The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

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I picked this up almost entirely because a friend of mine, Tam, read this and loved it and said it had a great audiobook. I only have time for audio’s right now so I immediately picked this up since it’s been a while since I read a great sci-fi.

Set back in the 1950s very shortly after WWII, a giant meteorite struck the Earth which left the east coast of the United States in ruins. The capital was wiped out along with most members of the government. The US is trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how to recover and move on. The main character is a very gifted mathematician and she and her husband were camping when the meteorite struck. She used to fly planes in WWII and has a private plane of her own she used to get her and her husband out of the Poconos to safer ground. When things start to stabilize her husband was asked by the remaining government to help rebuild and come up with ideas. While Elma is an incredible scientist she still struggles to get respect in the military and scientific communities. Her husband is also talented but it’s much easier for him to command an audience – he’s a well-respected physicist who works on rocketry and propulsion.

With Elma’s help, they convince the leaders of the world that the meteorite’s damage wasn’t just the tidal waves and obvious destruction – but that the true danger is yet to come. The meteorite strike blew catastrophic amounts of dust and particulates to go up into the air which caused a global cooling period. However, after that, there’s a predicted spike in temperature and it’s possible that the oceans themselves may start to boil, they are looking at an extinction event. The leaders of the world have formed an international effort to get humanity to the moon, and then to Mars for a colonization effort. Elma tries to argue that women need to be a part of this, and her struggle is real, and she’s made the cause very public, appearing on shows like Mr. Wizard. She’s starting to become a bit of a reality star and is warmed by all the letters she’s receiving by little girls all over the country looking to her as a role model.

I absolutely loved the marriage between Elma and Nathaniel, it can get a little heavy-handed and even a little overly perfect – but I still think this is one of my favorite romances of any book I’ve read in the recent past. It ticked all my boxes, the couple was a bit ‘older’ in their 30’s, it was a well established and healthy relationship, and the sex scenes were a bit hilarious and sweet. Yes please, more of this, please. Some people may become frustrated that these two never seemed to have any issues, they basically didn’t fight throughout the entire book. They were very cognizant of each other’s feelings and were very careful to always be mindful of how they spoke to each other. I didn’t care much though, I’ll take an ‘overly healthy’ relationship over a toxic one any day – and there’s a skew in the toxic direction in fiction. 

This is a very unapologetically feminist book, it went into detail about how hard Elma had to struggle against sexism in the 50s. It was an ever-present issue in her life and you saw how it affected her emotionally and how it hindered her career and options. It also delved into how well-meaning people can still be ignorant of other peoples struggles. Racism and prejudices played a major role in this book, and how Elma came to be more aware of those around her.

If I were going to have a complaint about this book it would be the pacing/time jumps. There were a lot of leaps forward in time that skipped over major events and technological breakthroughs in order to get to the next plot point in the story. One other small nitpick that only applies to the audiobook – the accents used by the author/narrator were a bit grating, especially the French accents. It wasn’t a big part of the story, but when it was there I was like “wow that’s not a great accent” lol.

Overall, I really loved this book and even given the awkward accents I was surprised by how well the author self-narrated the book. I’d absolutely pick up another book by her in the future.

 

 

 

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