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Group Reads Discussions 2018 > Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal *Spoilers for Lady Astronaut Series*

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message 1: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
We're very excited to have Mary Robinette Kowal with us to participate in a Q&A for the book of the month, The Calculating Stars! Please stop by with your questions or comments throughout the month. Also feel free to check out her very interesting FAQ for more great information on this lovely series!

Thank you so much, Mary!

The thread will reopen on the first!


message 2: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
It's time! We'd like to thank Mary again for stopping in with us, and please bring on your questions!


message 3: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9645 comments Mod
Thank you for doing this Mary! :)


message 4: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 2611 comments Yes thank you Mary! I’m about halfway through and loving it. Mods- should we tag possible spoilers? Or is this more of a- come over and post your questions when you finish?


message 5: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Yes, please do not tag spoilers, I'll update the title to reflect that.


message 6: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9645 comments Mod
I would ask that we stick to spoilers for The Calculating Stars and The Lady Astronaut of Mars. So NO spoilers for The Fated Sky, please!


message 7: by Anthony (new)

Anthony (albinokid) | 1471 comments Hi Mary, thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of our little community here.

I saw in the bibliography section (which was very impressive, by the way) that you encountered and drew from a lot of material about the space race aspect of the novel (and the roles that women played in it). I was wondering where you went for information on the meteor (or to be accurate, meteorite) aspect of the novel. I’ve always been fascinated with finding out more information about such things myself.

I’m in the early chapters of Part 2 as I write this post, and am enjoying the book very much.


message 8: by Trike (last edited Sep 01, 2018 09:02AM) (new)

Trike You’ve said that for the Glamourist Histories you made a database of words and phrases common to Jane Austen to give it a feel of the era. Did you something similar here for 1950s America?

Also, it looks like The Fated Sky is due out next week (!) how on Earth (or Mars) were you able to write both The Calculating Stars and the sequel so quickly?


message 9: by Eric (new)

Eric Li | 4 comments In the book the jet trainers T33 and T38 are used for ferrying astronauts between sites. Is it the norm in real history? Because to me it seems unnecessarily risky to let your high value assets fly themselves for mundane purpose like this.


message 10: by Mareike (new)

Mareike | 1420 comments Hey Mary!
Thank you so much for doing this!
I was wondering if you could give us a glimpse at your research process. In addition to reading up on things like the space race and the WASPs, did you also go to archives? I'm thinking of places like the archive of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial?
Do you do all your research before you start writing or is it a parallel process?


message 11: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments @Anthony - I talked with an astronomer about the impact. I also made use of the Asteroid Impact simulator to understand what the effects would be where Elma and Nathaniel were.

@Trike - I didn't make a spellchecker for this, because the acronyms threw everything off. We did try to pay attention to idioms, but stuff still slipped through.

Two books in a year happens because a) I write quickly and b) we held Calculating Stars to give me time to finish Fated Sky. I turned the first book in to my editor in October, 2016. The second book landed on her desk in March of 2017.

@Eric - Yes! The T-38s are still used by astronauts today. They serve a number of functions. 1. keeps their flight skills sharp. 2. Subjects them to g-forces. 3. Gets them to training at different facilities far faster. 4. I think it's just a job perk, honestly. These are all people who love space and flight.

@Mareike - I research in parallel. So, I start with broad research about an era, and then build my synopsis. That helps me refine my areas of research. I build an outline, and then further refine. For this book, because of the sheer amount of science, I had a number of experts that I went to for specifics. I didn't go to archives, but I went to locations when I could. The hotel where they have martinis is a place in Kansas City. I've visited the Apollo mission control room.


message 12: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments Oh, if you want to see how much trouble you'd be in at the beginning of Calculating Stars, you can calculate it.

https://www.purdue.edu/impactearth/

These are approximates but...
Set: Diameter = "Hartley"; Density = "8000"; Angle = 60 degrees; Velocity = 25km; Water of depth = 21 ft.
For distance, put in your distance from Chesapeake Beach.

