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The Fated Sky
a Book Review of the Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal
Contains Spoilers (Review of the 2nd book in a series)
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal is the sequel to The Calculating Stars. I liked The Fated Sky WAY more than The Calculating Stars because I read the e-book instead of listening to the audiobook. The main character, Elma, is much more tolerable when she isn’t cry-talking the whole time. If it wasn’t clear, DON’T listen the audiobook unless you enjoy hearing women cry, which likely means you have bigger issues than bad audiobooks.
The Fated Sky starts out on a moon base, called Artemis, where Elma is a glorified bus driver; she is in charge of piloting aircrafts to transport people and goods around the moon. Elma, despite being in a situation that sounds exciting on paper, is bored out of her mind. She misses her husband, who is still on earth, but loves the adventure of exploring “new frontiers”. Elma still is still a beloved public figure on Earth, so in a bureaucratic maneuver to garner public support and money for the space program, Elma is given the chance to join the ongoing Mars expedition.
The majority of the novel takes place on the spaceship headed to Mars. Just like The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky is not so much about science — it is about the interpersonal relationships of the crew on the Mars expedition and the political decisions and interpersonal relationships that govern their behavior.
In the series, the author spends a lot of time discussing race relations, but does Robinette Kowal do a good job? Meh, kind of… The book series takes place around the 1950s, so I think that the author’s discussions of race represent the unfortunate realities of the time period. However, the book is clearly written through a modern woke lens, which dramatically emphasizes that racism is clearly wrong. Racism is obviously wrong but Robinette Kowal’s heavy-handed approach was highlighted when Martin Luther King made several guest appearances. As Elma fumbles her way into becoming an ally of the Black astronauts on the space station, the style and presentation of a modern narrative in a historical context makes for an awkward and predictable reading experience.
The Fated Sky discusses some trade-offs of space travel that are constantly debated. Pundits frequently pose the question: what is the purpose of modern space travel? Why spend money on space when people are suffering on Earth? These questions are posed by the characters in the novel, but no real answers are given. It is clear that the characters, and likely the author, believe that space travel is good for humanity because it allows humans to make technological advances; and in the novel’s case, space travel is necessary to colonize a new world. But it is also clear, as it is in our society today, that nascent space travel will only be available to the extremely rich or the extremely intelligent.
One thing that really bugged me about this book is that the moon base is called Artemis (see my review of Artemis by Andy Weir). Artemis is also the name of the moon base that is currently being developed by NASA (https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/). How do all these moon bases have the same name? This led me into a brief investigation the origin of the name, Artemis.
From Greek Mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon and is the twin sister of Apollo. Given the original space program was called Apollo, the name Artemis makes a lot of sense. Perhaps Weir and Robinette Kowal were inspired by NASA’s Artemis program, which was launched in 2017. Artemis by Andy Weir was released in 2017 and The Fated Sky was published in 2018. I would like to read a book with a moon base with a more creative name. Let me know if you know of any.
The Fated Sky emulates some attributes of the historical fiction genre. Although Nathaniel, Elma’s husband, was barely in this novel, the author was able to include a little something, something *wiggles eyebrows aggressively* for the readers. Before Elma leaves for Mars, the author includes one sex scene that, just like in The Calculating Stars, contains strange space-related sex talk. Honestly, the sex scenes in these books are horrible and corny but I’m sure it launches somebody’s rocket.
Overall, the book was a fun and quick read. The writing is fluid and the plot is engaging. It focuses on a side of space travel that is human-centric. There isn’t a single character who saves the world (like most Andy Weir books) instead all the characters are crucial to the success of the mission. Working in teams relies on collaboration and navigating complex interpersonal relationships, which is one of the main dynamics explored throughout the novel. I’m excited to read the next one!
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Whale’s Rocket Club (WRC):
3.5/5 Whales — Enjoyable