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Publisher's Summary

Mary Robinette Kowal's science fiction debut, The Calculating Stars, explores the premise behind her award-winning Lady Astronaut of Mars

Den of Geek - Best Science Fiction Books of June 2018 

Omnivoracious - Fifteen Highly Anticipated SFF Reads for Summer 2018 

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the East Coast of the US, including Washington, DC. 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.

©2018 Mary Robinette Kowal (P)2018 Audible, Inc.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Stunning alternate history

I’ve just finished the audiobook, and I have enjoyed it immensely. The sense of immersion and of subject and material mastery was really wonderful - I absolutely believed it all the way through. And I loved how it’s clear to the reader that Elma is a 3-dimensional character whose actions are not all exemplary, but who tries to do better. Can’t wait for the sequel!!!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Close to perfect

I am a literary nit-picker. I can't really help it. When I read a historical novel, part of me is always hunting for inaccuracies, and when I read an alternate history novel, that same part is always hunting for premise-breaking implausibilities. For me to really, really enjoy an alternate history, it has to either be entirely free of such defects, or pretty damn amazing, so amazing that my nit-picking module shuts down. This book is pretty damn amazing.

The amazingness has many facets, of which I can only mention a few. The first is its timeliness, appearing as it does just two years after Margot Lee Shetterly's wonderful "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race," along with the movie it inspired. Shetterly's book helped bring overdue attention to the contributions Black woman mathematicians, employed as computers, made to the American space program, when the electronic digital computing revolution was in its infancy. In our timeline, their efforts were supplemented by electronic computers as the technology improved, and a state-of-the-art electronic computer traveled to the moon with Armstrong and Aldrin. It may not have worked very well, but it was ready in time to make the trip.

In the timeline of this book, the American space program gets its start ten years earlier than in ours, and vast investment spurs most of the necessary technologies to advance more over the course of the 1950s than ours did over the 1960s. The one exception is electronic digital computing, which appears to be no further along in the 1955 of this book than it was in our own 1955. Suppose space program managers realize that astronauts may need to solve unforeseen problems in orbital mechanics on the fly. Suppose, further, that the best way to obtain a quick, accurate solution to such problems is to consult a skilled human with paper, pencil, and slide rule. Finally, suppose that the most skilled such humans are women. We have a recipe for a narrative in which, rather than lagging well behind the rest of 20th Century American Society in its lurching, uneven progress toward gender equality, the space program leads the way.

Our heroine and first-personal protagonist is, as we would expect, an extraordinary individual. But she is NOT a "steely-eyed missile man" in drag. She has payed a serious, even crippling price for having succeeded in a string of male-dominated fields, and her struggle to shoulder that baggage is perhaps the most compelling aspect of her more general struggle. She is also a woman of her time and place, one who has developed her strategies for selectively ignoring numerous small injustices, and for coping with those she cannot ignore. This is NOT an idealized crusader for women and minorities anachronistically written back into a society that no time for such people. She is a completely believable person who has learned how to pick her battles. She is surrounded by an equally believable supporting cast.

I won't sully this review by rehearsing any of the small number of nits I have picked. Read the book, or better yet listen to it in the author's expert narration.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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I cried a lot with this book

I've read a few different books by Kowal and this is my favourite so far. Multiple times throughout the story I was reduced to tears. The relationships are all complex and feel real; the characters are all complex people with multiple sides to them, even the antagonist, as much as there is an antagonist here. The relationship Elma has with her husband is great; I loved seeing someone with anxiety depicted being anxious but still kicking butt; and the depiction of race was treated sensitively and realistically. I am not a person of colour, so there are very possibly things I did not pick up on, but I thought it was done very well.
Kowal did the reading herself, and there's no one else I'd want to hear read her work. I loved her reading of the story as much as I loved the story itself.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Super impressed

Wonderful attention to detail, phenomenal voice acting, and wonderful characters. My only quibble is that it does sag in the middle as the story turns from the meteor strike and space race to the main character dealing with her anxiety. It does pick up again and finishes with a bang. Highly recommended.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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New found favorite book...