If you think you are okay, remember winter is coming.


message 13: by Anthony (new)

Anthony (albinokid) | 1471 comments Mary Robinette wrote: "Oh, if you want to see how much trouble you'd be in at the beginning of Calculating Stars, you can calculate it.

https://www.purdue.edu/impactearth/

These are approximates but...
Set: Diameter = ..."


Thanks so much for responding so thoroughly. The idea that there is a meteor impact simulator out there is so hilarious and scary.

I have a further question regarding working on both books in such a short period of time: did you do an outline of the whole story as it would occur in both books, and then decide what of that story you’d put in each? Or did you do that work separately?


message 14: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments Originally I planned it as a single book, composed of three novellas, to mimic the structure of the original "Lady Astronaut of Mars." I'd finished the second novella and had begun the third and it was feeling awful.

I was having to skip stuff in order to make the beats work. If it had actually been three novellas, published separately, it would have worked. But in novel form, the things I was skipping were just going to frustrate readers.

So my editor and I discussed it and split the book in two. The first "novella" is more or less intact as Part One. I greatly expanded the second "novella" into the rest of The Calculating Stars. And the third one unpacked to be The Fated Sky.

This is also why publishing them as a duology makes sense, because it is, in essence, a single story. It's just that the structure needed that separation between books.


message 15: by Anthony (new)

Anthony (albinokid) | 1471 comments Mary Robinette wrote: "Originally I planned it as a single book, composed of three novellas, to mimic the structure of the original "Lady Astronaut of Mars." I'd finished the second novella and had begun the third and it..."

That all makes a ton of sense. Thanks for sharing this insight into your process.


message 16: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (last edited Sep 09, 2018 09:19AM) (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Hi Mary,

I just finished and really enjoyed the book! From the way you handle different cultures, and the titles in your bibliography, it sounds like a lot of thought, research, and possibly discussion happened to make it all feel honest and avoid stereotyping, erasing, or misrepresenting people. Could you please tell us a little about what you do to handle writing about other cultures respectfully?


message 17: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments There was a lot of reading. A lot, a lot, a lot of reading. A lot of it involves interrogating my own defaults. For instance, I knew that Elma would be grieving and that I couldn't assume anything from my personal history would map onto her external process of that. And that external process also influences our internal life.

Needing to navigate sitting shiva while in a gentile's home having just escaped from the end of the world. That's going to do different things to your brain. Giving Elma the space to unpack that is part of what makes her feel real, but it begins with me not assuming my family's form of grieving was the default

But more... I'm getting credit for other people's emotional labor. Most of the conversations that happen where someone is calling Elma on her privilege are things that friends have said to me. Her journey there is very much mine.


message 18: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Thank you for that response, and your honesty! I think it really shows up in the writing, and is really refreshing to see.

Another couple questions came up in our discussion that I was hoping to get your thoughts on if you don't mind me bombarding you :)

Can you talk us through some of the credentials Elma has? What was credentialing like for astronauts as a whole, and do you think Elma was...can you be overqualified for being an astronaut?? I know school was very tough for Elma, how did she end up with double PhDs?

Also, one group member brought up a question about how and if this would change the evolution of the struggle for equality on all the various axes, and whether colonization would wind up with a constricted or selective gene pool. Do you have thoughts on that?


message 19: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments Sure!

Elma's credentials: So, she's based on a couple of real people ranging from founding members of the 99s (the women's pilot organization) to actual astronauts. The interesting thing about astronaut criteria is how they changed over time. John Glenn, for instance, would not have qualified to be an astronaut in the second class of astronauts.

Many astronauts have had a PhD, and the ones who didn't generally came out of the military. Women astronauts are more likely to have a PdD than their male counterparts, which is a dichotomy that you'll find in many fields, by the way. There are a number of double-PhD's in the program, although I'll grant they aren't the majority.

So, for me, in order to get Elma into the program, I felt like she had to be "over-qualified" to be considered at all in the 1950s. It's that whole thing about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels.

How did Elma wind up with double PhDs? Because she's an over-achiever with a father who loved her but had no idea what his expectations were doing. Her basic reaction to crisis is to study harder.

