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!

Advertisements

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Sept 29-Oct 5, 2019

A substantial curation of stuff to get your mental corn popping.

Claire Landsbaum interviews Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey on how far #metoo has yet to go. Vanity Fair

Teresa Write and Bob Weber: names of children who died in residential schools released in sombre ceremony. CTV News

Jason Lyons says that to pay attention, the brain uses filters, not a spotlight. Quanta Magazine

Chelsea Wald: why red means red in almost every language. Nautilus

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian says, the dream of open borders is real—in Svalbard. The Nation

Dan Charles: how Penn State is cutting greenhouse gas emissions and saving money. NPR

Brian Fagan recounts the bizarre 77,000-year history of the bed. Quartz

Ian Campbell reports on the continuing outrage that “hallway healthcare” continues at Health Sciences North. CTV News

Ashley Strickland has hope for the first all-female space walk scheduled for later this month. CNN

It’s black hole week on SciShow Space news: is the hypothetical “Planet 9” actually a primordial black hole? And … the assassin black hole (that’s not sinister at all, is it?).

Dr. Becky shares all of the latest discoveries about Jupiter’s aurora that Juno has facilitated. And the outtakes at the end are hilarious 🙂

And Physics Girl gets to see the world’s largest optical lens (going in the LSST).

Brendan I Koerner: how cities reshape the evolutionary path of urban wildlife. Wired

Kelly Richmond-Abdou tells the tale of a couple who spent 20 years replanting a forest for animals to return to. My Modern Met

Mario L. Major reports on the Australian stingless bees building stunning spiral hives (and no one’s quite sure why). Interesting Engineering

Jason Bittel lists five animals with amazing senses. Popular Science

Cats in therapy from the ever entertaining Ze Frank.

Thank you for the visit and I hope you found something to entertain or inspire your next creative project.

Be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

ThoughtyThursday2019

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 29-Oct 5, 2019

A nice, compact batch of informal writerly learnings, this week.

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes list ten character traits of an espionage hero. Later in the week, Janice Hardy stops by and explains what happens when your plot hides behind the details. Writers in the Storm

K.M. Weiland poses five questions to help you choose a protagonist who represents your story’s theme. Helping Writers Become Authors

Nancy Johnson asks, is your book done yet? Donald Maass explores the making of a hero or heroine. Bryn Greenwood talks about what happens after your dreams come true. Cathy Yardley: dare to deliver. Writer Unboxed

Tamar Sloan dig into writerly procrastination, why it happens, and how to break free of it. Then, Angela Ackerman wonders, how do you know if your protagonist is strong enough? Writers Helping Writers

How to write a strong protagonist. Reedsy

Leanne Sowul explains how to find your writing purpose. And here’s my latest Speculations column: five ways to rock NaNoWriMo. DIY MFA

Robert Lee Brewer sorts out the distinctions between imminent, immanent, and eminent. Writer’s Digest

Chris Winkle: six rape tropes and how to replace them. Then, Oren Ashkenazi examines siege warfare before gunpowder. Mythcreants

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found something to help you wrestle your work in progress into shape.

Be well until Thursday!

Tipsday2019

The next chapter: September 2019 update

Ah, October. My favourite month, mostly ‘cause my birthday 🙂 Yes. I’m a child.

The month in writing

We’re just going to get right to it.

SeptProgress

I made the decision to post only two book reviews this month (though one was of two novellas), and so I was a bit short of my blogging goal. 5,071 words of my 5,600-word goal, or 91%.

I got my latest Speculations written and submitted early because I headed down to Toronto for a day-job learning event. I wrote 1,327 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 133%.

I wrote all of 50 new words on short story number two and revised 41 words on short story number one. Even with a meagre 500-word goal for each, that was 10% and 8% respectively.

I went through the poetry collection again. This one, I decided to track by the number of poems revised. 51 of 51, or 100%. I have one more pass to make before the collection is ready for submission. I hope to get that done this month.

I got my second rejection on my poetry. Will send out more submissions.

In non-tracking projects, the read-through of Ascension continues. I’m almost finished with book three and will move onto book for this month.

I’m also 31 handwritten pages into revision notes for the SF novel that didn’t know what it was. It’s shaping up and I should be ready for my stint as a NaNo rebel next month.

I’ve also critiqued another project for my online critique group and have moved on to another.

One thing I’ve learned in the past few months is that you can still be a working writer, even if you’re not producing a lot of words. Not all writing is writing. Sometimes it’s reading, critiquing, planning, and thinking. You have to make space for all of it.

Filling the well

No writerly events in September, but I did get together with a couple of writer friends for and evening of Thai food and chat. It was just what I needed to refresh and refocus.

No pictures. Sorry.

Here are a few of my random photos from the last month instead 🙂

What I’m watching and reading

This month, Phil and I watched Carnival Row. We enjoyed the gritty, alternate world, the murder mystery wrapped up in a tragic origin story, and cheesy prophecy trope. It was nice how most of the story elements were connected to the main plot and so, as events unfolded, the characters developed and changed accordingly.

