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The Calculating Stars

(Lady Astronaut Universe #1)

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  24,492 ratings  ·  3,830 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
Kindle Edition, 432 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:

TOR books no l…more
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 you could r…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 3.99  · 
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Heather Reads Books
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 pu
Merphy Napier
This is really hard for me to rate because I think this book was phenomenal and so so well done, but this isn't my genre so I read through it slowly and had trouble picking it back up at times. My enjoyment was at a 4 but please know that I think this book was brilliant.

They story was inspiring and interesting, the main character handled the sexism of her day and the struggles she had to encounter so incredibly well, the relationship at the center of the book was healthy and generally such a joy
3.5ish stars.

Mary Robinette Kowal writes some great female characters. And they're not stock "strong female" characters either, they seemreal. 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 race. The alter
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2018-shelf
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.

It's quick, fun, and crin
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 discrimination. The public a
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Kindle freebie until midnight June 26, 2020, as part of Tor's ebook of the month club.

This is an alternative history of U.S. space exploration in the aftermath of a disastrous meteor strike. It focuses on the perspective of women generally 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 historic space race from a social j
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
High recommend listening to this on audiobook! It’s excellent!
Richard Derus
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed, returned
***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 (chrono
Boostamonte Halvorsen
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 fe
Kevin Kuhn
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Calculating Stars” was published in 2018 and won many awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus. Mary Robbinette Kowal wrote it after penning a short story titled “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” which won the Hugo for Best Novelette in 2014. She has since written three more full length books in the “Lady Astronaut” series and at least five or six short stories or novelette in the series. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” can be read for free on if you want to get a feel for the series.

Nov 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK so it won the Hugo and most people loved it and I’m going to be THAT GUY for being on the outside of the circle.

I did not hate it, actually liked most of it, some exceptional scenes and I very much enjoy her short fiction.

I’m not oblivious to what Ms. Kowal has accomplished, delivering a science heavy alternate history that focuses on feminism and sexism and female astronauts and GOSH DARN IT! Elma’s just such a trooper!

Maybe it’s me and my Vonnegutesque world weary cynicism is in the red on
Manuel Antão
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 atmosphere to make them twink
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 pilot (
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe Valdez
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. Th ...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 the stars
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. At the same time, whil
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 pieces and figu
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 them both. E
Mar 08, 2019 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, nebula, hugo, sci-fi
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.
Elle (ellexamines)
The Calculating Stars is alt-history book about a world in which a meteor hit the earth in the 1950s. Following Elma, a Jewish computer aspiring to be on the moon, we see the mundane parts of an apocalypse, the scientific parts of an apocalypse. Other characters include Nathaniel, Elma’s husband, who is really cool; Nicole, one of Elma’s best friends; Ida, a black member of the 99 club and aspiring astronaut; Imogene, also a member of the 99 club and an aspiring astronaut; Helen, a Chinese aspir ...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 ...more
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
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
Erin Beall
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:
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 thousands of
aPriL does feral sometimes
'The Calculating Stars' by Mary Robinette Kowal is not really my kind of novel. Despite this, it is a terrific read, the main character's travails are sometimes exciting, and the description of the procedures necessary to train astronauts and the preparations to launch a manned rocket into space were engrossing.

I love hard science. I love science fiction. But I dislike the type of writing which unrealistically restrains the voices of all of the characters into polite toned-down dialogue no matt
Éimhear (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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I enjoyed this first book in a series about a "lady astronaut" in an alternate 1950s after a giant asteroid has hit earth. The author does a great job performing her novel, so the audio is highly recommended. Serious trigger warning for graphic depictions of anxiety, and non-serious trigger warning for somewhat hokey geek sex that can only happen between two highly intelligent marrieds who have been together a long time.

If you aren't a member of the largest group in Goodreads (other than the Lib
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Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the Lady Astronaut series and historical fantasy novels: The Glamourist Histories series and Ghost Talkers . She’s the President of SFWA, a member of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses, and has received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, four Hugo awards, the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have a ...more

Other books in the series

Lady Astronaut Universe (4 books)
  • The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut Universe, #2)
  • The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut Universe, #3)
  • The Martian Contingency (Lady Astronaut Universe, #4)

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November is the time for aspiring writers to get serious about writing that book! It's National Novel Writing Month, the annual event designed to...
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“It’s hard to convince people that catastrophic weather changes are coming on a nice day.” 5 likes
“Without a plane, what was I supposed to do? Math the problem to death?” 4 likes
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