When a huge meteorite strikes the Earth, history is set on a new trajectory. The story starts in 1952 when much of the Western US is destroyed, first by the impact and then by the resulting tsunami. Former WASP pilot and mathematician Elma York is on holiday in the Poconos when it happens. Knowing much of her family has been wiped out, she seeks refuge at a military base, along with her rocket scientist husband Nathaniel. They soon see the usefulness of Nathaniel, but Elma must fight for her right to be involved. She knows how to fly and how to do crucial calculations. The only thing stopping her becoming an astronaut is her gender.

If you were anywhere within five hundred miles of Washington D.C., at 9:53 am on March 3rd, 1952, and facing a window, then you remember that light. Briefly red, then so violently white that it washed out even the shadows.

The Calculating Stars starts off like a 90s disaster film, which I love, and then heads off into Hidden Figures territory. Having watched and read the latter, it gave me plenty of context to the computers and the prejudices and pressures they faced. This does focus more on the sexism of the era but does touch on racism too, with Elma confronting her own privilege when she realises how harder the black pilots have it.

In this alternate version of history there is a more compelling reason to allow women into space, which Elma uses to her advantage. The meteor strike has disrupted the climate and Elma and her meteologist brother predict an increase in global temperatures. Humans need to find a way off this planet. Once she manages to convince them of her theory, then a colony will need to be established, and that requires women.

Without a plane, what was I supposed to do? Math the problem to death?

Elma suffers from anxiety, specifically performance anxiety which hampers her rise to fame. This explores the stigma attached to mental illness and the fear of if affecting her job. She also needs to handle Parker, the first man in space, who holds a grudge against her. Will she ever get the chance to go into space?

I listed to the audiobook which is read by the author and Mary Robinette Kowal does an excellent job conveying Elma’s pride and worry. I can’t wait to continue the series. The third book will be out later this year, so I hope to get caught up with The Fated Sky before then.

ATY: 5. The first book in a series that you have not started

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Book Source: Purchased