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Group Reads Discussions 2018 > "The Calculating Stars" - First Impressions *No Spoilers*

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

Allison Hurd | 13034 comments Mod
Are you being swept away?

Please be careful of spoilers for works outside of Calculating Stars, and avoid character or plot progression in your comments! The full spoiler thread will be open on the 7th.


message 2: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
If you missed our buddy read of The Lady Astronaut of Mars, here are the links to all the short fiction pieces in this world, all available online:

Publication order
The Lady Astronaut of Mars
We Interrupt This Broadcast
Rockets Red
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky

Chronological order
We Interrupt This Broadcast
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky
Rockets Red
The Lady Astronaut of Mars

I would personally read "We Interrupt This Broadcast" after The Calculating Stars, and "Rockets Red" after The Fated Sky.


message 3: by Gabi (new)

Gabi | 3405 comments At first I wasn't sure, cause of the 1950ies setting. This usually works well for me for short stories, I but somehow dreaded a whole novel set in this era. But so far my concerns were unfounded. I'm enjoying it and while reading, the story presents itself as an old b/w movie before my mind's eye - which is a lot of fun.


message 4: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (last edited Sep 01, 2018 05:28AM) (new)

Allison Hurd | 13034 comments Mod
And don't forget to raise any questions you have to the author herself!


message 5: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
Once again a comment about the audiobook. It's narrated by MRK herself, and as some of you may know, she is a professional narrator. I highly recommend the audiobook, I really loved it! As always, try the sample first, because my taste may not match yours.


message 6: by Anthony (new)

Anthony (albinokid) | 1471 comments It’s very refreshing to read a piece of SFF that’s set in a timeframe that’s been made quite familiar through films, so we have a lot of cultural touchstones to ground us there.

I’m very glad I read The Lady Astronaut from Mars novella first. It adds some lovely resonance for me.


message 7: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
Anthony wrote: "I’m very glad I read The Lady Astronaut from Mars novella first. It adds some lovely resonance for me."

I completely agree. I can't make decisions for other people, but I would highly recommend reading the novelette first.


message 8: by Bruce (new)

Bruce (bruce1984) | 386 comments Anna wrote: "Once again a comment about the audiobook. It's narrated by MRK herself, and as some of you may know, she is a professional narrator. I highly recommend the audiobook, I really loved it! As always, ..."

I'm listening to the audiobook and it is very well narrated. The emphases are all in the right spots.

About the book, I'm enjoying the 50's flavor of it. Everything feels very real at this point.


message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 1323 comments I noted yesterday that Brandon Sanderson gave this book and its sequel rave reviews! I w as not planning on reading it but if they keep his crazy mind up all night.....


message 10: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 2610 comments I actually have to wonder if I would have appreciated The Lady Astronaut of Mars more if I had read it afterwards. I loved them both either way and will definitely check out the other stories.

I think most impressive about The Calculating Stars is the feeling of authenticity it gives. I can’t really explain more without spoilers so I’ll wait. But I really feel like no detail was overlooked.


message 11: by Travis (new)

Travis Foster (travismfoster) | 1154 comments I'm about 200 pages in and really loving it: such a page turner! I agree about the authenticity too (though I do keep wondering why folks aren't always smoking cigarettes).


message 12: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
Sarah wrote: "I actually have to wonder if I would have appreciated The Lady Astronaut of Mars more if I had read it afterwards."

There's an upside and a downside to both I think, but I'm happy with my decision to read it both before and after all the other stories. It made me appreciate some things in the novel in a completely different way.


message 13: by David (new)

David Haws | 448 comments I’m halfway in. It’s a quick read and the prose is very accessible, but I’m not buying the characters or setting. Part of the problem is that Elma’s über mädchen vibe is too strong, which I think would work better as YA, or even Middle Grades. I think the setting suffers from the author having no firsthand memories of the ‘50s (which is probably only a problem for those of us who do).


message 14: by Dawn F (new)

Dawn F (psychedk) | 1219 comments I started last week with an audio reading, but found it so annoying I got a refund and got the eBook instead. The narrator was doing voices, as in a fake 50s television news reporter as you spoke back then whenever there was a news report. But even worse, she'd do a low, rumbling voice when reading as the husband. Who reads like that in their mind? I certainly don't and find it very distracting when narrators do light female voices and deep male voices. Just read normally, people! :D

