Here’s the deal: This is about an alternative 1950’s USA where a meteorite strikes Chesapeake Bay, creating an artificial years-long winter, and then a greenhouse effect that will make the Earth unliveable–so the space program gets a jump start.
Specifically, this is the story of “The Lady Astronaut” who is a an ex-WASP pilot and computer for the rocket program her engineer husband works for.
If you liked Hidden Figures, you should read Calculating Stars. The Alternative stuff is scientifically interesting, but the everyday real-life stuff portrayed in this book: navigating gender/anti-semitism, racial issues is really well done and feels true to life from that period of USA history. Elma has to swallow down alot of powerful men keeping her from using her amazing skills. She also has to deal with crippling anxiety.
I took a quick look at other reviews before I wrote my own (but not before reading the book) and I have to say that the complaints I read about the science in this book in other reviews leaves me a little bit wondering if some of the same issues Elma deals with in her quest to become an Astronaut aren’t somewhat in play here, as well.
Kowal may not be a rocket scientist, but she does a good job of making science, rocket jargon, the pressures of calculating orbits and re-entry, and all that seem very, very real and believable to a layperson like me.
There is a little bit of wholesome fade-to-black romance-within-a-marriage between Elma and her husband, and a somewhat emotionally light political awakening on Elma’s part towards her Chinese and Black female pilot friends. But Elma’s emotional heart stays true to a kind of naive innocence about the wonder of the world.
I wish the hints about Elma’s nemesis, Parker (the male Astronaut who she reported for harassment during the war and now faces as her main obstacle to becoming part of the rocket program) came to more fruition in this book, and I also wish that the jump between Elma’s first mission and the moon base development wasn’t so abrupt. Now I have to go get the next book to find out what happens!