Colonization... I'm not sure I can talk about that without going into spoilers for Fated Sky.


message 20: by Karin (last edited Sep 10, 2018 03:43PM) (new)

Karin | 773 comments Mary Robinette wrote: "Sure!

Elma's credentials: So, she's based on a couple of real people ranging from founding members of the 99s (the women's pilot organization) to actual astronauts. The interesting thing about ast..."


Yes, she would have to have been overqualified. Also, as I posted elsewhere, you made her profoundly gifted, so it was completely possible for her to have two Ph.D.'s at a young age. Plus, anyone who is good at Physics is also good at math (doesn't always go as equally the other way, though). My uncle had 2 Ph.D.'s in a relatively short time span, but wasn't quite at that level (but a genius IQ) and wasn't accelerated through regular school (not sure why as he graduated from high school before I was born).


message 21: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Ha! The Ginger Rogers quote is a great summary of Elma's hoops in Calculating Stars. And now I am extra excited for our Fated Sky buddy read... I may have to call in to work "very busy reading."


message 22: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 831 comments I just finished the book and I find it interesting, even if a bit preachy (but that may be due to the fact that I’m from a different culture). Being born in the USSR, I am of course more familiar with the Soviet space program, which was a bit different. So the questions:
1. The USSR is out of the picture (good riddance!) in your alt-history, I guess story-wise in order to remove the competition. When it fell and why? Because if it was during WWII, then the war in Europe is prolonged, and A-bomb most likely is dropped on Germany among other things. If after, I just don’t see what could have caused it.
2. China is also seems different if in the mid-50s it plans to send a person to space, especially if they lack support of the USSR – they just don’t have the industry for this. Is it still communist? Was there a war with Japan?
3. The USSR is down but there is still a powerful communist bloc to frighten the USA, up to assuming they are behind the blast. In real life none of the countries in the soviet sphere remained communist (except for North Korea and Cuba, hardly a competitors in arms or space race).
4. You have “princess Shakhovaskaya, who had fought in the First World War before having to flee Russia.” Do you know her true story?


message 23: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments 1. The USSR fell because during the initial Meteor winter, widespread crop failure hit it much harder than countries that were farther south. Famine killed a significant portion of the population.
2. China was planning on launching a satellite, but was still recovering from the Meteor winter. The article was a real one from 1960, tweaked for the accelerated timeline. It is still communist, but there was no war with Japan because they focused resources on staving off famine for the three years following the Meteor.
3. The fear of the communists is simply a version of the McCarthyism that happened in this timeline. There is no real threat.
4. Yes.


message 24: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 831 comments Thank you for your answer! While this is your world, so you can do there anything you wish, I highly doubt that a famine can topple a totalitarian regime. There were three major famines in the USSR (1921, 1933 and 1947) and the world largest famine in terms of deathtoll in communist China (1959-61) and neither toppled them. As a side-note, you write the Ukraine in the news snippet, while it should be just Ukraine if we speak about the independent country. This may seem like a small thing, but this is like using n-word for blacks in the US.
Re: Real life article about China – as I noted this was it the world, where China got a significant help of the USSR, just like with theirs A-bomb. But as I said, it’s your world so disregard


message 25: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (last edited Sep 15, 2018 07:24AM) (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Oleksandr, what is your question in this last post?

ETA, thank you for bringing up the point about Ukraine, I think that is less known and obviously important!


message 26: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 831 comments Allison wrote: "Oleksandr, what is your question in this last post?"

My post #24 is the reply and thanks for post #23. Just like posts #20-21 it doesn't contain questions :) I also decided to point an error, I'm sure unintentional.


message 27: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Fair enough! Though I hope you see some of the irony in offering your opinion on the predictions of a world created by a woman in a book about a woman trying to convince the world of her predictions ;-)


message 28: by Dawn F (new)

Dawn F (psychedk) | 1219 comments Lol Allison XD

Historical facts are important but the book is *alternative* history, and fiction, so I think we can give Mary some leeway ;-)


message 29: by Oleksandr (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 831 comments Allison wrote: "Fair enough! Though I hope you see some of the irony in offering your opinion"