Anyway, I read the last chapters again and I love the writing already, it's so much better now without the interpretation through the narrator. Very immersive, very detailed, the shock, the unreality of it. I feel very close to an actual disaster. I need to finish both Kraken and Ammonite before I'll allow myself to continue, but I'm glad to have something to look forward to!


message 15: by Dawn F (new)

Dawn F (psychedk) | 1219 comments Sarah wrote: "I actually have to wonder if I would have appreciated The Lady Astronaut of Mars more if I had read it afterwards."

Anna wrote: "There's an upside and a downside to both I think, but I'm happy with my decision to read it both before and after all the other stories. It made me appreciate some things in the novel in a completely different way."


I also read the short story first (or well, I'd already listened to a bit of the audio reading for Calculating Stars, but not enough that it counts), and I also wonder if it's a different experience reading the short story after. I was hit hard by the short story, so I can only imagine reading it after having been immersed in the characters through a whole novel will add so much more to it. However I agree, since I loved them so much in the short story, it feels easier getting into them now in the novel. I guess there isn't a correct way to do it, just slightly different ways to experience her writings.


message 16: by Anna, Circadian heretic (last edited Sep 01, 2018 02:44PM) (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
It took me a few chapters to get used to the ”voices”, but then I couldn’t imagine it being any other way! It added so much, like the accents, especially Elma’s. I would never imagine it like that in my head, but it immersed me in the 50s. But I also understand why someone would want a less enthusiastic narration. I felt it was like a radio play, and that suited the story very well.


message 17: by Dawn F (new)

Dawn F (psychedk) | 1219 comments Hmm yeah I’m just not much for accents as it feels like the text is being interpreted for me. When I read the “news parts” myself, they came off as neutral, matter of fact intros to the chapters with an account of how the meteorite had affected the world. On the audio narration if felt theatrical. I noticed the voice and accent far more than the actual concent to the point that when I read it myself today, I didn’t even remember or recognize it, that’s how different the narration was to what the raw text came off as. But each to their own, of course! Some narration I like, some I don’t, and you don’t really know until you try it out :)


message 18: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
I always love it when the author narrates the book, I don’t think it counts as interpretation, it’s just an enhanced format, and you can be sure it sounds exactly as intended. But I do know how the wrong narrator can ruin a book, and I wish I had enough sense to do what you did and switch to the ebook when that happens!


message 19: by Dawn F (last edited Sep 01, 2018 03:41PM) (new)

Dawn F (psychedk) | 1219 comments I hadn’t even noticed it was the author who has narrated The Calculating Stars lol. That’s embarrassing. Otherwise I’d agree with you, I do like when the author narrate their own book as it’s often closer to what they had in mind. But I’ve seen people be turned off my the author’s own voice, like for The Changeling. Which I loved the audio of but others disliked the author’s way of reading. I guess it just varies and I’ve been lucky that I’ve liked author narration mostly, except this one, apparently.


message 20: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
I also liked the Changeling audio, but I can understand why some found it lacking. It’s the complete opposite of this one! Anyway, that’s why I always tell people to try the sample first when I praise the audio, because it’s very subjective.


message 21: by Mareike (last edited Sep 02, 2018 02:06PM) (new)

Mareike | 1420 comments David wrote: I’m halfway in. It’s a quick read and the prose is very accessible, but I’m not buying the characters or setting. Part of the problem is that Elma’s über mädchen vibe is too strong, ...
Huh, interesting. I read her completely differently. She's competent and knows it (which is what I would expect from a former WASP working for NACA). She felt very real to me from the outset. Goes to show how differently a character can feel for different people.

I'm enjoying the attention to detail (especially in describing how people react to and deal with events of the plot) and how the author handles the way in which events change/don't change society and the characters.

