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!

Book review of The Calculating Stars

What Amazon says:

TheCalculatingStarsOn a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. 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.

My thoughts:

I loved this novel not only for the author’s reimagining of the space program, but for her unflinching examination of gender equality, racism, and mental health, all of which are pivotal to her plot.

Elma York, a calculator and former WASP pilot in the second world war, and her husband, a lead engineer with NACA, witness the meteorite strike that takes out most of the east coast while they are out of town. Their home along with Washington DC and NACA headquarters are destroyed.

The nation’s capital is moved to Kansas where, in the wake of the strike, the first order of business is to convince the newly formed government of the meteorite’s longer-term effects, including rendering Earth inimical to continued human existence. They have to establish colonies off-world to ensure humanity’s survival.

As the new space program, under the oversight of the International Aeronautics Coalition moves forward, forces of opposition in the form of Earth First rise and seek to reallocate all government funding to supporting the meteor refugees and helping to keep Earth sustainable, sometimes violently.

Elma strives to have women included in the space program—the ultimate goal is settlement, is it not?—and inadvertently becomes a celebrity as one of the first “astronettes.” As the Lady Astronaut, she must make public appearances as well as enduring astronaut training while coping with severe social anxiety.

She becomes aware of the discrimination against astronauts of colour and struggles to overcome her embedded prejudices and become an ally for her new friends. The “I” in IAC does stand for international.

Kowal’s characters are complex and flawed, as are the relationships between them. The Yorks are in a committed marriage and their relationship is real and messy and wonderful. The Lindholms have their own different, but no less challenging marriage. Elma’s friendships with the other women astronauts aren’t easy, but they’re stronger for their conflicts. Her relationship with Betty, who is—and always will be—a journalist first, is particularly fraught.

Elma has a complicated history with the lead astronaut, Stetson Parker, who was her CO during the war. He’s misogynist and preyed upon the younger women WASPs. Elma reported him. The fact that he’s once more in a position of authority over her and the rest of the women astronauts causes Elma further problems.

Aside from the initial meteorite hit, there are plane crashes, rocket crashes, natural disasters and action aplenty, just in case you think the above descriptions make The Calculating Stars sound too much like a character study. It’s that, and so much more.

The novel has won the Nebula and Locus awards and tonight, it may win a Hugo.

You don’t have to take my word for it, but I give The Calculating Stars my highest recommendation.

My rating:

Five out of five stars.

Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, July 14-20, 2019

It’s time to get your mental corn popping. Let’s get started with some lunacy in honour of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing 🙂

Alexandra Witze says these young scientists will shape moon research for the next 50 years. Nature

Eli Glasner talks to astronauts about which movies have “the right stuff.” CBC

Proof that Sudbury was mentioned on the moon. We live up here

Nicole Mortillaro: Sudbury was a stand-in for the moon and other, little-known (Canadian) things about the Apollo program. CBC

Veritasium looks at why astronauts also trained at a nuclear test site.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske explains how the women of NASA made their mark on the space program. LA Times

And … from Mary Robinette Kowal: to make it to the moon, women have to escape Earth’s gender bias. The New York Times

Alexander Rose wants to make something that lasts 10,000 years. BBC

Mark Gollom report on how Zoe the police dog sniffed out two missing girls in Algonquin Park. CBC

Laura Staugaitis shares the shadowed beauty of DAKU’s “Theory of Time” street installation. This is Colossal

Viktorija Gabulaité and Jonas Grinevičius introduce us to Australia, AKA, the land of nope. Bored Panda

Thank you for taking the time to visit, and I hope you found some inspiration for your next creative project (or a current one).

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

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Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, Apr 7-13, 2019

I’ve got a bunch of resources here to get your mental corn popping.

Akshat Rathi: how we get to the next big battery breakthrough. Quartz

James Griffiths warns that Welsh and Hawaiian have been saved from extinction, but other languages may not be so lucky. CNN

Sandee LaMotte reports on the 99-year-old woman with all her organs in the wrong places. CNN

Jonathan D. Grinstein reveals a new way to detect Parkinson’s—by smell. Scientific American

Karen Weintraub: the adult brain does grow new neurons, after all. Scientific American

Antonio Regalado reports that doctors plan to test a gene therapy that could prevent Alzheimer’s. MIT Technology Review

It’s okay to be smart … about the AMAZING monarch butterfly.

