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The Calculating Stars

A Lady Astronaut Novel
Written by: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrated by: Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut, Book 1
Length: 11 hrs and 41 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (115 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Mary Robinette Kowal's science fiction debut, The Calculating Stars, explores the premise behind her award-winning Lady Astronaut of Mars

Den of Geek - Best Science Fiction Books of June 2018 

Omnivoracious - Fifteen Highly Anticipated SFF Reads for Summer 2018 

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the East Coast of the US, including Washington, DC. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. 

This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space and requires a much-larger share of humanity to take part in the process. 

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. 

Elma’s drive to become the first lady astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

©2018 Mary Robinette Kowal (P)2018 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about The Calculating Stars

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

disappointing!

I got this book because it was advertised as the winner of the Hugo award. I expected a sci-fi, which this book is certainly not. The book starts with a thrilling story of meteorites hitting the earth and changing the atmosphere of the earth, but drifts off to a lousy and boring story of a woman mathematician who aspires to become an astronaut and had to fight her way up in the context of the 1950's society. The book fails badly to be even remotely feminist though. The story is incoherent, haphazardly put together, full of annoying characters and annoying conversations and awkward sex scenes. It was a drag to finish this book and the narrator's annoying voice did not help either.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Easy reading alternate history of space program

In an alternate version of Earth's history, a meteorite strikes the USA in 1952, obliterating Washington and most of the US government. Pilot/mathematician Elma and her rocket scientist husband Nathaniel York escape immediate death by a combination of coincidence and intelligence, and make it to safety at a military base where their expertise leads them into an advisory position to the new acting president (former minister of agriculture). As Elma calculates the climate impact from the meteorite will be an initial cooling and then an escalating greenhouse effect that will be so severe the oceans will start to boil, both push for a desperate escalation of a space program to establish a colony on the moon before humanity is wiped out entirely. In this alternate history, the story follows Elma and Nathaniel as Earth struggles to establish a moon colony on a vastly earlier timeline than ours, in an America where segregation is still very present, women are still in the "Mad Men" style roles of homemakers and decorations, yet are also the "Hidden Figures" style computers who are essential to spaceflight before actual electronic computers reliably exist. As a former WASP pilot, Elma struggles for the inclusion of women in the astronautics program. I had an extremely low opinion of Kowal's first "Glamourist" book but decided to give this one a try as it's a completely different genre, and I enjoyed it a lot more. Part of this may be due to picking this one up as an audiobook - if she made as many terrible spelling choices, I wouldn't notice in audiobook form - but mainly as an American author I think the characters and setting of this book are just much more within her ability to write well (while pseudo Austin-esque last-century British characters are clearly NOT). The main character was enjoyable and, as a woman in a STEM field myself, it's always a joy to see a smart and capable heroine. Even though she seems to make some particularly stupid decisions, it was possible to frame those as a side effect of the era and attitudes towards women of the time. The other characters were likeable enough but did seem rather stereotypical or tokenistic. Nathaniel is apparently the perfect feminist enlightened and supportive husband in every possible way, which seems more than a bit improbable given the era. The characters of other races and nationalities were good to have, but didn't really do much more for the plot than representing their race and/or nationality. The fact she's Jewish was brought up repeatedly but ultimately didn't seem to have any meaning or impact, even when she meets Wernher von Braun in person. While Kowal was clearly trying to bring up the topics of race and ethnicity and discrimination, it's done with a very shallow touch that doesn't really have any impact on anything. Elma is also a heroine with every possible advantage imaginable so that everything works out perfectly for her - rich family, perfect supportive husband, brilliant mind, brother who coincidentally happens to have exactly the right skills and job to help with her climate modelling, military father who protected her in her WASP days, etc etc. So yes, everything's just a bit easy for our heroine all the way through. It's more of a joyful romp down alternate history while eating popcorn than a gripping novel of actual hardship, but read it eating a candy bar and it's still a fun story of an alternate history that might have been.

1 person found this helpful

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science, strong female characters, smart & sexy!

