Book Review #001

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinetter Kowal


In the 1950s, Elma York and her husband Nathaniel York were on a short vacation, when a meteorite fell from the sky and crashed into the Chesapeake Bay.  Destroying a large part of the East Coast, but that was not the only devastation.  The whole world is at peril, making the choice for the whole human race. 

My Thoughts

I listened to The Calculating Stars when I was in the hospital with Covid-19.  I was on my stomach, struggling to breathe. Traveling to the past and then the stars seemed plausible.  Mary Robinette Kowal did a wonderful job writing this series and narrating the novel. The story didn’t start with this book.  The story started with a short story called The Lady Astronaut of Mars.  The Calculating Stars is a prequel to that short story. Full disclosure I haven’t read the Lady Astronaut of Mars; I haven’t listened to the Relentless Moon yet.  The Calculating Stars is a decent prequel, the best I’ve come across so far.   I admire the skill Mary Robinette Kowal has to make the past, futuristic. 

Mary Robinette Kowal is a co-host of a writing podcast called Writing Excuses.  It has been running for almost 16 seasons.  She is not a co-founder but when they brought her in as a host, she introduced the method of writing called the MICE quotient.  She has explained it in the early episodes and just recently did a kind of in-depth class about the MICE quotient in season 16.  It is something I saw throughout the story in The Calculating Stars, and I enjoyed it.

 If you listen to Writing Excuses and she says that the Calculating Stars is about women being the computers in NASA.  For the most part she is right, both Dr. Elma York and her husband Dr. Nathaniel York work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) before the disaster.  Once the International Aerospace Coalition (IAC) is established they resume their roles.  However, there is so much more going on.  Despite Elma being a brilliant mathematician and licensed pilot, who was part of the WASP program during World War II, all the requirements to be part of the astronaut program.  She faces anxiety, misogyny and deals with them in a clever ways.  Elma and other women, some also working as computers in NASA and some are qualifying pilots decide to strive to become the much needed female astronauts during this time of desperate trouble for the world.  They are still underestimated, belittled, and outright disregarded.  In this book, there is grief, racism, and microaggressions. Undaunted Elma speaks about it all, and to be clear she is not always on the right side of the equation.  The interesting part of this is that Elma realizes this, apologizes, and does better.   One of the things I realized with this book is that being wrong does not make you evil.  Sometimes a person needs help, understanding, I think that is one of the many themes in the series.  

The Calculating Stars deserved all the awards it won in 2019.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Hollywood is knocking down Ms. Kowal ‘s door for movie rights.    I have given this book five stars.


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