 

To save the monarch butterfly, scientists are moving a forest 1,000 feet up a mountain. Kate Linthicum for the LA Times.

Before the image was released, Veritasium explains what it will look like and why (damned awesome, ‘cause he’s right on the money).

 

Mary Beth Griggs: see the first ever image of a supermassive black hole. The Verge

Natalie Grontcharova gives us a more complete picture: meet Katie Bouman, the woman behind the first image of a black hole. Refinery 29

After the image was released, Veritasium released a second video:

 

Mary Robinette Kowal: if space is the future, that future needs to include everyone. The Washington Post

Kate Sierzputowski shows us the Utrecht apartment transformed into a three storey tromp l’oeil bookcase. This is Colossal

Thanks for dropping by and I hope you found something to inspire a new creative project.

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

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Mar 17-23, 2019

Here is your weekly batch of informal writerly learnings. Enjoy 🙂

K.M. Weiland wants you to find your thematic principle. Helping Writers Become Authors

Vaughn Roycroft, inspired by Jo Eberhardt’s last post, writes about layers of antagonism and why you should embrace them. Dave King: the lessons of genre. “In fact, here’s a dirty little secret: literary fiction often behaves like just another genre.” Julie Carrick Dalton looks at novel writing intensives as an alternative to the MA. Stephanie Cowell explores her novelist’s journey: the ghost worlds within me. Writer Unboxed

Chris Winkle: narrating a close point of view. Mythcreants

Chris Winkle produces the next instalment in the goal-oriented storytelling series: novelty. Then, Sara Letourneau has a helpful strategy if you’re struggling with flashbacks: try using the PAST method. Writers Helping Writers

Lisa Cooper Ellison offers a primer on schmoozing for introverts: how to network like a pro. Then, Barbara Linn Probst stops by to talk about beta readers: who, when, why, and so what? Jane Friedman

Mary Robinette Kowal shares some great advice for debut authors: so, you’ve been nominated for an award …  She follows up with another pithy piece on status and hierarchy shifts. Check out the series navigation links. This stuff is GOLD.

Helen J. Darling is helping you build your publishing team: your cover designer. DIY MFA

Alexa Donne muddles through the middle.

 

Janice Hardy digs into her archives for this fun test to check your scene’s narrative drive. Fiction University

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes (better known as Bayard & Holmes) help you figure out which firearms can’t be silenced. Then, Margie Lawson drops by to discuss creating compelling cadence. Writers in the Storm

Angela Ackerman visits Jami Gold’s blog: creating characters who clash.

Jenna Moreci helps you identify your category (not genre).

 

Bryan E. Robinson, PhD shares eight ways to stay mentally fit and mindful during the writing process. Writer’s Digest

Nina Munteanu: surfing Schumann’s wave and catching the ion spray. Everything in life is vibration.

And that was Tipsday.

Hope you found something that will take your craft to a new level. Come back on Thursday for some thoughty.

Until then, be well!

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The next chapter: October 2018 and #NaNoWriMo week 1 update

Sooo…. I didn’t have the time on Wednesday to prepare this post and schedule it. And then NaNoWriMo started. And then Wordstock Sudbury started.

Accordingly, this will be a very brief update and combined with m week 1 NaNoWriMo check in.

My main project for October was to complete the outline for Tamisashki and I’m happy to say that work was completed Wednesday night.

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Because the outline is written in a notebook, I didn’t count the words. Further, I did a more rambling, draft version for each plot line, so it’s over double the word count of the final product. I’m better prepared to finish NaNo this year, though, and better prepared to finish the draft in the months following.

OctProgress

I wrote 4,528 words on this blog, which is 162% of my 2,800-word goal, and I submitted my DIY MFA column on time at 1,079 words (it’s coming out Tuesday), or 108% of my 1,000-word goal.

While there were no writing-related events in October, Phil and I did attend the 50th birthday celebration for our friend, Mark Kuntsi.

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Timing is everything with NaNo and for the past three years, the Wordstock Sudbury Literary festival has been on the first weekend in November. I do support the event and I make the time to attend, but that means sacrificing NaNo time.

I also signed up for Mary Robinette Kowal’s No-prep NaNoWriMo workshop, which was on Monday night. Though I’ve outlined, I figured having additional tools at my disposal (because I always, ALWAYS diverge from the outline) would be good. I also dig Mary’s strategies. Though I’ve heard many of them before, the reinforcement is always useful.

