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The Calculating Stars

A Lady Astronaut Novel
Narrated by: Mary Robinette Kowal
Length: 11 hrs and 41 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (64 ratings)
Regular price: £22.89
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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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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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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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Sublime!

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

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  • Mean Jane
  • 27-07-18

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.

60 of 66 people found this review helpful

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  • sonja holmes
  • 16-07-18

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.

35 of 39 people found this review helpful

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  • Shykim
  • 17-08-18

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.

54 of 61 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen
  • 16-10-18

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.

43 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard Bruno
  • 01-10-18

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.

55 of 65 people found this review helpful

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  • Alex Levine
  • 27-07-18

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.

63 of 75 people found this review helpful

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  • Michelle Pogodzinski
  • 12-10-18

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.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Brian
  • 19-08-18

Simply out of This World (Pun Intended)

The Calculating Stars was simply out of this world (pun intended). As the first full novel of The Lady Astronaut series, it was a phenomenal stand-alone piece but, after reading it, who wouldn't want more? Part Hidden Figures, part The Martian, and part The Day After Tomorrow, Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars quickly climbed to the top of my "best books of 2018" list.

This well-written, well-researched book combines my love of historical fiction, sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic/dystopian books while creatively addressing culturally relevant issues like climate change, mental health/anxiety, and gender- and race-based discrimination (in STEM, the workplace, public policymaking, and social settings).

The story begins in the 1950's with a meteorite decimating Washington D.C. and much of the surrounding area while newlyweds Elma and Nathaniel Wexler are vacationing in the mountains. Elma (who had been a WASP pilot in WWII and holds a doctorate in math and physics) and her husband (an esteemed engineer), are both employed by NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. When they hear the impact, they immediately begin calculating and assessing the damage.

Together, they make their way back to their NACA co-workers and soon discover that the meteorite landed in water, initially sparing many lives but unfortunately triggering a "climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity." The severity of the impending climate changes' potential impacts on the planet and those who inhabit it is coupled with an abbreviated timeline developed by the NACA calculators, lending a sense of urgency to the story and rapidly accelerating the space race.

The Calculating Stars is largely plot-driven, with richly developed characters, and a multitude complex conflicts, including man vs. self, man vs. nature, and man vs. society. Elma, our protagonist, battles an anxiety condition,  competes with other candidates for a spot in the astronaut program and confronts the patriarchy in an effort to overcome the odds and...well...save mankind. Kowal masterfully develops her characters in a way that leaves readers feeling incredibly invested in their well-being--I found myself as worried about Elma's family as she seemed to be.

I spent much of book the rooting for the female candidates, snarling at Parker and Clemons and feeling grateful for good men like Nathaniel Wexler. My emotional investment was significant in a way that's only possible with such a masterfully written and narrated book. The Calculating Stars left me with enough closure that I could sleep at night but was so great that I can't wait for book two to come out on Audible! I'll be listening for sure.

I initially felt some trepidation when I realized the author narrated her own work. I usually enjoy pieces where authors read their own memoirs, but I have struggled through a few books of other genres where the authors' narrations were a bit flat and one-dimensional. Some authors are amazing narrators but others aren't as gifted when it comes to voice acting and just don't seem to understand the value of working with another professional. If you share my hesitation, let me assuage your fears: Mary Robinette Kowal is a truly gifted story-teller. I was impressed by both the quality of her writing and her amazing voice acting abilities. Kowal utilizes a variety of reading styles, accents, pitches, tones, and speeds to further develop her characters' personalities, build tension, convey relief, demonstrate anxiety and fear, and distinguish between dialogue and news broadcasts. Kowal's narration was exceptional. I enjoyed her reading of The Calculating Stars so much that I added her to my list of favorite narrators and searched audible by narrator to find more of her work. I requested a free copy of this book - it has not affected my review in any way.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • sbsd13
  • 25-09-18

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.

23 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Bucko
  • 24-08-18

So happy I listened to this.

It's rare that a book comes along and I get so wrapped up in it that I don't want it to end. I am a big fan of things having a beginning, middle, and an end... but not so much here. I didn't want this story to end.

I had no idea this book existed or who Mary Robinette Kowal was until I went to a book signing in Cincinnati with Patrick Rothfuss. At the signing he said "If I can recommend one book to you - one book that you should absolutely be reading - it's this one." And I am so glad I listened to him.

Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars was one of the first books I've read in years that when it ended - I was disappointed. Not because it was a bad book, but because I wanted another 100 pages or more.

The alternate history of the United States and the astronaut program was spot-on perfect. She has written a version of my own timeline that, with the exception of the meteorite impact, I wish and dream had come true...

If you're here looking for reviews, you don't need me to recap the book. You just want to know if you should read it - and the answer is YES. Why are you waiting? It's an amazing story with strong, rich characters. And, thankfully for me, the sequel is already out. And I started reading it this morning.

This book will enter my "re-read" pile. And I could not be happier about it.

The audible version is read by the author and, wow, she does a great job at it. 5 Stars all around.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful