Shelf Control #179: Word Puppets by Mary Robinette Kowal

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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!
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  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday Check-In ~ 8/19/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Well, my hand surgery went well, but now I’m in this big, bulky splint for about ten days,,, following which I’ll be in a hard cast for a month. And typing is just as slow and awkward and frustrating as you might guess, so after I finish this post, I probably won’t do much else online for a while.

Ugh, so many typos! This may not be worth the effort, gonna keep things really brief,,, reviews will (probably) follow once I have better use of my fingers.

 

 

 

What did I read during the last week?

 

Fresh Catch:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
Now playing via audiobook:

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection, reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon: Our newest group read — a novella set during Jamie Fraser’s teen years.

So many books, so little time…

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Book Characters I’d Love to Be Besties With

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 Book Characters I’d Love to Be Besties With. For me, this translates pretty much to characters I think are talented or cool or fun — just awesome people I’d want to spend time with (even though some of them are WAY out of my league in terms of supernatural abilities, but anyway…

 

1. Claire Fraser, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Of course. A strong, passionate woman, who’s creative, smart, and scientific.

2. Sophronia Temminnick, The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger: A true friend, who’ll defend you to the death. With a bladed fan, if necessary.

3. Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery: Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have a friend like Anne during our childhoods?

4. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: I love Hermione, and I always felt a little bad that she didn’t have more girl friends at Hogwarts. I’d sign up in a second to be her partner for Herbology or Potions, or just to hang in the common room or the library.

5. October Daye, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire: Toby is all sorts of awesome, and I’d love to just live in her world for a while. And maybe hang out with May and the Luidaeg too.

6. Anna Cornick, Alpha & Omega series by Patricia Briggs: I love so much about Anna, especially her devotion to her loved ones, her inner calm, her ability to bring peace, and her fierceness when her mate and her pack are threatened.

7. Verity Price, Incryptid series by Seanan McGuire: A competitive ballroom dancer who’s also a master of weaponry and free running? Yes. Just all sorts of yes.

8. Lara Jean Covey, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: Lara Jean is so sweet and fun, and would probably be hilarious to hang out with in high school.

9. Elma York, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal: Elma is amazing! She’s got Ph.D.s in math and physics, loves to fly planes, and is determined to go into space. She’s brave, loving, and smarter than I can even comprehend.

10. June/Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: If I had to live in a horrifying dystopian misogynistic society, it would be a good idea to have a tough rebel like June by my side! (I realize I may be combining the book and TV characters in my head, but so be it.)

What fictional characters would you want as your bestie? Please share your links!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 8/12/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

Later this week, I’m going under the knife! Nothing too dramatic — I’m having orthopedic surgery on my left hand. It should be a quick in-and-out procedure, home the same day, and then in a cast or splint for several weeks. I’ve been assured that I’ll still be able to type afterward, so yay for that. Still, I imagine that I’ll be less active than usual online for about a week or two, so if I’m not around much, now you know why!

 

What did I read during the last week?

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han: Enjoyable YA, but not nearly as captivating as the Lara Jean books. I liked it enough to want to read the rest of the trilogy, for sure.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center: A lovely, powerful story. My review is here.

Pop Culture:

I spent the weekend binge-watching season 4 of Veronica Mars on Hulu. As I write this, I’m about to watch the season finale, and I’m terrified that something very bad is going to happen to one of the characters I love. Speaking of love… man, do I love this show. I’m highly tempted (meaning I’m not even going to fight the urge) to go back and start again from season 1. VMars for the win!

Fresh Catch:

A couple of used book orders arrived this week:

Plus, the eagerly awaited 4th and final book in the Custard Protocol series was released this week — and yes, I bought myself a brand-new hardcover edition, even though I’ll probably end up listening to the audiobook (since that’s how I enjoyed the other three books in the series).

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Our War by Craig DiLouie: Disturbing because it’s all so plausible. I hope to wrap up in the next few days and will share my thoughts. This is definitely one that needs to be discussed!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal: I love, love, love this book. This is a re-read, and I’m savoring every moment of the excellent audiobook version (narrated by the author, who is an amazing audiobook narrator, for her own books as well as many others — including the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire).

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group read right now:

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection, reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Virgins by Diana Gabaldon: Our newest group read — a novella set during Jamie Fraser’s teen years.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

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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Drop everything and read this book!!! (A review): The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

 

A meteor decimates the U.S. government and paves the way for a climate cataclysm that will eventually render the earth inhospitable to humanity. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated timeline in the earth’s efforts to colonize space, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for a much larger share of humanity to take part.

One of these new entrants in the space race is Elma York, whose experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon. 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—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

Once again, I find myself in the position of wanting my entire review to simply say:

This book is amazing.

Read it.

