Top positive review
Can't wait for the sequel!
Reviewed in the United States on July 9, 2018
I recently finished reading Mary Robinette Kowal's wonderful new novel The Calculating Stars. It's set in an alternate 1952 in which the US has launched the first space satellite, opening the space race. Then, Washington DC and most of the East Coast of the US gets obliterated by a meteorite. The climate changes from that impact threaten to render Earth uninhabitable, making getting to Mars a priority.
The novel is written in first person, and our narrator is Elma York, mathematician and wife of Nathaniel York. She is a computer - AKA a human mathematician hired to compute stuff, in this case space launch trajectories. She's also a former WASP, a group of women hired to ferry military airplanes around in WWII. This comes in handy, as her piloting skills allow her and her husband to survive the impact.
She eventually decides that she wants to be am astronaut, and that's where the conflict is. This is the 1950s, and women are supposed to be in the kitchen, not in space. Oh, and Elma suffers from anxiety, for which she is eventually proscribed Miltown.
This set of circumstances makes for a fascinating read. Mary gets to explore sexism, racism (blacks were computers too) and mental health while writing a gripping and entertaining book. It's very eye-opening for me, a straight white dude, to see the problems facing people like Elma - people who can and do contribute greatly.
Mary takes a few liberties with history, notably having Dewey defeat Truman in 1948. (Well, that and the asteroid.) However, one thing she is true to - most of the math that got men into orbit was done by hand, mostly by women. It's a fascinating detail. Overall, I highly recommend this book.