Friday, 9 November 2018

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal is the sequel to The Calculating Stars, which I read and reviewed immediately prior. The Fated Sky takes place a few years after the end of The Calculating Stars and continues to follow Elma in first person. This review will contain some spoilers for the first book, but not more than if you’ve already read "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" novelette.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

This was an interesting sequel. It follows a very similar overall structure to the first book but rather than striving to get into space, the goal posts have shifted to Mars. Various social problems from the first book still exist to create barriers for Elma and some of her friends. While the extreme sexism has been loosened up by the passage of time and the obvious need for (female) computers to calculate orbits and trajectories, the racism has been ramped up a notch. This was, of course, a problem that existed in the first book and that was highlighted through Elma’s friendship with Myrtle and others. But now, with the introduction of a pro-apartheid South African character, everything feels worse. This book highlights a lot of the racial problems from the 60s and, in doing so, is not a comfortable read. Elma tried to do her best but, as we are often reminded, she is still a white woman. (And the laundry in space thing made me angry.)

I didn’t comment on the science when I reviewed the first book because there wasn’t anything that jumped out at me as being wrong or suspicious. In this second book there’s a little bit more to comment on, though nothing especially dire. I am a little sceptical about the use of human computers, although it’s probably more or less possible for what they’re doing, in a terrifying sort of way. The one aspect of that which particularly made me raise an eyebrow was using a sextant to sight on starts to get their position. Not because there’s anything wrong with the method but because I couldn’t help thinking that if they missed their launch window and had to delay the mission, they would have to retain to sight along a different set of stars. (They would also have time to do that, so it’s not exactly a huge problem, I just found it a little alarming.) the biggest issue, for me, was the washing machines, dryers and ovens they had aboard each of the ships going to Mars. The amount of energy those use! Especially back in the 60s when energy efficiency wasn’t a star rating on your white goods (I think). Wiki tells me they probably had solar power, even back then, but still! Think of the excess heat those machines produce! I suppose this is more an expression of horror than a complaint.

Anyway, The Fated Sky was another excellent read and I remain invested in this series. I am delighted that more books are on the way and I look forward to reading them when I can. (In the mean time I’m going to go back and reread the novelette that sparked this world.) It’s possible to read The Fated Sky without having read The Calculating Stars, but I think reading them in order will give a more enjoyable experience. I recommend this series to fans of science fiction, the development of space travel and the social history surrounding space flight development.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2018, Tor
Series: Yes. Lady Astronaut book 2 of 2 so far (with at least 2 more coming)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Apple Books

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