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The Calculating Stars

A Lady Astronaut Novel
Narrated by: Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut, Book 1
Length: 11 hrs and 38 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,043 ratings)

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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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Average Customer Ratings

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Had so much potential to be great-BUT

I was so excited to listen to this book. It had so much potential to hit many complicated and interesting topics but was ultimately very bland. It was chock full of simple annoying characters with no depth and loads of unrealistic scenarios. I kept catching myself thinking get it together b!&$#, the world is ending but we (the listeners) are stuck hearing you gripe about your stage fright and how hard growing up was with a powerful father and gifted mathematic abilities, poor thing! Not to mention, all the support needed to earn a PHD as a women during WW2. All in all I'd say life had been very kind to our lady astronaut but she still wines and complains at every opportunity and crumples when ever any person (man or woman) disrespects or disagrees with her-barf.

Lastly, why the heck is her husband so shocked she encounters sexism around every corner? It's 1952- it's everywhere and the norm. Realistically the shock should of been her drive to have more then the domestic life. Could of been so good but left much to be desired and with a urg to poke most of the main characters in the eye.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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it's a nice story

"The calculating stars" is a nice story about an alternate history Space Program. The author does an excellent job of bringing life to the story, which is a good thing, because I think if I were to just read it, it would have been a little flat. This would be a fantastic story for a preteen or even a child, but it lacks drama. Now, not all stories need to be a daring space drama with horrible monsters and and heroic leaps of... heroism, but i kept eaiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. I see this story as the way the Space Program would have proceeded if everyone in the world were Canadian. A good read, but don't expect action.

49 of 54 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.

65 of 75 people found this review helpful

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Never achieves lift off

So very disappointing. An interesting alternate history premise, but a deeply awkward and clunky execution. Infuriating, repetitive, formulaic. Every now and then there are whiffs of originality and creativity (like when, in listing a group of new astronauts, the familiar names of actual Mercury and Gemini astronauts are included, without calling any attention to the fact), but these moments are rare. And the obsessive and obligatory (but, of course, socially sanctioned) sex scenes between the protagonist and her husband are excruciating as they strive to call up every rocket launch innuendo that they can. Eew.

The author reads her own work, which doesn't help matters. Over the top narration and exaggerated characterizations.

66 of 77 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen
  • MD United States
  • 10-16-18

Promising story, cringeworthy main character ...

This story had promise and if you like romance novels with an intellectual undertone this might be for you. (I'm not a fan of romance novels so I can't say for sure.) I found the main character way too whiny. While her issues were justifiably real and I appreciate that ... it was the method they were delivered that I disliked. I am curious whether I would have the same impression of the main character as whiny if I had read rather than listened to the book. It is possible that this is more a narration rather than a story issue ... so I'll give the book the benefit of the doubt there. The other possibility is that this is simply how women in the 1950s behaved and that this is a more accurate representation than other books. If so, I guess it is a good thing I was not around then. I probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble.

52 of 61 people found this review helpful

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Wanted to love it

There is a difference between reading and narrating. The author is OK at reading, but a complete amateur as a narrator. Her attempts at accents are painful - and distracting.

The characters, with the exception of the protagonist, are stereotypical and one dimensional. The protagonist is also a stereotype. She is what medicine used to described as a female hysteric. And yet, she is supposed to be a brilliant mathematician with 2 advanced degrees from Stanford, a child prodigy, and an accomplished pilot. Finally, she comes across as helpless, whiny and immature.

I suspect that the author may be trying to set her main character up for growth and change in the next book in the series, if so she overplayed her hand.

This book might be better if you read it rather than listen. Between the amateurish delivery and the whiny, pathetic marin character, the audio version is just annoying.

65 of 78 people found this review helpful

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Not easy to listen to the whiny main character.

Not a fan of listening to whining women, apologizing for being competent humans. The 1950 housewife or the stereotype of that woman is best left in the past not in a Sci Fi book.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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awkward sex scenes ruin message

I didn't like this as much as Ghost Talkers. Mostly bc the character isn't as likeable and all she and her husband seem to do is exchange rocket ship sexual euphemisms before they bone. If I hear that "his engines were firing" one more time, I quit. (this was about 75% through).

But no, the “rockets firing” sex analogies didn’t quit. I did keep going though and read till the end. The women’s empowerment, mental illness, and racial equality storylines were cheapened by the foibles of the main character and the attempts to make Elma seem sexy and empowered by showing that she liked sex. How do we know she liked sex? Oh, because she talked about her husband’s genitals in rocket ship terminology. Of course! Completely accurate and representative. Best parts when the “lady astronaut” was actually doing things like flying a plane and solving flight trajectories, and I wish Kowal had made those parts the majority of the book.

35 of 42 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.

67 of 83 people found this review helpful

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I like the story but....