The final season of Killjoys came to an end in September as well. I didn’t appreciate all the creative choices that were made in this final season. Several of them felt forced, or worse, contrived. The series has always been more fun than philosophical, though, and things ended well.

I finished watching the first season of The Order. It really didn’t know what it wanted to be. Magical university? Werewolf story? Magical revenge tale? Things were tied together loosely, and the ending was disappointing. The titular order erases the memories of the werewolves and steals all their artefacts and research library. Really, I was left wondering why I should care.

Finally, The OA. The first season kind of ruined me with the second to last episode. When the box of incriminating books was found and everyone basically abandoned Prairie, deciding that she must be crazy/delusional, it completely undermined everything that happened in the final episode. Having broken my credibility, the series could not restore it. I basically went through the motions to finish watching, because I prefer to have a complete picture.

I wasn’t going to watch the second season, but I wanted to see how they could possibly move forward. And, honestly, it wasn’t horrible. The second season suffered from some of the same issues as the first, however. I watched it with a sceptic’s eye, distrusting everything the creators asked me to take on faith. Again, things were building to a climax and then, Pairie/Nina and Hap end up jumping to a universe in which they are Brit Marling and Jason Isaacs on a movie set. Oh, yeah. Though Michelle’s soul was retrieved by detective Karim, there was no real resolution for those left behind in the first universe, or for Homer, who finally remembered who he was but was trapped in the second.

I’m glad there won’t be a season three. At least, that’s the word on the interwebz at the moment.

Reading wise, I finished Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers, in which a corps of mediums help the allies in an alternate WWII. Loved. Kowal has indicated that she would like to revisit the world, but her Lady Astronaut books are demanding her time and creative energy at the moment.

I also finished Matthew Hughes’ What the Wind Brings, which he unabashedly calls his magnum opus. This was historical fiction, and I reviewed it last month.

Sarah Gailey’s A Taste of Marrow was next, and I enjoyed this second novella in her alternate America inspired by a strange-but-true plan to import hippos. This was my second posted book review last month and I looked at both novellas, which have been combined in one volume as American Hippo.

After I finished watching the last season of The Handmaid’s Tale, I finally read the book that inspired the series. I enjoyed the book more than some of Atwood’s others, I have to say, though it does share some of the aspects that I found problematic. June is another unreliable narrator, but why wouldn’t she be? The June of the book is never dependably identified by that name, though there is some speculation in the symposium appended to the end of the novel. She lives in fear, far more fear than Elizabeth Moss portrays in the series. She’s far less empowered. June is, essentially, a slave. It makes for an oddly distanced read.

Finally, I read Sean Carroll’s Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, which I enjoyed though much of the content was over my head. Frankly, it blew my mind a bit. I read this one for research. It ties into the SF novel I want to revise.

Again, selected reviews will be forthcoming.

And that was September in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Sept 22-28, 2019

Welcome back! It’s time to get your mental corn popping.

Michael Hobbes: everything you know about obesity is wrong. Huffington Post

Arvin Ash explains why we dream.

Erin Brunch explains how the “feelings wheel” reveals the complexity of your emotion. Confession: I was more interested in this for character development rather than personal development. Well and Good

SciShow Space news considered the impact (pun intended) of an ancient asteroid on Earth and the possibilities for feeding people on Mars.

Joe Pappalardo takes a squirm-inducing look at the parasites trying to control our brains. Popular Mechanics

Melissa Kent: Autumn Pelletier tells world leaders to “warrior up” to protect water. CBC

Paige Embry reports on the honeybee’s most fearsome enemy. UnDark

Michael S.A. Graziano considers the octopus: an alien among us. Literary Hub

Ze Frank gives us the True Facts of the ogre-faced spider.

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Database, Will Feature Works by 600+ Overlooked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Centuries. Open Culture

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you found something to inform or inspire you next creative project.

Until next tipsday, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

ThoughtyThursday2019

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 22-28, 2019

Welcome to October, when everything is pumpkin spice! And thus, I must inflict upon you the guinea pigs:

Now that you’ve survived that, please enjoy some informal writerly learnings.

Janice Hardy helps you figure out which opening works best in a novel. Then, she hopes you don’t let your plot hijack your story. Fiction University

Susan Spann wants you to throw your writing from the train. Heather Webb offers some do’s and don’ts of writing query letters. Writer Unboxed

Lori Freeland lists the up and down sides of critique groups. Writers in the Storm

K.M. Weiland says, if you’re struggling to be creative, this might be why. Helping Writers Become Authors

Joanna Penn interviews Jen Louden about trusting your creativity and choosing yourself. The Creative Penn

Sara Letourneau differentiates between topic and theme. Richelle Lyn offers five steps to creating your writing wind up (setting the stage for a productive writing session). DIY MFA

Nathan Bransford wants you to let the reader diagnose your characters.

Kris Kennedy returns to Jami Gold’s blog with the fifth and final part of the avoid infodumping by making backstory essential series.

Jenna Moreci shares her top ten science fiction tropes.

Gavin Hurley looks at effective repetition in writing as demonstrated by A Song of Ice and Fire. Writer’s Digest

Thank you for taking the time to visit. I hope you took away something for your current work in progress.

