Audiobook Review: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut, #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut, #2)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: August 21, 2018
Print length: 384 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 14 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Fated Sky continued the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars. It is 1961, and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a colony on the moon. Elma York, the noted Lady Astronaut, is working on rotation, flying shuttles on the moon and returning regularly to Earth.

But humanity must get a foothold on Mars. The first exploratory mission is being planned, and none of the women astronauts is on the crew list. The International Aerospace Coalition has grave reservations about sending their “Lady Astronauts” on such a dangerous mission. The problem with that is the need for midjourney navigation calculations. The new electronic computation machines are not reliable and not easily programmed. It might be okay for a backup, but there will have to be a human computer on board. And all the computers are women.

I read The Fated Sky a year ago, but apparently didn’t write a review at the time. Don’t ask me why! But in any case, I’ve just completed a re-read via audiobook, and loved it all over again… so I think it’s about time to share my thoughts.

The Fated Sky is the follow-up to The Calculating Stars, which I love, love, love, love, love. A second book in a series is never quite as breathtaking as the first, in my humble opinion, because there’s already a familiarity with the world presented in the book. And so, while The Fated Sky didn’t blow me away the way The Calculating Stars did, it did keep me engaged in new and different ways, and was an altogether satisfying return to the world of the Lady Astronaut.

To get anyone new to this series caught up, here’s what you really need to know: It’s been about 10 years since a devastating meteor struck Earth, resulting in global catastrophe. The planet faces accelerating climate change, which will eventually become so extreme that human life on Earth will no longer be possible. In these dire circumstances, the international community comes together to pursue space exploration. After all, if people can’t live on Earth, they’ll have to live off Earth.

In book 1, we met Dr. Elma York, brilliant mathemetician and physicist, as well as a top-notch pilot who flew with the WASPs during WWII. Elma is married to Dr. Nathaniel York, an equally brilliant engineer. As the space program gets underway, Nathaniel becomes one of the lead engineers, while Elma pursues her dream of becoming an astronaut. It’s simply fascinating, and I urge you to read the book if you haven’t yet!

In The Fated Sky, we pick up in the early 1960s. Humans have established a colony on the moon, and the next target is Mars. The first Mars mission is about 18 months away — but not all on Earth are happy about the space program.

Earth Firsters are angry — they believe that space travel and colonization will end up being a privilege for the elite. How are the people left behind supposed to survive? With poorer areas still suffering the aftermath of the meteor’s destruction, with food, housing, and medical shortages, they feel that the country’s resources are being unfairly allocated to the space program. The protesters are becoming more outspoken, to the point of violence, in expressing their dissatisfaction.

Elma gained fame in book #1 as “the Lady Astronaut”, and when the IAC (International Aerospace Coalition) assigns her to the Mars mission, it’s clearly with an eye on public relations. But with this assignment, Elma replaces a dear friend who’d already been training for the mission, so she’s not only behind in her training but also facing resentment and hostility from the other crew members who see her as an interloper taking someone else’s place.

The Fated Sky takes place during the preparation for the Mars expedition, as well as the months of the actual journey to Mars. And while the science is absolutely fascinating, it’s Elma’s personal struggles and challenges that make it all so real and so deeply affecting.

Elma is a brilliant scientist. She’s also a devoted wife, a Southern Jew, a woman in a man’s world, and a white woman who’s not always as aware of her privilege as she should be. In the world of the Lady Astronaut books, the social unrest and upheavals of the real-world 1960s has largely been moved forward a decade along with the scientific advancements. We see women struggling for opportunity, even while being expected to maintain traditional standards of femininity (like always having their hair and makeup done before public appearances and deferring to their male counterparts even when they have superior knowledge or technical expertise. Not to mention that the female astronauts seem to be the only ones assigned laundry duty on their space mission. Argh.)

Racial inequality and civil rights feature much more prominently in The Fated Sky than they did in The Calculating Stars. There’s suspicion of the Black astronauts and whether they’re conspiring with Earth Firsters. Mission Control assigns them less prestigious assignments during the Mars expedition than their white colleagues, even when they’re clearly the better choice, which leads to disastrous results. And in myriad other, more subtle ways, the matter of race permeates the crew relations, so that even someone as well-intentioned as Elma ends up causing offense, until she’s finally told point-blank:

“One thing: Don’t explain my experience to me. It’s annoying as hell.”

On top of all this, one of the expedition crew members is a white South African, and remember, this is the early 1960’s — he’s so full of apartheid-era hate that it’s incredible that he was actually allowed to participate in the mission, and if not for international pressure related to South Africa’s financial backing of the IAC, he probably would not have been. By showing the Earth protests, the more subtle racial profiling and preferences on board the ship, and the blatant racism of this one particular astronaut. the author evokes a time of change and volatility — and sadly, exposes issues that still permeate society today.