Yes, I see and I stated it twice in the post, both in the start and in the end. I'm fully content that authors shape their worlds the way they like. At the same time I assume I can have my opinion whether it is feasible. :)
In no way I try to say: "hey, you're wrong, re-write" If it sounded that way, it was unintentional.


message 30: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
I appreciate you saying, Oleksandr! I am afraid Mary gets a lot of the "hey you're wrong/I know better than you" stuff, if her Twitter is any indication.


message 31: by Oleksandr (last edited Sep 21, 2018 08:08AM) (new)

Oleksandr Zholud | 831 comments if I may ask a non-related question to the author (if it is inappropriate, please disregard):

What is the origin of your surname?

edit: I'm just curious because kowal is a smith in Polish and Ukrainian and I wanted to know is it a coincidence


message 32: by Trike (new)

Trike Wabash says hi. :)




message 33: by Trike (new)

Trike If Mary is still doing this...

What made you choose Dayton? It’s the perfect choice for the nascent government and NACA, because for the first 60 years of the 20th century it was essentially the center for innovation in America, but not an obvious one to people who don’t know about it.

Personally I thought it was cool, having grown up there.


message 34: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Mary said some of her availability may be spotty this month, so hang in!


message 35: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 899 comments Thanks for your time, Mary!

I have a question regarding the novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars. The doctor, Dorothy, and her aunt and uncle have the same names as the characters in The Wizard of Oz. I was wondering why you chose this reference? Thanks again.


message 36: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9645 comments Mod
Christopher wrote: "I have a question regarding the novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars. The doctor, Dorothy, and her aunt and uncle have the same names as the characters in The Wizard of Oz. I was wondering why you chose this reference?"

This was actually talked about in the Lady Astronaut buddy read thread.


message 37: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 899 comments Thanks! I hadn't seen that.


message 38: by Mary Robinette (new)

Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinette) | 7 comments @Oleksander #24 - Thanks for letting me know about "the" in relation to Ukraine. The news snippet is a real one from the 1950s, adjusted slightly for the timeline. And I've learned something today, so thank you for that. For others who are interested in reading, here's a Washington Post article on the subject.

The funny thing is that I live in the Ukrainian village in Chicago and have a Ukrainian surname. The folks in my neighborhood definitely say "the" but I suspect that split might be because most emigrated before the Soviet Union collapsed in this world.

@Trike #33 Dayton is the closest city to Wright-Patterson. Nothing fancier than that.


message 39: by Trike (new)

Trike Technically Fairborn and Beavercreek are closer, but I digress.😝

Thanks for answering everyone’s questions, Mary.

****

Fun fact about Dayton: it hosts the second largest air show in the world after Paris. Planes, pilots and people from all over the world descend on Dayton for the show.

Wright-Patt used to be a SAC base and my parent’s house is right under the flight path for the alternate runway, so we occasionally had B-52s flying over our house. Because the runway was the old one at Wilbur Wright Field, they had to take a very low-and-slow approach, so we always got a great view of the planes coming in.

The newspaper would periodically publish a map detailing who would be the most dead in a nuclear war. Sometimes downtown Dayton was the target, sometimes Wright-Patt was. If the latter, we were comfortably inside the “incinerated instantly” red circle. (The Cold War was *heaps* of fun, kids.)

During the 40th anniversary celebration of the Air Force’s creation, they invited the USSR to participate. This was in 1987, just a couple years after Red Dawn came out, which is all about the Soviets invading America, and right after Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising was published, which is basically the same thing.

So we’re sitting in the back yard when we hear this big jet approaching. They would be so low we could see the pilots. Except on this lovely summer evening, it wasn’t a B-52 but the gigantic Soviet transport plane... followed by their version of the big bomber... followed by USSR fighter jets. 😲

We honestly thought we were being invaded. The pilots waving to us did not alleviate our concern. Fortunately a number of our neighbors were USAF personnel and they assured us we were not being taken over by the Commies.

Our own little War of the Worlds panic.😝


message 40: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13043 comments Mod
Mary, on behalf of all of us, thank you so much again for taking the time to answer our questions! I think we've all learned a lot from you personally and from your book(s). We've had some great discussions this month and are so pleased that some of them were with you!

Thank you!


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