Friday, November 16, 2018

The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) Mary Robinette Kowal. 2018. Tor. 432 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: 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.

Premise/plot: The Calculating Stars is set in an alternate reality 1950s. There are two what-ifs. One is small. One is big. What if Dewey had won the presidential election instead of Truman? What if a meteor--an extinction event--had struck earth in 1952? The heroine of the book is a former WASP, a current computer for NACA, a wife of an engineer, Nathaniel York. Her name is Elma York and within Kowal's fictional universe she may be better known to the world as LADY ASTRONAUT.

In the weeks following he devastating event, Elma York realizes that the worst is yet to come. It's just a matter of time--mere decades--before the earth becomes uninhabitable. The earth will experience great climate change. The earth will begin to heat up and will keep heating up. If humanity is to survive, it needs to find a way to leave the planet. But can she--and her fellow scientists--convince the powers of the dangers? Or will politics get in the way? (For example, there are a few convinced that the meteor wasn't a meteor but something that originated from the Soviet Union. Yet another example, some are convinced that men should go into space and colonize--but only men. Don't they realize that women would be absolutely essential to any colony? How can you "save" the human race without women?)

The book is about the struggle to get men--and women--into space in an effort to save humanity. It won't be easy. There's the science and engineering aspect of it. There's also the political and social aspect. Issues of sexism and racism play a large role in the novel. It is interesting to consider how some things stay the same--in this alternate reality--and how other things change. (For example, the Soviet Union dissolves; the Korean war ceases; there is no space race between nations. The world comes together as one to solve the problem. Astronauts can come from all nations.)

My thoughts: I didn't love, love, love this one. In many ways it was a compelling read. I loved Hidden Figures. I do have an interest in the history of the space program. I enjoy science fiction. I found it interesting that our hero and heroine are Jewish. But two things kept me from loving it.

I prefer my fiction on the cleaner side. This one had profanity--blasphemy--and smut. Way too much detail is given about Elma and Nathaniel's intimate life. But even this isn't my number one complaint of the book....

My number one complaint is a technical one. Kowal consistently uses WASPs instead of WASP. WASP stands for Women Airforce Service Pilots. PILOTS plural. WASP is already plural--it never needs an S added to it. Never. Every time I saw WASPs in the text, it was like finger nails on a chalkboard. I am not sure how much Kowal actually researched the WASP. I think she spent her time researching other things. (She does have a bibliography, but she lists no books about the WASP.) There was also one place where she mentions a WASP delivering planes overseas during the war. This is not something WASP did. (I think she did this because it was a convenient way to have had two characters met in the past.)

I spent almost four years of my life editing and proofreading oral histories of the WASP. I read up on books about the WASP as job training (in addition to watching documentaries) and often read biographies and autobiographies as well. Writers would come to the special collections library and do research.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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