I've read and/or listened to this book about 6 times now, and never get tired of it. Mary Robinette has clearly researched space travel extensively, and delivers a wide cast of layered characters to take us on this adventure. Having an award-winning author who is also a talented narrator brings this book to life in a way nobody else could. My next credit is going towards book 2!

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Wow. Mary is amazing at both writing and acting.

This book had me in tears more than once. To say this book helped give me empathy for the environment that those who are subject to prejudice would be an understatement. Not only are the characters amazingly developed, but Mary's acting was phenomenal. movie often don't come close to the emotion she can carry on a single word. and the icing on the cake was the believable world and real physics. just the right about of detail to keep engineers like me keen, but also easy enough to explain without being condescending. this book makes me want to go back and remove a star from all my previous reviews. amazing

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Awful

This book causes physical pain. White feminism at its absolute worst. Do not read.

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Captivating story with perfect narration

Mary Robinette's novel is set in an alternate universe where, in 1952, a huge meteorite hits the earth just off the eastern seaboard of North America, taking a huge bite out of the continent and throwing ejecta and water vapour into the atmosphere. The protagonist, Dr Elma York, a WASP pilot in WWII, and a world class mathematician and physicist, works for the USA government as a "computer" for a rocket test lab survive by being away from DC on holiday and eventually calculates that it is an "extinction level event" that will eventually become completely inhospitable to most life. This kick starts the space program almost a decade earlier than in our universe with the express purpose of eventually founding extraterrestrial colonies. And Elma very much wants to go into be one of the first " Kowal has done her research and the story is filled with hard science facts and real world considerations. But she also brings a measure of humanity, in all its glory and its folly, in Dr York's character and the lense through which she perceives and handles the world around her and her drive to be a Lady Astronaut in a world still so heavily steeped in a, largely white and wholly patriarchal societal environment.

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Started in an interesting fashion

I bought this novel because I'm going through the Hugo/Nebula award winners and thought I may as well get the 2019 winner. It started in an interesting fashion but then wandered from sci-fi/fantasy into a kind of novel with clumsy sex scenes and interpersonal intrigues as filler. Exploring the gender and racial aspects of the space program would have been interesting by itself. Climate change is a secondary character that could have been brought to the front. I guess a 58 year old guy is not this book's audience.

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easy read, loved her voice performance

I found the book to be okay, not great but it wasn't boring either. the voice acting was amazing and kept you wanting to listen. The story was captivating at times but seemed to end very abruptly. this being said, I liked the book enough to want to read the second book.

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it's really nice to have the author narrating

Ms Kowal is an excellent author and narrator, and it's especially nice to have her reading her own story - she clearly knows every beat and voice inside and out, and did an excellent job personifying her characters. Also, it's just a good story with believable adversaries and ultimately very human characters.

1 person found this helpful

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Do You Remember?

There are a lot of sour-faced people out there who don't follow Mary Robinette Kowal on her twitter or on Writing Excuses claiming bad science and bad history, I assure you that you are wrong and she has done her research and that it's a wonderfully researched and character-driven world. Strong female characters and a diverse cast, it is a wonderful change of pace. I loved every page of it and loved that Elma has anxiety because it made me feel so connected with her. Maybe this book isn't for you, but damn it all it was everything for me. #Audible1

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Jim N
  • 2019-02-04

Fizzles After a Great Start

The Calculating Stars received a lot of praise in 2018 so when I saw it on sale at Audible, I decided to give it a chance, despite being a little put off by the series title, which sounded silly to me. The book justifies that title well enough and after listening to the riveting first few hours of the novel, I told a friend that my misgivings were unfounded. The book's opening sequence, in which a massive meteorite strike in 1952 sets off a sequence of cataclysmic events, is great. Unfortunately, after that, it slows down, following a predictable path and never truly regaining that early momentum. The remainder of the novel reads like a Hallmark Channel riff on Hidden Figures, co-produced by the SyFy Channel. There are few surprises, the drama is minimal and the plot crawls toward a conclusion that's both predictable and inevitable. There are, however, a number of cringe-worthy "romantic" scenes between Elma, the protagonist, and her husband, Nathaniel, complete with increasingly painful rocket and launch references. After such a promising start, I was very disappointed. The issues above are complicated on audio by the author's reading which was fine except when reading some of the characters, which veered into exaggerated caricature when voiced.

