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The Calculating Stars

(Lady Astronaut #1)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  11,406 ratings  ·  2,112 reviews
On 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 require ...more
Paperback, 431 pages
Published July 3rd 2018 by Tor Books
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pml After querying, my library sent me this explanation:

I just got this response from one of our selectors regarding The Calculating Stars:
After querying, my library sent me this explanation:

I just got this response from one of our selectors regarding The Calculating Stars:

TOR books no longer sells their front-list to libraries. We must wait at least 4 months after the publication date before their new titles will be released to Overdrive for us to purchase. They have decided that library sales may be negatively impacting their retail sales and are participating in a study that will attempt to determine the impacts of libraries on the book market and sales, especially regarding eBooks.

Needless to say, we are disappointed by this decision. EBooks are a popular format and Science Fiction and Fantasy are popular genres for our patrons. If the patron wishes to give any feedback about this change to TOR and their parent company, Macmillan, they may use this email:

Given that the Overdrive release date for Calculating Stars was not merely pushed back by 4+ months, I'm wondering whether or not it will ever reappear on Overdrive.
The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells is also released by TOR. It has yet to disappear from my library's Overdrive, however the Calculating Stars didn't disappear until the publication date.

Mary Robinette Kowal You can go either way. The only spoilers in the novella are in the title so you're in the clear there.

I worked very hard to make sure that…more
You can go either way. The only spoilers in the novella are in the title so you're in the clear there.

I worked very hard to make sure that you could read them in any sequence.(less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  11,406 ratings  ·  2,112 reviews

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Jul 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
I haven't been this disappointed by a book in a long time. I should learn not to get my hopes up so high, but this one really pulled the wool over my eyes. It is a continuation of a story I did like: I read the short story (called "novelette") of Kowal's featuring the main character, Elma York. It's a simple but well-written story, and I considered Elma to have both heart and gumption. I liked her a lot. The story won a Hugo award, which is pretty notable.

So when I heard this novel was being publi
3.75ish stars.

Mary Robinette Kowal writes some incredible female characters. And they're not stock "strong female" characters either, they're real. In this case Elma is brilliant and capable, but doesn't go on a tirade overthrowing the '50s sexist patriarchy because Kowal wisely wanted to represent things as they actually happened, even in this alt-history where she really could have done whatever she wanted.

It's impressively well researched and feels just as real as the actual space rac
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-shelf, sci-fi
I'll go out on a limb here and be mightily surprised if this novel doesn't get nommed for Hugo out of this year's candidates. It has all the right qualities, from good writing, exciting story, delicious premise, and timely application of hot topics and social issues.

Huh? Well, it's like an alternate reality where a meteorite wipes out DC in the 1950's and forces everyone to get into gear with the space program for the best of all reasons... SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES.

Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
High recommend listening to this on audiobook! It’s excellent!
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
$2.99 Kindle sale, Aug. 13, 2019. An alternative history of U.S. space exploration, focusing on the perspective of women (and, to a lesser extent, black women) who are pushing the male-dominated establishment of the 1950s to let women be legitimately considered as potential astronauts. So this is alt-history about the space race from a social justice perspective.

In 1952 a huge meteor strikes the ocean just off the coast of Washington DC, destroying the eastern coast of the US and killing millions. I
Richard Derus
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: returned, borrowed
***2019 UPDATE*** Winner of the Locus Award for Best SF Novel! Congratulations to Author Kowal!

Yep. All five. What a wonderful ride this book was. I'll say more later.


A good, solid alternate history; a very involving story; characters I can believe in, invest in, and even identify with; and an author whose capabilities, established in earlier books, make the catharsis of reading this book as bracing as a pitcher of 'tinis.

***2019 UPDATE*** Winner of the Locus Award for Best SF Novel! Congratulations to Author Kowal!

Yep. All five. What a wonderful ride this book was. I'll say more later.


