The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
Lady Astronaut book 2. St Martin's Press, 2018. ISBN
(Age: Adult-Senior secondary) Recommended. Themes: Science fiction, Women astronauts, Space colonies, Mathematicians, Gender stereotyping, Racism. This follows the heroine in the award winning The lady astronaut of Mars (2014). When a meteor decimates the U.S. and destroys the U.S. government, Elma York, a WASP pilot and mathematician, manages to fly her husband and herself to safety. She works out that the meteor will result to dire climatic change leading to extinction and this spearheads the International Aerospace Coalition attempt to put a man on the moon in an effort to find a place for humanity. To Elma's dismay, experienced women pilots are not included in the program and it is even harder for African-American women to join in, but it is inevitable that women must go in space as they are the ones who can have babies.
Elma is a strong, believable character and the gender stereotyping and racism is portrayed very well. Her struggle to be included is well documented and the reader is kept engrossed as she overcomes one obstacle after another while growing herself in her understanding of the issues facing African-American pilots and mathematicians. Readers who have read the non-fiction book Hidden figures : the true story of four black women and the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly, or viewed the film Hidden figures, based on the book, will see parallels in The Calculating stars, and those who enjoyed the book will be encouraged to find out more about the role of women in NASA.
Some sexual references may make this a book for older readers, although Elma's relationship with her husband is one of being valued and totally supported and provides a great role model of marriage. The cover shows women of all shapes and sizes and also overcomes stereotypes about women's shapes.
This is a beautifully written, well researched science fiction book and readers will be sure to want to follow Elma's journey in the next in the series The fated sky.