The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal Book Review

The Calculating Stars by Mary Mary Robinette Kowal is a prequel to Lady Astronaut of Mars. The series is an alternate history imagining of what could have happened if a deteriorate had hit each in 1952, making the earth uninhabitable and changing the space race as humans look for a new world to inhabit.

Elma York, a mathematician and former war pilot is a calculator for the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempt to go to the moon. This is not enough for her and her ambition drives her to question why women are not being allowed to go into space.

With a strong, smart female lead this is a fantastic book for people who love alt-history but want something a little different. However, going into this book it’s important to not take the science in it too seriously, simply enjoy it for what is a fun adventure back in an alternative past. I found many reviews on Amazon dinging this book for weak science which I felt was a little harsh given how many sci-fi books and movies have similar plot issues.

The book also deals with sexism and racism as Elma hits obstacle after obstacle due to being a Jewish woman and her black colleagues are also sidelined despite their experience and qualifications.

Despite the from setting and the issues, Elma faces she is such a positive beacon that the story never gets too heavy.



Excerpt from The Calculating Stars by Mary Mary Robinette Kowal

I kept running the numbers in my head after the radio finally, finally reported the news. It was easier than thinking about the big picture. About the fact that we lived in D.C. That we knew people there. That my parents were—

From D.C., it would take a little over twenty-four minutes for the airblast to hit. I tapped the dashboard clock. “It should hit soon.”

“Yeah.” My husband covered his face with his hands and leaned forward against the steering wheel. “Were your parents . . . ?”

“Home. Yes.” I could not stop shaking. The only breaths I could draw were too fast and too shallow. I clenched my jaw and held my breath for a moment, with my eyes squeezed shut.

The seat shifted as Nathaniel wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. He bowed his head over me so that I was sealed in a little cocoon of tweed and wool. His parents had been older than mine and had passed away some years ago, so he knew what I needed, and just held me.

“I just thought . . . I mean, Grandma is a hundred and three. I thought Daddy was going to go forever.”

He made a sharp inhalation, as if he’d been stabbed.


Nathaniel sighed and pulled me closer. “There were tidal wave warnings.”

“Oh God.” Grandma lived in Charleston. She wasn’t in a beach house, but still, the entire city was low-lying and right on the coast. And then there were my aunts and uncles and cousins and Margaret, who’d just had a baby. I tried to sit up, but Nathaniel’s arms were too tight around me. “When will it hit? The meteor struck a little before ten. But how big was it? And the water depth . . . I need a map and—”

“Elma.” Nathaniel squeezed me tighter. “Elma. Sh . . . You can’t solve for this.”

“But Grandma—” “I know, sweetie. I know. When we get to the plane, we can radi—”

The shock of the explosion shattered the car windows. It roared on and on, vibrating through my chest like a rocket leaving a launchpad. The oscillations pressed against my skin, filling every part of my consciousness with roaring waves and then secondary and tertiary explosions. I clung to Nathaniel, and he clung to the steering wheel, as the car bucked and slid across the road.

The world groaned and roared and wind howled through the empty window frames.

When the sound died away, the car had moved halfway across the road. Around us, trees lay on the ground in tidy rows, as if some giant had arranged them. Not all of them were down, but the ones that remained standing had been stripped of snow and whatever leaves they had left.

The windshield was just gone. The driver’s side window lay on top of us in a laminated sheet of spiderwebbed safety glass. I pushed it up, and Nathaniel helped shove it out the door. Blood trickled from little scrapes on his face and hands.

He lifted a hand to my face. “You’re bleeding.” His voice sounded like he was underwater, and he frowned as he spoke.

“You too.” My own voice was muffled. “Ear damage?”

He nodded and rubbed his face, smearing the blood into a scarlet film. “At least we can’t hear the news.”

I laughed, because sometimes you have to, even when things aren’t funny. I reached over to turn the radio off and stopped with my hand on the dial.

There was no sound. This wasn’t a matter of being deafened by the blast; the radio was silent.