A good, solid alternate history; a very involving story; characters I can believe in, invest in, and even identify with; and an author whose capabilities, established in earlier books, make the catharsis of reading this book as bracing as a pitcher of 'tinis.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars, book 2.5 in the series that (chronologically) begins with this book, won the 2014 Hugo for Best Novelette. There is a reason this is so. Author Kowal honed her audience manipulation (her phrase, not mine, go look at her Goodreads AMA!) skills in live theater. The result is that her mastery of it doesn't Show. It simply is. A wonderful experience in being led and misled results from that skill's genesis. Be prepared to devote your primary concentration skills to this book once it's opened. Doing less will be frustrating.

Reward yourself for enduring 45's antics with an escape to a better, albeit doomed, world.
Colin Forbes
I realise that my somewhat insipid 3 star rating (really more like a 2.5) is at odds with the majority of glowing reviews here.

I see what she was trying to do, I really do, but I can't shake the feeling that MRK has tried to squeeze too many issues into one book.

Let’s count. Main PoV character, Elma, is discriminated against because she is a woman. Also, people don't understand her Jewish heritage. She has mental health problems. Many of her friends experience racial disc
Manuel Antão
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Opposable Thumbs: “The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

“There is nothing to see but that vast blackness. Intellectually, I know that we’ve passed into the dark side of the Earth. We slide into her shadow and then magic fills the sky. The stars come out. Millions of them in crisp, vivid splendor. These are not the stars that I remember from before the Meteor. These are clear and steady, without an atmospher
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read the short story of this series some time ago and was speechless by how wonderful it was. Naturally, I had to give the novel a chance. And I certainly didn't regret it!

In March 1952, a meteorite strikes Earth. It lands in a body of water which, as it turns out, is even worse than if it had hit land. The protagonist, Elma, is on vacation with her husband (they are newly weds) in some mountains. He's an engineer and responsible for a US satellite program while she is a former WASP p
Joe Valdez
Jun 08, 2019 rated it liked it
My introduction to Mary Robinette Kowal is The Calculating Stars, whose keywords rang up like a jackpot: 1950s. Doomsday event. Social injustice. Space flight. Judaism. Female protagonist. That had me on board. Published in 2018, I found the book at my nearest library and opened it sight unseen. I found a lot to give Kowal credit for, the least of which is building an imaginative alternate history and dealing with civil rights. But I grew awful bored with her story and started flipping pages. This is ...more
Boostamonte Halvorsen
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book was okay. Nothing amazing though. Here's why:

I've read something like this, and it was better. It was different, but the overall premise is the same. I point you toward Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. His book is so much better than this one. Yes, I agree that they are different in a lot of ways, but fundamentally, they are about saving the human race as the planet dies, with women being the key to the success.

Mary's book empowers women, and I get that that is a primary focus...but I feel like sh
Cindy Pham
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
An empowering story for women, The Calculating Stars has a diverse cast of characters and plot that feel real enough to be a biography. This would be great for fans of “Hidden Figures” or to inspire young girls into STEM. The extent of aerospace and historical details were impressive to the point where I assumed the author must have had some experience as an astronaut before. I was also impressed by Kowal exploring discrimination across race, gender, and mental health within the aerospace indust ...more
Since I‘ve read and loved Mary Robinette Kowal’s 2014 Hugo winning novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars (which now has been moved to book 4.5 in this series – as Goodreads is telling me), I really expected to love this book. But it wasn’t to be.

It all starts in 1952 with a meteorite striking Earth and accelerating the greenhouse effect to the point where the planet might not be inhabitable in the near future and humans have to look beyond Earth and increase their efforts to reach for th
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Definitely one of my favourite books of 2018.

And to think I considered giving this a miss. I'm interested in space, but an alternate history of space exploration? What a colossal mistake giving this a pass would have been.

