THE CALCULATING STARS by Mary Robinette Kowal. Review.

THE CALCULATING STARS by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Solaris. ebook. £5.99.

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

It is 1952, a year for young lovers, for the wonder of watching stars and the joy of life. Elma and her husband have each other and their whole future spanning before them. Until the earth moves… literally. In the wake of the shock, Elma, a former war pilot and brilliant mathematician, does the calculations. Not an earthquake. It cannot have been an A-bomb, but it was without question something as significantly big. As they flee their home they come to realise just how bad the impact is. 

The rational part of Elma wonders how they did not see this coming as she begins to come to terms with the terrible reality of life after the event. The damage is far more widespread than first feared and the coming respite will only be short-lived. This is a world faced with the challenge of securing its own future. This is a world where those who know what is coming seek the warmth and comfort of humour and each other while they can, for as long as they can, in the face of the unknown. The couple will battle personal and global strife as they play their respective parts in saving humanity in the face of prejudice, disbelief and the ugliest of human characteristics.

The Calculating Stars follows Elma’s story as she finds herself working for the International Aerospace Coalition – the organisation tasked with exploring re-colonisation on Mars – and the many opportunities, challenges and barriers that come with it.

The narrative instils incredible empathy towards characters that are relatable on many levels. The pace flows smoothly with a deeply woven southern touch throughout that warms moments of desperation for its characters. The inequalities of gender and racial prejudice through history are presented and challenged through the eyes of a very believable heroine who balances her own ambitions, anxieties and morals against the greater good and manages to cling onto who she is despite all she endures.

As you would expect from this author, this first book in the Lady Astronaut series is brimming with intelligence and excitement, and presents a unique adventure which blends historical events of our own world with a ‘what if’ exploration of pending-apocalyptic possibilities. One of the preceding stories to this book, The Lady Astronaut of Mars, won the award for Best Novelette at the Hugo Awards in 2014 and this novel is no less impressive.