Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Summary:

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that tcs-coverwill eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. 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—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

Goodreads

Thoughts:

First off, this book starts off with a disaster and, what most of you probably don’t know is that I’m one of those people who loves disaster flicks. Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, Dante’s Peak, Volcano…even crap like 2012–I will go see all of them. So when a disaster happens in the first few pages I was like ‘oh crap, she’s not pulling any punches’ and I was on board right away. Also, with where she decided to drop the meteorite? One has to wonder if she was at all inspired by those fake Giant Meteor 2016 campaign bumper stickers. 😀 I also really appreciated that Maryland basically got wiped out because my home state often gets left out of these things–it’s usually always New York or LA getting destroyed. Yeah, I’m weird. 🙂

This book filled me with so many different emotions throughout reading it. There was sorrow, joy, and at one point I was so angry, so filled with burning rage at the way some of the women characters were being treated. I felt myself being filled with a feminist fury that ran about as hot as a thousand suns. I kind of wanted to crawl into the book and punch a few guys, but that wasn’t possible so I just kept silently seething at them as I read. I feel like I wouldn’t have been so wrapped up in the book if it weren’t for the characters been so well-written so kudos for that. They felt like real people living real lives. Although there was one small part when I think Elma took the high road where in reality most people probably would have and usually I don’t like it when characters are too ‘nice’ about things but this was a single incident and I did feel like it was a decision rather than what the character’s first instinct was to do.

Kowal tackles a lot of subjects with this book. Sometimes in the past I’ve felt like some of these subjects she’s wanted to explore were not integrated well into the story lines and felt almost tacked on, but that’s definitely not so with this one. This book is a story largely about feminism right from the get-go. Every other subject fits seamlessly within the plot and sub-plots and keep the story moving forward. In addition to feminism, she’s tackling other issues like racism and the stigma surrounding mental health issues such as anxiety. As someone who has lived with anxiety disorders for over half of my life, I felt like this was handled in such a great way. I could really empathize with Elma’s character and feeling like a failure if you have to take meds, or feeling like this illness is some kind of weakness–these are all things that I’ve struggled with myself so it felt very realistically done to me.

There were quite a few things that surprised me in this book–the use of the word ‘fuck’ several times (not sure why that was such a shock except that I haven’t seen it much in her other books, and was pleasantly surprised), the amount of sexy times (heck yeah), and all of the math! One thing I was not surprised to find (and greatly appreciated) was the wonderful and supportive relationship between Elma and her husband Nathaniel. I wish there were more books like this that feature such relationships instead of there always being so much drama! Sure there were times when they weren’t always completely on the same page but they communicated and they worked things out because that’s what you should do if you’re a team. You can show people being in love without manufacturing so much unnecessary nonsense. And as much as I love the falling in love aspect of romantic relationships it was so refreshing that theirs was an already established relationship at the beginning of the book.

Also, I really appreciated the acknowledgements and notes on the history at the end and how she veered off from the real timeline before the start of the book. She put a heck of a lot of research into this book and it seems like she had some fun while doing it.

Overall, The Calculating Stars is an unrepentantly feminist novel that will make you laugh, cry, and at times fill you with a boiling rage. I loved it. I’m definitely going to have to shuffle around my top five reads of the year after this one. 5/5 stars.

 

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