“The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

2022 has arrived. It brought with it some Covid but sure, we are all doing fine and I won’t be defeated by all the emails received at work during this 6-week absence… No I won’t sir! This week we will all be isolating (as much as possible with a 2 year old typhoon, she needs to get out for a walk every day or her batteries will never be depleted… Fortunately we live in the middle of nowhere and it is quite easy to go for a walk without seeing anyone) and from next week hopefully we will all be back to our routine. In the meantime, let’s start the new year on a high with this lovely alternative story about space women.

What is it about?

We are firmly in alternate history territory here. During the 50s, a meteorite impacts on Earth and wipes out Washington; this triggers an event that will bring basically the planet to boil. So, the space race starts with extra pressure and an international version of NASA is born. Elma, our hero, works as a computer (as you know they actually existed, the mathematicians who were there to re-do the calculations of the non-human “computers”) at the American launch site and she wants to be an astronaut. And the story goes from there.

What makes it good?

This is a book I would have loved to read when I was 15 or 16. I am not saying that it is a young adult fiction book, but it does have that feeling of being very freshly written, with a focus on the main character and her adventures more than the big picture. I read about some people online not liking it for this reason and I get it, but it is a barely 400 pages book and there was just not enough space to get to the big picture. Even some secondary characters are a bit flat because of the lack of pages, but it doesn’t matter (to me at least). The book goes by in a flash and you want to see how it ends and you root for the main character, which is all that matters.

The style

Easy, flowing, simple, descriptive style that goes very well with what the author wants to tell. It’s written in first person (I am still not convinced that the first person is always needed, but there you go, contemporary novels seem to forget that you can describe someone’s inner thoughts and reasonings and feelings without writing in first person, but hey… that’s me) and it tackles some interesting subjects like feminism and racism, albeit superficially.

Final Mark

It is one of those novels that you read under the blanket and that you don’t want to let go until you are finished. It has a young adult quality and an easy flow that makes it charming and I am a sucker for an intelligent underdog getting what she wants. A bit unnecessarily racy at times but sure, I will forgive that.

8/10

On Goodreads.

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