The narration makes the lead character sound so whiny. With the lead characters panic attacks, it made me not want her chosen for space. She made women look bad. No sense of the toughness many aspiring (female or male) astronauts need to make it up there. So the great story was made just “meh” for me.

20 of 25 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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruth de Haas
  • 02-19-19

Made me cry a lot in public. Super embarrassing.

MRK makes her book come to life such that I was having panic attacks with Elma, sad crying whenever anything bad happened, happy crying whenever anything good happened... basically this book left me a complete mess.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-05-19

An unexpected journey to a future past

Wow! This was so different and so good and so unexpected and so masterfully done that I am downloading the second book without hesitation. This is a great story told from the unusual perspective of, a Jewish female maths wiz living in a fictional 1950’s America. This plucky young woman works hard to overcome crippling insecurities and misogyny in a fight to put women in space. The stakes are incredibly high, but her struggle feels real. It has the charm of early sci-fi novels from the golden age, that sucked me right in. After a year of reading hard core sci-fi and space opera this was a completely refreshing read. Loved it!
All in all, a warm, charming and well told story.

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  • Brian - UK
  • 09-04-19

Strong lead character...

... but too often is weaker than projected. Although I get it, the discontinuity detracts. Ultimately worthy but unsatisfactory. Great depth and study, but somehow on its head. Alas, I shan’t be listening to more.

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  • Adi Loya
  • 08-31-19

Let's go to the stars!

In this inspiring tale a woman defeats all social constraints and personal challenges and goes to the moon.
Earth has suffered a meteorite hit, and human race has a few years to escape the disastrous effects of it.
Human race also has to defeat outdated thoughts about white man's superiority over women and / or people of colour.
The readers are being confronted with these views constantly, as Elma - a brilliant computer who works for the space agency - needs to overcome her sex, her religion, and her anxiety to become the lady astronaut.
I laughed and I cried and then some. We all can identify with the moments Kowal shows us of humanity, strength and weakness in her complex characters.
Loved it!

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  • Martyn. R. Winters
  • 08-27-19

It quite simply doesn't get better than this

I am totally in awe of Mary Robinette Kowal. Not only has she turned in a well deserved Hugo winning novel that pushes every emotional button in its roller-coaster ride of a story, but she narrates it superlatively, giving life to the already abundantly well-rounded characters.

Set in the fifties on an alternative Earth which has been stricken by a cataclysmic meteorite strike off the East coast of the USA, the novel tells the story of humanity's race against time to establish off planet colonies to ensure the survival of the species. Set against this backdrop is the struggle of a woman to become an astronaut by overcoming prejudice against her sex and religion.

Listening to it threw me from emotional highs to sobbing lows as I lived every moment. I can't recommended this too highly.

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  • Brian Sargent
  • 08-14-19

Enjoyed it way more than expected

Having failed to keep going with one of the author's previous books I was concerned that I wouldn't gel with this either but the story and the narration were both excellent and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.

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  • Ms. F. M. Stygall
  • 08-10-19

The best audiobook I’ve ever heard!

What a wonderful book. Exploring the opportunity of space from the view of a woman, a Jew, a fallible, anxious and desperately determined protagonist. The glorious, human, hopeful narration does such justice to a brilliant text. I finished it in tears!

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  • Michela
  • 05-11-19

Great story and characters

The story starts with a tragedy : a catastrophic, extinction level event strikes the earth in the '50s in this imagined parallel history, and gives a huge push to the space program as an international response to the upcoming climate changes that will destroy most of life on the planet. The role of women, and particularly of the main character, is at the heart of the novel : at first they are "computers", in charge of calculations in the control room for the flights, but soon, with the plan of going to space for the colonisation of other planets, the necessity of having women in space emerges. Those women with pilot experience from the second world war, including the main character, particularly pushes for the need to be included in the space program, and are finally recruited as candidates to become "lady astronauts". The story gains further depth as it tackles sexism, prejudices and racism, and as we hear of the ways the protagonist endures and learns to cope with her crippling anxiety. I especially appreciated the ultimately mostly positive, optimistic and empathetic resolution of the conflicts and problems she and her friends and family faces. The interpretation of the audiobook is compelling.

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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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  • Kindle Customer
  • 06-07-19

A wonderful 'what if tale'

A wonderful tale of what would have happened if space race history had been changed. I fully endorse MRK's reading and her writing in this narrative.

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  • Helen
  • 05-23-19

Perfect women centred alternate timeline space drama

I loved all the new information I learnt about how women actually shaped our space timeline from this book. I heard an excellent interview from the author about all the research she does to make her characters and world building fit the time period she is writing about. I never knew much about the WASPS and all I knew about women computers came from Hidden Figures (I am not American and the space race is not taught in history class). Loved this book and will recommend it.

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  • C SIMONSEN
  • 02-21-19

Great story, enjoyed it.

The performance was great, a good story with some interesting ways of thinking about the future

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    3 out of 5 stars
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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.