I adored The Calculating Stars. It has everything I love in it – alternate history, enough science to make me feel smart without giving me a headache, and some bad ass women who I can swoon and cheer for. The Calculating Stars mixes a captivating story with emotional and relatable characters.
A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will 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.
You want to root for Elma so badly from the very beginning. Even though this is an alternate history book, it feels grainy and real. There’s the prejudices and discrimination we know as women, the ways men talk down to us, and are convinced we cannot achieve greatness. I appreciated that Elma was not only the smartest person in the room, but that she also knew the benefit of ‘playing the game’. I feel like I often only see women who are sneaky operatives under the radar, or blatantly flying their flag against the wind.
Characters – Elma
Elma is the perfect mixture of both. Even more so, her faith is so seamlessly worked into the book, as well as her anxiety. There were parts of this book that moved me to tears – as she recounts being in the room, but mocked for her intelligence, told she isn’t good enough, and, most emotionally, discounted no matter if she has the truth or math on her side. I can’t talk enough about how much I identified and related to Elma.
Elma is such a fantastic character because she’s vulnerable but strong, afraid but courageous, she conquers her fears. Elma is phenomenal. She’s not only intelligent and poised, but also struggling with the pressure of the spotlight and needs to rely on a community of friends and supportive partnership. You can’t do it alone, certainly not flying to space.
(I loved the marriage between Elma and her husband (because that’s how I think of him). There was support, hilarious sexy space talk, and he can hold his own as well!)
Kowal’s book also deals with other matters of privilege, such as the racism and discrimination. There are many conversations in the book about how Elma acknowledges her own privilege, mistakes, and tries to make up for them by being more aware. The Calculating Stars strikes the balance between alternate history, and the realism we have faced in the past. Sure it’s science fiction, and alternate history, but the entire thing feels so real I almost feel able to step through the thin veil that separates our worlds. At the same time, it does what great science fiction should do, which is sheds light on the past, and converses with the future.
Explore a planet with: Nathaniel and Elma
Fight aliens with: Nicole (total Slytherin)
Fly to space with: Elma
This is a book about fortitude, about preservation, and strength in the face of injustice, resilience as a flag against oppression and politics. Parts of this book makes me cry. I cry in rage, in defiance, in support, and in triumph. At the same time, it’s a book about women banding together, seeing the full potential of women finally going to space against all the challenges and odds thrown, hurled against them. Check The Calculating Stars out on Goodreads.
Have you ever dreamed of going to space?
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