Until Thursday, be well, my writerly friends!

Tipsday2019

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Sept 15-21, 2019

It’s the usual mixed bag, this Thursday. I hope you find something here to inspire your next creative project.

Nina Munteanu shares five perspectives on humanity’s relationship to our forests.

Maya Wei-Haas: mysterious waves have been pulsing across Oklahoma. National Geographic

Matthew Green introduces us to three young women racing to defuse a carbon bomb in the arctic: the climate hunters. Reuters

Stephen Kinzer recounts the secret history of Fort Dietrick, the CIA’s base for mind control experiments. Politico

Sarah Harvey suggests trying Japan’s Kaizen method to cure insomnia and sleep anxiety. Stylist

Dr. Becky considers the engraved hourglass nebula.

Veritasium looks at the Planet 9 hypothesis.

And PBS Space Time weighs the possibilities for terraforming Mars.

Dave Linkletter reveals the ten toughest math problems ever solved. Popular Mechanics

Finally, SciShow introduces us to a snail that makes its own armour (!)

Sara Barnes shows how a natural phenomenon transforms Christian Spenser’s hummingbird photographs into rainbows. My Modern Met

Thanks for stopping by and popping your mental corn with me.

Until next tipsday, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

ThoughtyThursday2019

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 15-21, 2019

Here we are, officially in the fall. Take the time to enjoy the turning leaves and the delicious smells of the season. And, of course, spoil yourself with some informal writerly learnings.

Vaughn Roycroft is using theme to leverage revision. Julie Carrick Dalton hopes no one will notice. Writer Unboxed

K.M. Weiland critiques another brave writer to demonstrate ten ways to write excellent dialogue. Helping Writers Become Authors

Susan de Freitas points out three things you won’t learn from an MFA program. Jane Friedman

Joanna Penn interviews James Scott Bell about writing unforgettable endings. Then, Harrison Demchick offers you four ideas to help authors revise a first draft. The Creative Penn

Chris Winkle returns with the fourth aspect of goal-oriented storytelling: satisfaction. Writers Helping Writers

Jenna Moreci offers her top ten tips on character arcs.

Nathan Bransford offers six ways to build intimacy between characters. Later in the week, he asks, are you creating a mystery, or are you just being vague?

Jenn Walton shares three ways to find inspiration at a writing conference (or any work event). DIY MFA

Jenny Hansen wants you to find and share your story’s theme. Writers in the Storm

Chuck Wendig explains how to be a professional author and not die screaming and starving in a lightless abyss. Terribleminds

Jami Gold helps you figure out how to build your story with chapters, scenes, or both. Then, Kris Kennedy returns with part four of her avoid infodumping by making backstory essential series.

Bunny discusses choosing a follow-up strategy for a popular story. Then, Oren Ashkenazi shares five ways to handle parents without killing them. Mythcreants

Robert Lee Brewer advises writers regarding spacing between sentences. Writer’s Digest

Daniel Ross Goodman shows us the haunting magic of Maurice Sendak. National Review

Thank you for visiting. I hope you found something you need to move your work in progress forward.

Until Thursday, be well!

Tipsday2019

Book review of River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

I decided to review both of Sarah Gailey’s novellas—currently collected in the volume American Hippo—in one post.

What the publisher says:

River of Teeth:RiverofTeeth

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

TasteofMarrowTaste of Marrow:

A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.

Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”

In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.

My thoughts:

River of Teeth:

A delightful premise, a diverse cast of characters, and a heckuva lot of interpersonal conflict made this novella an enjoyable read. It’s basically a Mississippian western with hippos. A southern? It’s also a caper plot, something that the characters debate at length, much to the reader’s amusement.

Winslow Houndstooth once had a hippo ranch until it was burned to the ground with his beloved hippos inside and he was forced to leave that idyllic life behind and resume a less reputable one. He’s taken on a commission from the government to blow up the dam that keeps feral hippos trapped in the Mississippi so that the river can be reclaimed for travel and commerce. The owner of a riverboat uses the ferals for his own nefarious ends, however, and he’s not interested in letting Houndstooth and his crew achieve their goal.

And Houndstooth has ulterior motivation: the riverboat owner is also the man responsible for the destruction of his ranch. If he and his crew complete the commission, he can also exact his revenge.

Taste of Marrow:

This novella continues the story of Houndstooth and his crew after the events of River of Teeth. While the dam was destroyed, the chaotic events leading up to that qualified success leave Houndstooth and his crew scattered. Houndstooth is obsessed with finding his lover Hero, denying the possibility that they may be dead. The one crew member with him, Archie, worries for Houndstooth’s sanity.

Meanwhile, Hero travels with Adelia the—retired, she insists—assassin, believing that Houndstooth was blown up along with the dam. With Hero and Adelia is Adelia’s newborn Isabel and when their erstwhile employer kidnaps Isabel to coerce Adelia out of retirement for a very special assassination, it sets Houndstooth and Archie, Hero and Adelia, and the federal Marshall who’s been trying to bring Adelia to justice, on a collision course in Baton Rouge.

My ratings:

Four out of five stars for both!