39 people found this helpful

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  • sonja holmes
  • 2018-07-16

it's a nice story

"The calculating stars" is a nice story about an alternate history Space Program. The author does an excellent job of bringing life to the story, which is a good thing, because I think if I were to just read it, it would have been a little flat. This would be a fantastic story for a preteen or even a child, but it lacks drama. Now, not all stories need to be a daring space drama with horrible monsters and and heroic leaps of... heroism, but i kept eaiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. I see this story as the way the Space Program would have proceeded if everyone in the world were Canadian. A good read, but don't expect action.

70 people found this helpful

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  • LoriAnne Hacker
  • 2019-02-07

Not easy to listen to the whiny main character.

Not a fan of listening to whining women, apologizing for being competent humans. The 1950 housewife or the stereotype of that woman is best left in the past not in a Sci Fi book.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Mean Jane
  • 2018-07-27

Super impressed

Wonderful attention to detail, phenomenal voice acting, and wonderful characters. My only quibble is that it does sag in the middle as the story turns from the meteor strike and space race to the main character dealing with her anxiety. It does pick up again and finishes with a bang. Highly recommended.

69 people found this helpful

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  • Karen
  • 2018-10-16

Promising story, cringeworthy main character ...

This story had promise and if you like romance novels with an intellectual undertone this might be for you. (I'm not a fan of romance novels so I can't say for sure.) I found the main character way too whiny. While her issues were justifiably real and I appreciate that ... it was the method they were delivered that I disliked. I am curious whether I would have the same impression of the main character as whiny if I had read rather than listened to the book. It is possible that this is more a narration rather than a story issue ... so I'll give the book the benefit of the doubt there. The other possibility is that this is simply how women in the 1950s behaved and that this is a more accurate representation than other books. If so, I guess it is a good thing I was not around then. I probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble.

65 people found this helpful

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  • Richard Bruno
  • 2018-10-01

Never achieves lift off

So very disappointing. An interesting alternate history premise, but a deeply awkward and clunky execution. Infuriating, repetitive, formulaic. Every now and then there are whiffs of originality and creativity (like when, in listing a group of new astronauts, the familiar names of actual Mercury and Gemini astronauts are included, without calling any attention to the fact), but these moments are rare. And the obsessive and obligatory (but, of course, socially sanctioned) sex scenes between the protagonist and her husband are excruciating as they strive to call up every rocket launch innuendo that they can. Eew. The author reads her own work, which doesn't help matters. Over the top narration and exaggerated characterizations.

87 people found this helpful

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  • Shykim
  • 2018-08-17

Wanted to love it

There is a difference between reading and narrating. The author is OK at reading, but a complete amateur as a narrator. Her attempts at accents are painful - and distracting. The characters, with the exception of the protagonist, are stereotypical and one dimensional. The protagonist is also a stereotype. She is what medicine used to described as a female hysteric. And yet, she is supposed to be a brilliant mathematician with 2 advanced degrees from Stanford, a child prodigy, and an accomplished pilot. Finally, she comes across as helpless, whiny and immature. I suspect that the author may be trying to set her main character up for growth and change in the next book in the series, if so she overplayed her hand. This book might be better if you read it rather than listen. Between the amateurish delivery and the whiny, pathetic marin character, the audio version is just annoying.

80 people found this helpful

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  • sbsd13
  • 2018-09-25

awkward sex scenes ruin message

I didn't like this as much as Ghost Talkers. Mostly bc the character isn't as likeable and all she and her husband seem to do is exchange rocket ship sexual euphemisms before they bone. If I hear that "his engines were firing" one more time, I quit. (this was about 75% through). But no, the “rockets firing” sex analogies didn’t quit. I did keep going though and read till the end. The women’s empowerment, mental illness, and racial equality storylines were cheapened by the foibles of the main character and the attempts to make Elma seem sexy and empowered by showing that she liked sex. How do we know she liked sex? Oh, because she talked about her husband’s genitals in rocket ship terminology. Of course! Completely accurate and representative. Best parts when the “lady astronaut” was actually doing things like flying a plane and solving flight trajectories, and I wish Kowal had made those parts the majority of the book.