Not enough? Okay, I’ll elaborate.

What do you get when you throw 90s asteroid films Deep Impact and Armageddon into a blender with Hidden Figures, The Right Stuff, and Interstellar? Probably something good, but maybe not as thrilling and inspiring as Mary Robinette Kowal’s first of two Lady Astronaut books, The Calculating Stars.

(Yes, this review is going to be one big gushy love fest. Buckle up.)

The Calculating Stars starts with disaster. The year is 1952. Newlyweds Elma and Nathaniel York are enjoying a romantic getaway in an isolated cabin in the Pocono mountains, when there’s a flash that lights up the sky. Atomic bomb? Nope.  Elma and Nathaniel are both scientists, and they can rule out a bomb pretty quickly. But the flash is followed by an earthquake that brings the cabin down around them, and they figure out what it must be: a meteorite strike, someplace near enough for them to feel the aftershocks, and they brace for the airblast that they know must follow.

It’s an unimaginable catastrophe. The meteorite has struck Earth just off the eastern seaboard. Washington DC has been obliterated, as have most of the coastal areas of the United States. But this is only the beginning of the disaster. Elma has advanced degrees in both physics and mathematics, and is able to calculate before anyone else that this isn’t just a rough period that society will eventually overcome. The cataclysm and its impact on the world environment will, inevitably, over a period of years, lead to extinction. The Earth will become uninhabitable within their lifetimes.

There’s only one solution: Space. The world’s scientific communities must come together to accelerate research into space travel, with the aim of establishing colonies on the moon and on Mars.

Nathaniel becomes lead engineer for the international space agency, and Elma works in mission control as a computer, one of the brilliant mathematicians who calculate trajectories and all the complicated equations that enable rockets to leave earth and enter orbit. But Elma, a WASP pilot during World War II, has even bigger ambitions. She wants to fly… and she’s determined to become an astronaut.

Those little girls thought I could do anything. They thought that women could go to the moon. And because of that, they thought that they could go to the moon, too. They were why I needed to continue, because when I was their age, I needed someone like me. A woman like me.

This story is just so damned amazing. The author clearly draws heavily from history, and provides a guide to historical events and references and a bibliography. Her depiction of the space race, moved up a decade to the 1950s, feels real and exciting. By placing events in the 1950s, she also captures the social inequities and injustices of the time. The story takes place pre-Civil Rights, pre-feminism and  women’s liberation. Women may be able to apply for the astronaut training program, but they’d better be damned sure to put on lipstick first. Their press conferences feature inane questions about what they might cook in space, and the women are forced into skimpy swimsuits for their underwater tests – not the flightsuits the male candidates wore.

The (male) speaker, at a briefing for the first batch of female trainees:

“Good morning. I wish all conference rooms looked this lovely when I walked in.”

Women of color don’t even make it through the door, excluded from the application process entirely, even those with advanced degrees and unbeatable hours as pilots. You might think that in the desperation to save a species, these types of discrimination might fall by the wayside for the greater good of preserving humanity… but people in control tend to want to stay in control. It’s just as infuriating to read about in The Calculating Stars as in any non-fiction account of the era – and because we come to know these women and understand just how amazingly smart and talented they are, it’s all the more frustrating and painful.

Elma is a magnificent lead character, brave and brilliant, but by no means perfect. She has hidden weaknesses to overcome, and battles her own inner demons every step of the way. Elma’s husband Nathaniel is almost too good to be true – a scientist who’s incredibly gifted and dedicated, and yet also a man who adores his wife and supports her in her quest to become an astronaut. Their bedroom banter is adorable in its sexy dorkiness:

He shifted so he could reach between us. His fingers found the bright bundle of delight between my legs and… sparked my ignition sequence. Everything else could wait.

“Oh… oh God. We are Go for launch.”

I think you get the picture. If you’ve stuck with me this far, you can probably tell just how very much I loved this book. My inclination is to move straight on with book #2, The Fated Sky… but I think I want to savor this moment for a bit before continuing (and reaching the end of the story).

The Calculating Stars is a brilliant read, combining a story of people we come to care tremendously about with a world-ending disaster and the human spirit of ingenuity that’s so key to the early days of space exploration. This book is by turns heart-breaking and inspiring, and I loved every moment.

READ THIS BOOK!

 

Note: In 2012, the author published a short story called The Lady Astronaut of Mars. You could consider The Calculating Stars as a prequel of sorts, as it’s set in the same world and features certain of the same characters. I was charmed and moved by the story when I first read it, and read it again after finishing The Calculating Stars — and was even more moved than I was originally. If you’re interested in the flavor of this world, you can find the story here… but I recommend starting with the novels for the full, rich experience.

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The details:

Title: The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: July 3, 2018
Length: 431 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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