Wondering if I should have read the novella first, but it's too late now, I guess,


message 22: by Bruce (new)

Bruce (bruce1984) | 386 comments On a first impression, she feels to me like a super nerd kind of like the super nerds in Ready Player One, although not to that extreme.


message 23: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments This is really really a first impression, like two pages in, but I liked what I read. I should have my copy by Monday. I'm looking forward to it.


message 24: by Lara (new)

Lara Gustafson | 1 comments I’m on page 176 and the first thing I did this morning was order “The Fated Sky” because I’m enjoying this book so much! I stayed up waaaaaaay too late last night reading....


message 25: by Gabi (new)

Gabi | 3405 comments Lara wrote: "I’m on page 176 and the first thing I did this morning was order “The Fated Sky” because I’m enjoying this book so much! I stayed up waaaaaaay too late last night reading...."

:D Know the feeling. I was so tired today and wondered why. My partner stared at me and told me that I was up way after 2 am, reading. I didn't even realise that, cause I was so immersed in the novel.


message 26: by David (last edited Sep 02, 2018 11:39AM) (new)

David Haws | 448 comments Mareike wrote: "...She's competent and knows it..."

Elma’s competence and confidence aren’t the problem—there were lots of confident, competent women in 1950’s America—but they were seldom credentialled in the way Elma is.


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

Allison Hurd | 13034 comments Mod
We'll likely open the spoiler thread early on this, so hang on, David's right!


message 28: by David (new)

David Navratil | 25 comments New member David here, I grew up in the early 50's and can relate
to some of what I've read so far. I'm about 100 pages in (Slow Reader) but enjoy this book!


message 29: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (new)

Allison Hurd | 13034 comments Mod
You're beating me, David! I'm not nearly that far yet but I can already tell I'm gonna tear through this book.

And Elma is so much cooler than my expectations even that I feel like you all have intentionally kept a secret from me. How rude! ;-)


message 30: by Peter (new)

Peter | 40 comments started listening to the audiobook today. almost an hour in and enjoying it so far


message 31: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Lestingi (vlestin) | 41 comments I am liking the book, although I discovered (finally, after not being able to point down my problem with the book) I am not liking Elma.
There was something off about it that made me what to shut it, like she's too good, leaning on obnoxiously good. I agree it may be better suited for a YA style.
I do LOVE whenever I read "bless her heart" not meant in a fuck you way.

Somehow I found myself, effortlessly, in the middle of the book already, so that is a plus.


message 32: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie King (marjorie_king) | 2 comments This books is so deeply personal for me, and I absolutely love it. My mom was strongly discouraged from becoming an engineer from both men and women in her family. So she majored in math and minored in Chemistry and became a teacher. (An awesome one, but it wasn't her dream job.)

Fast forward to now, and I'm a Chemical Engineer. Both my mom and dad cheered me on with so many other engineers (men and women) in my church. I stand on the shoulders of the brilliant women who sacrificed before me. Including my mom.

This story resonates so deeply with me. I recognized every math sequence Elma used to calm herself. AND I LOVED IT!

OK, I'm going to stop right here before I get WAY too spoiley. I want others to enjoy and be surprised by the book like I was.


message 33: by Michael Kaiser (new)

Michael Kaiser So far...I'm still #2 on my library's waiting list.


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

Allison Hurd | 13034 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "So far...I'm still #2 on my library's waiting list."

*shakes a fist towards the indifferent heavens*

Why, library, why??


message 35: by David (new)

David Haws | 448 comments Victoria: Yeah, I picked up the “obnoxiously good” dynamic as well. Elma gets more complex as the book progresses (I’m almost finished) and that helps.

Marjorie: I was doing some research, got ahold of a 1950s University Yearbook, and noticed that the College of Engineering had nominated a Homecoming Queen. One of our deans had been an undergraduate at the time, so I asked him, “Where did they find the woman?” Apparently, they had an agreement with one of the other colleges to supply Engineering student organizations with women candidates.