After the workshop, she stayed online for a group writing session which I didn’t participate in. I’d managed to write 1,758 words already that day and felt good about that progress.

On Friday, I attended Sarah Selecky’s book club about her new novel, Radiant, Shimmering, Light. I’ve been subscribed to her newsletter for years and found the concept—the commodification of self-care and how it affects two women, cousins, who navigate the social media minefield—and bought the book (of course).

Then, I attended a session on telling a good story with Waubgeshik Rice and Lee Maracle, two indigenous writers, moderated by Will Morin.

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I wrote 1,290 words on Friday.

On Saturday, I attended Alternate Realities, a session with Brit Griffin and Elan Mastai, both authors of speculative fiction. the discussion was moderated by CBC‘s Morning North’s host, Marcus Schwabe.

I then personned the Sudbury Writers’ Guild table until 5 pm, helped Dave Wickenden pack up, and went to supper with my dear friend, Kim Fahner, who gifted me with this lovely, lovely, handmade journal.

I managed only 690 words yesterday.

Here’s my book haul…

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Today, I’m off to the launch of Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli’s La Brigantessa, an historical novel set in the aftermath of Italy’s 1861 Unification.

Will update you next week about the launch and my NaNo progress for the week. I’m back to the day job for most of it.

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

The Next Chapter

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 15-21, 2018

You made it through Monday! Time to reward yourself with some informal writerly learnings 🙂

K.M. Weiland: how to write unique themes. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jan O’Hara offers you her guide to hacking the optimal writing environment. Writer Unboxed

Margaret Dilloway shares her thoughts on how to write while the world’s burning down. Writer Unboxed

Andrew Wood shares his five steps to create a perfect fantasy world. Later in the week, Janice Hardy lists four signs that you might be confusing, and not intriguing, your readers in your opening scene. Fiction university

Jeff Vandermeer imparts his best tips for cultivating creativity from the world around you. Writer’s Digest

Lisa Cron says, there will be blood (or your story may be in deep trouble). Writers Helping Writers

Sara Letourneau helps you recognize themes at each stage of the writing process. Later in the week, Lisa E. Betz lists five story blunders and the secrets to avoiding them. DIY MFA

And here’s my latest DIY MFA column on mythic structure: The Virgin’s Promise, part two.

Lisa Hall-Wilson explains how to use deep POV without tying and anchor to your novel’s pace. Writers in the Storm

Chris Winkle explains why we shouldn’t be fighting over trigger warnings. Then, Oren Ashkenazi reviews five common worldbuilding mistakes. Mythcreants

T.J. Berry talks about her favourite bit of Space Unicorn Blues. Mary Robinette Kowal

And that was Tipsday.

Come back on Thursday for some thoughty.

Until then, be well.

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 8-14, 2018

Another week, another batch of informal writerly learnings.

K.M. Weiland says, don’t let anyone tell you how to write, or, eight tips for learning responsibly. Helping Writers Become Authors

Greer Macallister tries some reverse psychology: how to write bad characters. Writer Unboxed

Keith Cronin: if I know then what I know now. Writer Unboxed

Juliet Marillier says that the magical formula is setting priorities. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Craft: when perspective is the story. Writer Unboxed

Gwen Hernandez shows you how to compile a docx in Scrivener 3. Writer Unboxed

Kathryn Magendie: hey! Let’s all celebrate the madness! Writer Unboxed

Tamar Sloan shares five things writers need to know about characters with mental illness. PsychWriter

Roz Morris has some advice for shy writers: feel the fear and put yourself out there. Nail Your Novel

Sacha Black: how do you lead readers to your theme? Writers Helping Writers

Piper Bayard explains how to nail the character of an espionage hero for your spy novel. Writers Helping Writers

Orly Konig give you three reasons to embrace the prickly synopsis. Writers in the Storm

Ashly Hilst shares five ways to take your novel from good to great. DIY MFA

Oren Ashkenazi engages in some Q&A: what should I consider when creating a fictional economy? Later in the week, Chris Winkle helps you understand character karma. Mythcreants

Chuck Wendig examines the Save the Cat conundrum. Later in the week, T.J. Berry shares five things she learned writing Space Unicorn Blues. Terribleminds

Jenna Moreci lists her ten worst fantasy tropes.

 

Joanna Penn shares seven continuity issues to avoid when writing a series. The Creative Penn

Writer’s Digest interviews three agents about current science fiction trends.