This is a masterful alt history set in the 1950's that illuminates the very real issues of discrimination. Elma's character suffers painfully from discrimination because she is a woman. On top of that she is fighting a personal battle with severe anxiety
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up almost entirely because a friend of mine, Tam, read this and loved it and said it had a great audiobook. I only have time for audio’s right now so I immediately picked this up since it’s been a while since I read a great sci-fi.

Set back in the 1950s very shortly after WWII, a giant meteorite struck the Earth which left the east coast of the United States in ruins. The capital was wiped out along with most members of the government. The US is trying to pick up the pie
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully researched and told alternate version of the space race from the point of view of brilliant woman pilot, scientist and mathematician with dreams of going to space.

It's 1952, and Elma and Nathaniel Wexler are vacationing in the mountains when a massive meteorite strikes just off the US coast in Chesepeake Bay. Much of the East Coast, including Washington DC is destroyed or flooded, and it's only Elma's and Nathaniel's quick thinking in the face of the disaster that save
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This is one of those books that is objectively good - interesting premise, well-defined characters, sturdy prose and story structure, sufficiently exciting climax, etc. Its un-shy about its feminist/progressive perspective, which I should be fine with because I'm a big 'ol pinko lefty myself, but there's a big difference between positioning your ideology within a narrative and pandering to a particular kind of reader. The Calculating Stars does the latter. Like it desperately needed me to congra ...more
Melissa (Mel’s Bookshelf)
I really felt like listening to a sci-fi book and this one was in my audible recommended list. So without thinking too much about it, I started listening. What I got was not entirely what I expected. It's not so much a sci-fi as it is a historical fiction, alternate reality book. A REALLY good one!

It's the USA in the 1950's. The Second World War may be over, but humanity is dealt another blow when a meteorite lands on Washington and obliterates the entire government and hundreds of t
This is a stirring and surprisingly intimate exploration of an inspired “what-if?” scenario: what if a globally-scaled natural disaster accelerated our space program? The resulting story feels extremely authentic and altogether possible, grounded by the entirely relatable narrator, a genius but altogether human Lady Astronaut. It’s incredibly refreshing to encounter a character whose intelligence and courage don’t always protect her from her own anxieties, nor from the machinations of a fearful, ...more
Emer (A Little Haze)
Utterly compelling read that uses an alternative history of earth following an extinction level event to compel the space programme to hasten humanity's attempts to reach for the stars.

After a meteorite hits off the east coast of the USA in 1952 it causes a cataclysmic change to the global climate. The book follows the story of pilot and mathematician Elma York as she fights bureaucracy and sexism to become a so-called Lady Astronaut in humanity's attempts to colonise outer space. The book also
I really did enjoy this novel with a feminist, retro appeal. Yes it was corny in all the ways it was meant to be. A pleasant sojourn in an alternate history. For me the novel had a bit of an enlightened moment as the author discusses many of the obstacles (purportedly in the 50s though one does wonder how much has seeped into the present) and treatment of people of Jewish faith. I have not really been that exposed to the "otherness", the disaffection, the casual bigotry associated therein. The n ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
I'm always excited to read astronaut books, as you might know from my posts like this one, this one or this one. So I was even more excited to read one where women fight their ground to get to be astronauts. As it turned out, it was not an easy fight, even if it's one written in an alternate 50's Earth. The Calculating Stars is no bright and easy read, but it deals with some really important topics, and is also very engaging and strong. I loved it, and here are the reasons why you might love it too!

So come and
Mar 08, 2019 marked it as abandoned
Gave up at 85 pages. Such a disappointment. The premise is awesome -- a feminist alternative history of the Space Race, taking place after a devestating meteorite strikes the earth. However, the writing is fluff. The main character, a WASP pilot and mathematician who works for NACA, comes across as a teenage girl instead of a mature and respectable pilot. Apparently I'm the exception -- the book has an average rating of 4.21 stars. I don't know how it managed to get that; I guess the author's wr ...more
Apr 17, 2019 marked it as dnf
Shelves: sci-fi, hugo, nebula, 2019
Ultimately, making historical novels retrospectively woke just doesn't work for me, even if it is sci-fi. Such stories lose authenticity and become way too self-aware and anachronistic in tone, IMO. And what is especially grating is when it's a suddenly social-justice-conscious privileged white lady who leads this feminist, diverse kumbaya. Yet again.