Elma struggles too with her mental health. She’s suffered from anxiety for most of her life, which she’s worked hard to control. Her coping mechanisms are put to the test during the mission in response to the ongoing hostility she experiences from her fellow astronauts early on, especially as she realizes that she’s the only crew member who doesn’t really fit in and isn’t completely trusted.

I think maybe one of the reasons I had time loving this book the first time I read it had to do with how entangled my feelings were with Elma’s experiences. I felt so awful reading about Elma’s struggles and personal pain and how terrible she often felt. So it’s not that the book isn’t excellent — just maybe that I become overly invested in Elma as a person and didn’t like seeing her feel bad!

Anyhoo… the audiobook is such a treat! Author Mary Robinette Kowal is the narrator, and she’s a total pro. (She also narrates Seanan McGuire’s October Daye audiobooks, and does an amazing job with them.) She clearly knows these characters and what makes them tick, and I could feel Elma’s personality, as well as many of the other characters’, coming through so clearly. Fabulous.

I love the world of the Lady Astronaut, which the author first introduced in her short story, The Lady Astronaut of Mars (which actually takes place many years after the events of the books, but provides some additional context — you can read the story for free here.)

Listening to the audiobook was a perfect way for me to revisit the story of The Fated Sky. The 3rd book in the series, The Relentless Moon, will be released in July, and I absolutely can’t wait to read it!

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2020 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Summer 2020 TBR.

Some of these are new releases, some are books that I already own and just need to make a priority this summer. And I’m embarrassed to say that one of these books was on my summer 2019 TBR list, and I just never got to it.

  1. Peace Talks (Dresden Files, #16) by Jim Butcher
  2. The Unkindest Tide (October Day, #13)  by Seanan McGuire (a reread, but hey– I need to be ready for #14 in September!)
  3. Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald (my book group’s pick for July)
  4. The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut, #3) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  5. Blood of Elves (The Witcher series) by Andrzej Sapkowski
  6. Shades of Milk and Honey (The Glamourist Histories, #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  7. Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer (I know, I know…)
  8. Alice by Christina Henry
  9. Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
  10. Bookish & the Beast by Ashley Poston

What are you planning to read this summer? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads. Fun, right? I may not have a crystal ball, but I have a pretty strong feeling that these books are going to rock!

 

  1. A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire: My #1 pick for 5-star status, because how could the new Toby Daye book be anything but amazing?
  2. Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs: Same as above, but insert “Mercy Thompson”…
  3. The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal: I love the Lady Astronaut books so much
  4. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey: Releasing this week! I’ve loved her other books, so I have high hopes for this one.
  5. The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey: Another author I know I can count on!
  6. Time After Time by LIsa Grunwald: There’s always room on my shelf for a timey-wimey story.
  7. The Goblin Emperor by Katherin Addison: Not a new release, but a book from my shelf that I’m determined to finally read.
  8. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman: Also not a new release, but I’m excited to read it.
  9. The Deep by Alma Katsu: I can’t imagine not loving this.
  10. In Five Years by Rebecca Searle: I just love the sound of the plot.

What are your five-star predictions for 2020? Do we have any in common?

Please share your thoughts, and if you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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Shelf Control #179: Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: Word Puppets
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: 2015
Length: 319 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A new short story collection from Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal, with an introduction by Patrick Rothfuss.

Table of Contents
* “The Bound Man”
* “Chrysalis”
* “Rampion”
* “At the Edge of Dying”
* “Clockwork Chickadee”
* “Body Language”
* “Waiting for Rain”
* “First Flight”
* “Evil Robot Monkey”
* “The Consciousness Problem”
* “For Solo Cello, op. 12”
* “For Want of a Nail”
* “The Shocking Affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland”
* “Salt of the Earth”
* “American Changeling”
* “The White Phoenix Feather”
* “We Interrupt This Broadcast”
* “Rockets Red” (A brand new story in the Lady Astronaut universe)
* “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”

How and when I got it:

I bought this book last year after reading The Calculating Stars (which just won the Hugo for best novel!!).

Why I want to read it:

As you can tell if you read my review, The Calculating Stars was one of my favorite books of the year (or ever, really). I had to get a copy of Word Puppets once I saw there were related stories in the collection. Plus, at this point, I think I want to read absolutely everything by Mary Robinette Kowal!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2019 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books On My Summer 2019 TBR.

I’m mixing some light reads with some dark and creepy stories, as well as a book group book and a book that’s been on my nightstand for over a year now. Plus, I’m finally planning to start a series that’s been on my TBR for far too long (The Glamourist Histories), and also plan to read a more recent book (a sequel to a book I loved) by the same author. Wheeeee! I love summer reading…

  1. Reticence (The Custard Protocol, #4) by Gail Carriger
  2. In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant
  3. The Toll by Cherie Priest
  4. Circe by Madeline Miller
  5. The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan
  6. Shades of Milk and Honey (The Glamourist Histories, #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  7. The Fated Stars (Lady Astronaut, #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal
  8. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
  9. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  10. What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

What are you planning to read this summer? Please share your links!

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