Mary Robinette Kowel is a very talented woman, as evidenced by her writing this beautiful book, and in the fantastic narration as well! Mary caught the social mores and nuances of the late fifties, beautifully!
This book covers some really hard issues of the times; women's role in society, racial bias, and even anxiety attacks... it's all wrapped up in this amazing talent that kinda' reminds me of old-school science fiction. That's probably because it takes place in an alternate, 1950's Earth, peopled with all the characters and products you'd expect to find then... and it also includes a meteor impact of truly cataclysmic proportions! 
Science and mathematics are really important in this post-meteor-impacted-Earth, as opposed to the old trope of societal collapse after the big "event". Where the story really distinguishes itself is that it's written from woman's POV as she and others try to end the intolerance and inequity of a patriarchal society, and go to work in fields that have traditionally been reserved only for men... and Mary Robinette Kowal accomplished this without giving the story an agenda-driven feel to it!!!
This is my new found favorite book of the year! If you enjoyed books like The Martian and Hidden Figures, you're going to love this one... Oh, and even better? The sequel will be released soon!   
Simply Stellar storytelling, in every way!⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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An Exploration of Sexism Wrapped Up in Alt-History

I found myself gritting my teeth at the grinding sexism endured by Elma, "the Lady Astronaut," but I found I couldn't disagree with what she portrayed. Kowal balances the social issue with great storytelling and likable, well-developed characters. And the story is hopeful, despite the terrifying premise. She even manages to take on racism well, to a lesser degree. One gripe: a jarringly abrupt ending.

Kowal as a reader has good pacing and consistent, subtle voice variations. I wouldn't mind her reading someone else's book, in fact. But she's especially good with her own material-- no one can deliver nuance like a reader/author.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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She should be an astronaut

While I love a good science fiction yarn, frequently I read stories that I like but have very shallow characters.

First person view, I think, is harder for me to see inside the other characters. We're seeing them through the protagonist's eyes.

In this book, the heroine can very nearly see inside others.

The author fills her characters with enough rich, tasty substance to each fill their own book.

The audiobook performance, by the author, is a masterpiece. Mary loves the inhabitants of this book as though they were her children. She doesn't just read them, she emotes them.

This book is one that I will listen to, read, recommend and gift to others.

It is one of the rare breed of stories where the author brings the reader along to laugh, cheer and cry along with the characters in the book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Refreshingly good story

I thought the author reading would be an issue but she did great. The romance bits are a bit dorky but don’t detract from a really good story. Worth the credit.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent!

Well written, superb narration. Left me wanting a second book. Very interesting twist on an alternative history.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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An Amazing Story From Start to Finish

The Calculating Stars is not only Mary Robinette Kowal's best book, but one of the best science fiction novels of the year.

This alternate history re-imagines the US Space Program not as a cold-war arms race but as a response to a planetary disaster in the early 1950s. As the world shakes off the horror of the second World War, they must now face the very real possibility of global catastrophe in the form of a meteorite strike akin to that which killed off the dinosaurs. The answer? To unite humanity in a mission to reach the stars and colonize outer space.

Uniting humanity is a mission that seems daunting enough in modern America, but Kowal's heroines and heros must deal with not just scientific struggles but also issues of social, racial, religious, and gender inequalities on their path to the stars.

What most amazes about this book, and was unexpected, is this emotional depth. Scene after scene will have you grinning ear-to-ear with the triumphs of Kowal's richly-realized characters or choking down your emotions in tense scenes of heartbreak. These emotional scenes are handled expertly, with a light touch; allowing the reader to bring the full force of the emotional beats into the story from their own experiences.

This novel is a masterwork and Kowal has shown that her place is in the stratosphere of science fiction writers. Read "The Calculating Stars" today.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • M. Atkinson
  • 09-08-18

Uplifting (pun intended)

Following Dr Elma York from the day she escapes the impact of an extinction-level meteorite, through her time as a computer at the now-international NASA, and her fight to allow women and POC to become astronauts. I normally like my heroines to be infallible, but Dr York is humanised by Southern-feminine style self-effacement (we only find out halfway through the book that she holds two doctorates) and a crippling social anxiety. A very enjoyable and uplifting listen.

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  • JiSe
  • 08-17-18

Sublime!

This work of Art is the best piece of sci-fi I have read in long time.

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  • Vicki Watson
  • 09-05-18

Disappointing

The story had promise but the whimpering main character and cringeworthy attempts at romantic/sex scenes almost laughable.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeremy
  • 10-23-18

Well paced but too hard on the messaging

An enjoyable story that set a cracking pace, with good character development. The author's narration is excellent too. However, I did feel that every 5 minutes I was being reminded of the main character's religion and that she was working really hard to overcome her anxiety. Yep, I understood the third time - don't need it a dozen more.