Book review of The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

What the publisher says:

TheFatedSkyMary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

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.

My thoughts:

The Calculating Stars began with the impact of the meteorite. The Fated Sky kicks things into gear with a hostage-taking.

Dr. Elma York, Lady Astronaut and calculator is returning from the moon, a journey that has become routine, when a problem during re-entry sends them off course and into a crash landing. They have to wait for the retrieval crew to find them, but a group of PoC Earth Firsters discover them before the IAC.

Elma manages to diffuse the situation, but the IAC cannot ignore the opportunity to capitalize on the resulting media coverage and places Elma on the first Mars mission, displacing fellow calculator, Helen, who has been training with the rest of the crew for months already.

The rest of the crew resent the substitution and Elma must face the impact her privilege has on the mission. Though she tries to make amends, becoming an ally is not so simple.

Complicating matters, Elma and her husband Nathaniel have to make a decision about their future. If Elma goes to Mars, a round trip that will take years, the chances that they’ll be able to have children upon her return will be greatly reduced. But Mars is Elma’s dream.

Then there’s the Mission’s commander, Stetson Parker, with whom Elma has a complicated history. His misogyny is legendary as is his hatred of Elma. They’ll be in close quarters for the duration of the mission.

And what about Elma’s anxiety? Can she manage it successfully on the journey?

Once they’re underway, though, and beyond the point of return, it becomes apparent that someone is sabotaging the mission.

Kowal has written a wonderful sequel to The Calculating Stars. Her characters continue to be complex and flawed. Even Stetson Parker is not all that he seems. He’s still a horrible person, but he gains dimension. Nathaniel continues to be Elma’s anchor and touchstone and their relationship is an inspiration.

Elma struggles with her limitations and failings, but ultimately, she and her crewmates come together to work the problem and find a solution. Despite the cover, (spoiler warning) Elma doesn’t get to set foot on Mars, but the denouement is no less satisfying for the disappointment.

My rating:

Five out of five stars!