47 people found this helpful

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  • Aubrey Reese
  • 2019-05-17

Had so much potential to be great-BUT

I was so excited to listen to this book. It had so much potential to hit many complicated and interesting topics but was ultimately very bland. It was chock full of simple annoying characters with no depth and loads of unrealistic scenarios. I kept catching myself thinking get it together b!&$#, the world is ending but we (the listeners) are stuck hearing you gripe about your stage fright and how hard growing up was with a powerful father and gifted mathematic abilities, poor thing! Not to mention, all the support needed to earn a PHD as a women during WW2. All in all I'd say life had been very kind to our lady astronaut but she still wines and complains at every opportunity and crumples when ever any person (man or woman) disrespects or disagrees with her-barf. Lastly, why the heck is her husband so shocked she encounters sexism around every corner? It's 1952- it's everywhere and the norm. Realistically the shock should of been her drive to have more then the domestic life. Could of been so good but left much to be desired and with a urg to poke most of the main characters in the eye.

16 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Alex Levine
  • 2018-07-27

Close to perfect

I am a literary nit-picker. I can't really help it. When I read a historical novel, part of me is always hunting for inaccuracies, and when I read an alternate history novel, that same part is always hunting for premise-breaking implausibilities. For me to really, really enjoy an alternate history, it has to either be entirely free of such defects, or pretty damn amazing, so amazing that my nit-picking module shuts down. This book is pretty damn amazing. The amazingness has many facets, of which I can only mention a few. The first is its timeliness, appearing as it does just two years after Margot Lee Shetterly's wonderful "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race," along with the movie it inspired. Shetterly's book helped bring overdue attention to the contributions Black woman mathematicians, employed as computers, made to the American space program, when the electronic digital computing revolution was in its infancy. In our timeline, their efforts were supplemented by electronic computers as the technology improved, and a state-of-the-art electronic computer traveled to the moon with Armstrong and Aldrin. It may not have worked very well, but it was ready in time to make the trip. In the timeline of this book, the American space program gets its start ten years earlier than in ours, and vast investment spurs most of the necessary technologies to advance more over the course of the 1950s than ours did over the 1960s. The one exception is electronic digital computing, which appears to be no further along in the 1955 of this book than it was in our own 1955. Suppose space program managers realize that astronauts may need to solve unforeseen problems in orbital mechanics on the fly. Suppose, further, that the best way to obtain a quick, accurate solution to such problems is to consult a skilled human with paper, pencil, and slide rule. Finally, suppose that the most skilled such humans are women. We have a recipe for a narrative in which, rather than lagging well behind the rest of 20th Century American Society in its lurching, uneven progress toward gender equality, the space program leads the way. Our heroine and first-personal protagonist is, as we would expect, an extraordinary individual. But she is NOT a "steely-eyed missile man" in drag. She has payed a serious, even crippling price for having succeeded in a string of male-dominated fields, and her struggle to shoulder that baggage is perhaps the most compelling aspect of her more general struggle. She is also a woman of her time and place, one who has developed her strategies for selectively ignoring numerous small injustices, and for coping with those she cannot ignore. This is NOT an idealized crusader for women and minorities anachronistically written back into a society that no time for such people. She is a completely believable person who has learned how to pick her battles. She is surrounded by an equally believable supporting cast. I won't sully this review by rehearsing any of the small number of nits I have picked. Read the book, or better yet listen to it in the author's expert narration.

79 people found this helpful

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  • Marie Balon
  • 2019-11-06

FANTASTIC

Awesome badass clever women fighting to go to space and save humanity of a global climate disaster? Yes, a million times yes. Beautifully written and read.