I knew a woman who completed a Chemical Engineering degree in the early 1960s, but she had to enroll at a “sister college” because the state’s engineering university was only open to male students. I did my engineering degrees as a retread in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and women engineering students were still rare (maybe 1 or 2%). I did have one woman professor (in three undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees) but when I retired from teaching (2012) 25% of my undergraduate students were female. Most people need to see the change before they can do it, so I’m sure the fact that our dean was a woman, and that all of our departments had female faculty was the principal contribution. But for Elma, she would have to have been extraordinary (Stanford didn’t want married doc candidates, let alone female candidates). More typically, Elma’s facility with numbers would have been subsumed, first by her father and then her husband (which it sort of is, but normally the contributions of subsumed women were kept invisible). Elma would have—more typically—been encouraged to study something like Literature (Lillian Moller Gilbreth) or she might be allowed to study something marginal like Geology (Lou Henry Hoover). I think the lesson from history is that the extraordinary (Mozart, Gandhi) are unstoppable.


message 36: by Cheryl (last edited Sep 04, 2018 05:11PM) (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 2285 comments David wrote: "... But for Elma, she would have to have been extraordinary.... I think the lesson from history is that the extraordinary (Mozart, Gandhi) are unstoppable. ..."

I think that's an excellent point. She's not "too good" but rather she's amazing....

Or at least that would make sense. I don't have the book yet though.


message 37: by Allison, Fairy Mod-mother (last edited Sep 04, 2018 04:35PM) (new)

Allison Hurd | 13034 comments Mod
I get nervous when I see big posts in the first impressions threads, but I'm really enjoying these stories that add context and more meaning to what we're reading! Thanks for sharing, folks!


message 38: by Meredith (new)

Meredith | 1352 comments My first impressions are that I was very swept up by the events and also very invested in the characters. Kowal brings you right into the main character's thoughts and experiences and she feels like a very real person to me.


message 39: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Lestingi (vlestin) | 41 comments David wrote: "...Elma gets more complex as the book progresses (I’m almost finished) and that helps..."

I'm finding this more and more as the book goes by. I was not impressed at the beginning, but I am liking it more and more with every page.


message 40: by Mareike (new)

Mareike | 1420 comments David wrote:....But for Elma, she would have to have been extraordinary. ....

I agree and I think her backstory makes that clear as the story progresses. If you look at women doing similar work in the 50s and 60s (Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space comes to mind of course) they were all extraordinary. And they had to be to even get a shot.


message 41: by Peter (new)

Peter | 40 comments Victoria wrote: "David wrote: "...Elma gets more complex as the book progresses (I’m almost finished) and that helps..."

I'm finding this more and more as the book goes by. I was not impressed at the beginning, bu..."


I have the same feeling.


message 42: by David (new)

David Haws | 448 comments I was a little put off by the cover art seeming to mimic the Hidden Figures movies poster (not that book's cover art). I'd be interested to know how this book compares with other Kowal narratives. Her Writing Excuses contributions seem particularly insightful.


message 43: by Karin (new)

Karin | 773 comments I have read it and liked it, 3+ stars, but will go to the spoilers thread since I'm done.


message 44: by Anna, Circadian heretic (new)

Anna (vegfic) | 9629 comments Mod
The spoiler thread will open tomorrow!


message 45: by Kim (new)

Kim Kaso | 33 comments I am so-o-o loving this book, hit me at just the right moment, I guess. Am looking forward to passing this onto my daughters.


message 46: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 521 comments Started the audiobook. Really liking it so far.


message 47: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 2285 comments I have it, and it's calling me... I just wish I were done with the books that have closer due dates!


message 48: by Trike (new)

Trike So I was finally able to start today, and that opening chapter is terrific.

And I love the fact that you know *immediately* that this is a different world from the jump with the very first lines using the newspaper headline:
PRESIDENT DEWEY CONGRATULATES
NACA ON SATELLITE LAUNCH
Those first four words declare this is an alternate history. That’s got to be some sort of record for efficiency.

NACA being the forerunner to NASA, and of course Truman beat Dewey, but it was so close that it resulted in one of the most famous headlines in American history: https://goo.gl/images/SGdHXS


message 49: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina | 365 comments My first Impression of the first 2 chapters is "wow this starts in the middle of things". I'm really liking the tone of the story and to discover the history behind the old couple from the novella.


message 50: by Sabrina (new)

Sabrina | 365 comments Trike wrote: "NACA being the forerunner to NASA, and of course Truman beat Dewey, but it was so close that it resulted in one of the most famous headlines in American history: https://goo.gl/images/SGdHXS ..."

Oh, that’s interesting and very well done. Given that I was not yet born and from Switzerland I did not know this, so thanks for the background!


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