Mary Robinette Kowal geeks out: five really cool things I learned at the NASA’s neutral buoyancy lab. Tor.com

Porter Anderson reports that the European parliament rejected a new copyright directive. What does that mean for copyright on this side of the pond? Porter Anderson Media

Adam O’Fallon Price: on semicolons and the rules of writing. The Millions

Be well until Thursday, when you can come back for your weekly dose of thoughty.

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 25-March 3, 2018

Gentle readers, here are your informal writerly learnings for the week:

K.M. Weiland says, don’t write scenes—write images! Helping Writers Become Authors

Christina Delay: the attraction of passion. Writers in the Storm

Lisa Hall-Wilson shares five quick ways to shift description and setting into deep POV. Writers in the Storm

Julia Munroe Martin is getting in touch with the inner magician. Writer Unboxed

Magic cloaks, lucky charms and other writerly superstitions. Sarah McCoy explores writers’ rituals on Writer Unboxed.

Barbara O’Neal wants you to imagine your ideal reader. Writer Unboxed

Sophie Masson examines some of the great last lines of fiction. Writer Unboxed

Kristen Lamb explains how writing a story from the end results in a mind-blowing read.

Janice Hardy warns, over-explaining will kill your novel. Fiction University

Emily Wenstrom tells you how and why to clean your email subscriber list. DIY MFA

Bess Cozby rises to new challenges the DIY MFA way. DIY MFA

Rebecca Monterusso returns to DIY MFA: five reasons it’s time to call an editor.

Chuck Wendig shares three truths about writing and how the writing gets done. Terribleminds

Chris Winkle reveals the one big thing most manuscripts lack. Mythcreants

Jami Gold fills in more blanks in her writing craft master lists: theme development.

Angela Ackerman shares three ways setting can steer your story’s plot. Writers Helping Writers

Mary Robinette Kowal: ask a puppet, episode 4.

 

Ruth Harris lists eight common mistakes readers hate—and how to fix them. Anne R. Allen’s blog

Nina Munteanu: how art reveals truth in science.

Shoshana Kessock compares the feminism of Black Panther to the feminism of Wonder Woman.

Be well until Thursday!

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 4-10, 2018

Here, once again, are your informal writerly learnings!

Jessi Rita Hoffman stops by Jane Friedman’s blog to help you prune hedge words and inflation words from your writing.

K.M. Weiland offers four tips for writing to your right audience. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jael McHenry: on commitments, participation, and the writing community. Writer Unboxed

Donald Maass shows you what happens when worlds collide. Writer Unboxed

Nancy Johnson joins the Writer Unboxed team: the question your novel answers.

Gabriela Pereira takes her turn in the Writers Helping Writers coaching corner. Writing by design, part two: pattern and repetition.

Back on DIY MFA radio, Gabriela interviews Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi: understanding the emotional wound.

Kristen Lamb: great stories are addictive by design.

Janice Hardy offers seven tips for creating believable fantasy and science fiction worlds. Fiction University

Fae Rowan shares a simple tip to help get rid of saggy middles. [But … will it work on ma belleh—lol?] Writers in the Storm

Jami Gold looks at the editing process and what every writer needs to know to improve.

Backtracking a bit to give you episode 1 of Ask a Puppet (Mary Robinette Kowal). Seriously hilarious.

 

Mary Robinette Kowal shares her writing process in honor of her birthday.

Roz Morris shares three paradoxes of a slow writing process. Nail Your Novel

Chuck Wendig: yes, you can hiss without sibilance. Terribleminds

Breaking their usual pattern of constructive critique, Oren Ashkenazi reviews five novels with strong throughlines for Mythcreants.

Shane Koyczan – Resolution

 

Jessica Stillman: why you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever have time to read. Inc.

E CE Miller shares 21 love letters by authors to inspire you on Valentine’s Day. Bustle

Ryu Spaeth: an education through Earthsea. New Republic

Michael Blanding reports on how plagiarism software unveiled a new source for eleven of Shakespeare’s plays. And no, before the histrionics start, Shakespeare did not plagiarize. The New York Times

Jill Lepore explores the strange and twisted life of Frankenstein. Amazing. Truly. The New Yorker

Krista D. Ball revisits Joanna Russ’s “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” after 35 years. Thought-provoking and anger-inducing. Reddit r/fantasy

Jamil Smith writes about the revolutionary power of Black Panther. Time

I hope your week got off to a great start. Be well until Thursday 🙂

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