that part of her and Nathaniel’s life, from avoiding bacon to attempting to rest once a week…
- Plus, there are a few side characters that I want books about on their own. Myrtle and Eugene Lindholm are the couple that take Elma and Nathaniel in right after the meteorite hits, and the book does a great job at pointing to their inner lives and showing what is happening outside of the pages of this book.
- But okay, coming up with an alternative history is difficult.
- But I loved the way this book did the world building, figuring out where the capital would be if the East coast wasn’t livable.
- Deciding how people would feel about the oncoming disaster (there was a scene that was a little too reminiscent of the 2016 election and people denying things that seemed obvious to others)…
- While I loved the world-building, I especially loved the areas where the world-building didn’t feel as important.
- Both Elma and her husband work at NASA and there was something wonderful about the way they lived in a bubble. In that situation, working crazy hours, the outside world almost doesn’t feel real, and this book captured that so well.
- Which is what made the scene where they run into the deniers that much more intense.
- But again, Elma’s drive to become an astronaut despite her anxiety and the sexism common in the 1950’s was wonderful.
- The anxiety is a common theme throughout the book (especially around the media), but I really enjoyed the description of it (in that it felt accurate), and the way she comes around to needing help.
- It does a nice job of showing how recovery requires a support network (aka people making it clear that you’re going to be okay) while also talking about the importance of the right doctor.
- And Elma has the right kind of support network to make it possible.
- And Elma’s history as a fighter pilot does a nice job of showing where exactly her anxiety comes into play (and the book explains why as well), but it made the descriptions of her dealing with difficult things so much cooler. There’s a moment where she’s dealing with a plane/freefall that was really fantastic.
- This book came together in a nice build up. the way each plot point built up from the previous point was so much fun.
- I haven’t event gotten to Parker, who ends up being Elma’s enemy. He’s like the human version of sexism “No one told me it was a problem so I’m going to say the one person who brought it up is lying.” Like, he’s such an asshole.
- And his crusade is endlessly frustrating in how understandable it would be that he had one…
What it Pairs With: gimlet, a classic drink that’s delicious and will absolutely take you in.