Book Review: The Calculating Stars

I picked up this book because I love Mary Robinette Kowal’s books and stories. I listen to her on the Writing Excuses podcast all the time and wish I was half the teacher she is! I’ve been on an adult book binge lately too it seems.

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The Calculating Stars

by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books

In 1952 a massive meteorite hits Earth destroying most of the east coast of the US including Washington DC. The climate changes from this will eventually make Earth uninhabitable so colonizing other planets gets moved higher on the priority list.

Elma York was a WASP pilot and is currently a calculator for the International Aerospace Coalition (IAC). This makes her qualified to become an astronaut, but it is 1952 and they just couldn’t risk the lives of women on such dangerous missions. She is not going to let that stop her.


Hugo Award for Best Novel (2019)
Nebula Award for Best Novel (2018)
Locus Award for Science Fiction Novel (2019)
John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2019)
Sidewise Award for Long Form (2018)
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2018)

The Writing

Elma’s husband is a lead engineer for IAC. One aspect I really love about this book is that this marriage is stable. They deal with their problems together and are considerate of others. Being married and both working for the same company does cause problems, but they handle it together. Now THIS is the kind of romance story I LOVE!!! And the euphemisms for night time activities are pretty funny.

Hidden Figures

The book sounds similar to Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly in December 2016. The setting is during the same time frame. Hidden Figures is not fiction though. The themes are similar. Also both stories are about women calculators in a space race.

Mary Robinette addresses both the discrimination against women AND the deeper discrimination against black women. Elma discovers that although she believes her black friends have just as much right to be astronauts, she also harbors some unconscious biases. Like all of us.

I’ve read both books this year and highly recommend both!

Another aspect of The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel that I find interesting is that Elma suffers from anxiety. (As I do.) But in the 1950s, this disorder was not understood. This added yet another layer of tension for this story, both Elma’s efforts to hide the disorder and the problems that it caused for her.

Who will like this story?

If you’ve read Hidden Figures and you like science fiction, then you will go bananas over this story. If you love stories about feminism or about women calculators in a space race. If you have anxiety, I think you will relate to Elma as I did.

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

After you read The Calculating Stars, you will want more! The good news is The Fated Sky is the sequel. I don’t know yet how many books she has planned. I though it was just a duology, but I heard something about another book in the works. Maybe. Mary Robinette loves the short form, so she has also written several Lady Astronaut short stories too.

I will be reading The Fated Sky soon!

The Phobas Experience
After The Fated Sky

I read this short story before I read The Calculating Stars and it made perfect sense. This story takes place some time after Fated Sky. I’m not sure how long after because I haven’t yet read Fated Sky to know where it ends.

This story is set on Mars (I think. I read this almost a year ago so time has made the details fuzzy.) Elma is on a survey mission when she runs into a problem.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars

I have not read The Lady Astronaut of Mars yet. I will read it after Fated Sky. This takes place 30 years after Fated Sky. This is a short story released by TOR.

The Relentless Moon novel is expected to be released July 14, 2020.

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