Discover more from Don't Call Me Ishmael
The Calculating Stars
A Book Review of the Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal
There are times when I listen to an audiobook and think I would have enjoyed the story more if I had read it — this was one of those times. In this case, the plot of The Calculating Stars made up for the fact that the narration was annoying.
The Calculating Stars is Book 1 in the Lady Astronaut Series (don’t worry, the story is self-aware that “Lady” Astronaut is pejorative) by Mary Robinette Kowal. After a meteorite hits Washington DC, a former WASP pilot, Elma York, becomes heavily envolved in Earth’s mission to go to space and colonize the moon. Elma is a PhD and a “computer” (as in Hidden Figures) for the space department. When no women are initially selected to go to space, Elma begins to advocate for women to be trained as astronauts on the basis that women are necessary for colonization (because babies). She doesn’t lobby just for the good of womanhood, Elma advocates for women to go to space for her own self interests — she wants to be an astronaut.
The Calculating Stars begins in the early 1950s, before the space race and right after World War II. The political climate is tense and the US is especially fearful of Russia as a growing superpower. When the meteorite hits, the world in The Calculating Stars deviates from history as we know it. Kowal explores this alternate reality where women have the opportunity to be some of the first to explore space.
The timeline of the story is long. Politicians are slow to react to the threat of the extreme temperatures that scientists predict will result from the meteorite. Everything in the novel moves at a very realistic pace — rockets are launched and astronauts are trained over the course of years instead of days. The slow pace makes the novel feel like historical fiction rather than science fiction. Characters’ reactions and the progression of the novel are grounded in reality,
Like a historical fiction novel, a shocking number of chapters end with sex scenes. Either these scenes are to keep the audience engaged or they are supposed to be character development. One could argue the scenes increase the reader’s conviction that Elma and her husband have a strong relationship. Even when they have disagreements, they are still banging so everything is okay, right? Or maybe it’s just to make a pure and moralistic character more spicy.
The story was great, but the audiobook narrator of The Calculating Stars is constantly cry-talking. Sure, Elma’s character is often a nervous wreck in the book, but the sheer quantity of whining broke my suspension of disbelief, often causing me to pause the audiobook because I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Since the narrator of The Calculating Stars audiobook is the author, Mary Robinette Kowal, I can’t claim that the massive amount of whining was the novel being misinterpreted by an actor. It’s really supposed to be that whiny.
Despite the excessively high-pitched narration, this book was really fun and interesting. Elma is a complex female character; and as an astronaut, she is an inspiration.
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Whales Against High-Frequency Communication (WAHFC):
3.5/5 Whales. Enjoyable.