I do get this desire for revising the past and righting its many wrongs, but too often these revisionist stories ring false.
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading about Elma as an old woman in Kowal's "The Lady Astronaut", I knew I had to read this story of an alternative history of space flight. After a literal, huge bang at the start, the book takes us on a character journey, as a young Elma, already an accomplished pilot, becomes a Computer, along with many other women, as part of an international effort to get to space. As this is the 1950s, sexism, racism and Jim Crow are alive and well, with many, very capable non-white women passed ov ...more
Erin *Help I’m Reading and I Can’t Get Up*
I am a feminist. I love feminist books. Feminism is for everybody, quoth the inimitable bell hooks. But "women are great!" can't be the ONLY message of your book. This thing just hits you over the head with it, again and again, to the detriment of the plot. Ultimately, I DNF'd.... sadly.

Oh, and check out Boostamonte Halvorsen's review, which summed up my feelings pretty exactly:
Earlier this year, I read "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal ( and fell in love with Elma York really hard. That tiny little story packed such a huge punch about love, grief, passion and space: it took me a few days to recover... and it was less than 50 pages! When I heard there would be two upcoming Lady Astronaut novels, I actually screamed. And dropped everything else I was read ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked this one up, finally, after wanting to get to it for ages and I am so glad I did because not only did I really enjoy it, it was also the exact kind of read I was in the mood for at the time. This is set in an alternative history of America where a big meteorite lands and obliterates the President and almost all of the Senators and etc. who lead the country. The land is catastrophically affected by the calamity, and we follow Elma York who is a Pilot and Computer. Elma and her husband lu ...more
Matthew Galloway
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This novel was utterly fantastic. I cursed every hour of work that kept me away from it!

The plot of the novel -- a devastating meteor strike means that Earth must accelerate the space program -- is fascinating enough. Then you throw in the diversity and the civil rights issues and the awful sexism that needs to go away for it all to be successful and that makes the book even better. But what makes this absolutely stunning is the voice. Elma is just an absolute joy to read.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf, arc
Super cool premise! But it felt like she was trying so hard to do justice to the women who inspired the story, that actually it got in the way of it feeling realistic.
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This literally hit home in 2 ways 1 5 Aug 27, 2019 05:13AM  
All About Fantasy!: August BOTM GF - The Calculating Stars 2 5 Aug 02, 2019 05:26AM  
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Mary Robinette Kowal was the 2008 recipient of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and her short story "For Want of a Nail" won the 2011 Hugo. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year's Best anthologies. She is the author of Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass (Tor 2012).

Mary, a professional puppeteer and voice actor, has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center f

Other books in the series

Lady Astronaut (4 books)
  • The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut, #2)
  • The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut, #3)
  • The Derivative Base (Lady Astronaut, #4)
“Nathaniel and I were a healthy young married couple, so most of the stars I saw were painted across the inside of my eyelids.” 3 likes
“Don Herbert here. Sorry about that. I think we got disconnected.” “Yes. I … I was wondering what happened.” Liar. I covered my eyes and leaned forward to rest my elbows on the desk. “You were saying?” “That we’d like to have you on the show. I thought we could talk about the physics of flight, maybe do a simple experiment about lift? The format is real simple.” “I wish I could, but we’re so busy preparing for the next launch. I just don’t know if I could get the time off.” “We can work around your schedule.” “That’s very kind, but … maybe I could suggest another woman pilot?” Betty would be brilliant at this. “Sure … it’s just that, well, my producer’s girl is kinda keen that it be you. I don’t need an answer right away, but think about it, eh?” “Sure. Sure. I’ll think about it.” I would think of a way to say “no,” is what I would do. *” 1 likes
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