Category Archives: #ReadingisResistance

Review: Lady Astronaut Series

Lady Astronaut Series by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title:  The Lady Astronaut Series
The Lady Astronaut of Mars” – short story (free!)
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: 2013 – 2018
ISBN 13:  9780765378385 & 9780765398949
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @maryrobinette
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  Fated Sky

Publisher’s Blurb:   (Calculating Stars):  … with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

(Fated Sky):  Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Mary Robinette Kowal with yours truly
WorldCon 76 – 2018

I am not kidding even a little when I say these books jumped to the top of my list of favorites.  And getting to meet Mary Robinette Kowal was a highlight of my WorldCon experience.  She really is kind, patient and generous.

The Lady Astronaut series is entertaining, even while discussing important topics like sexism, racism and, climate change, just to name a few.

And her publisher Tor has announced there will be two more books in the series.

The Calculating Stars
This book literally starts off with a bang.  A cataclysmic event which takes out most of the east coast of the US, and precipitates a space race to move the world’s population to another planet.

It’s an alternate history of the US space program set in the late 1950s and grapples with the big question we find ourselves facing now, “How do we save ourselves?”

Elma is a mathematician who ferried planes around during World War II.  She is smart, capable and, stubborn.  Her only visible flaw is that she’s a woman in that time period.  She has to fight so much just to have her contributions to the space program noticed.  She’s fine  out of the public eye as a computer.  But that’s not what she wants for herself, or her friends who also fly.

Part of Elma’s story is her social anxiety.  In school she was shamed for being smart.  One of her coping mechanisms is to count prime numbers.  But doing that doesn’t keep her from throwing up before she makes public appearances.  So she does what any sensible person would do, she goes to the doctor for help.

Miltown prescription in hand, Elma is better able to handle her anxiety.  It has to be kept a secret though, because open knowledge would cause those the men in charge to view her as an hysterical female and drop her from the program.

It would have been just as easy to not write this about Elma.  It’s already nearly impossible for her to make any headway on equality in the space program.  Giving her protagonist social anxiety, Kowal shows just how determined Elma is to make equality a realty.

The things the women have to do to prove their worth are demeaning.  Something most women would identify with, no matter their generation or profession.  And all the women striving to be in the space program paste their best smiles on and go through the paces.  They know there’s a lot on the line for so many reasons.

By the end of The Calculating Stars Elma has earned her place in the program setting up the Moon as a way station to Mars.

The Fated Sky
There’s a colony on the moon now, and Elma rotates on and off, flying shuttles to Earth and helping prepare for the next big step, colonizing Mars.

It isn’t until the director realizes that the navigational computer isn’t reliable and too hard to program that a woman is considered for the crew.  Elma’s highly visible profile as the “Lady Astronaut” makes her the choice to go at the expense of someone else’s place.  And living in close quarters makes it harder on everyone involved.

Seven people on a space ship to Mars.  There’s a lot of tension.  Affairs are revealed, old wounds are picked at, and Elma does her best to roll with it.  We finally see what’s been festering between Stetson Parker and Elma York in both books.

We also get to see the astronauts try to work through the personal issues which could very well be the downfall of the mission to Mars.  The best thing about Elma is she’s always trying to understand, and learn, when her privileged white background gets in the way.

By the end of the book, landing on Mars has become not routine, but is well on its way.

Review: River Queens

River Queens by Alexander Watson

Title:  River Queens
AuthorAlexander Watson
Published:  2018
ISBN 13:  978-1939710-857
Publisher:  Orangefrazer Press
Twitter:  @riverqueenbook

Publisher’s Blurb:  River Queens is at once a romance of men and the river, a fantasy come to life, an unparalleled adventure story, one of the best travel journals around—and a glad picture for our turbulent times.

I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review.  Thank you Alexander Watson!

Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant and the story of River Queens is so compelling I’m having a hard time finding my objectivity.  I want to write a fair review without seeming to shill for him.  But damn this book was good.  It’s one of the better ones I’ve read over the summer.

The book releases mid-October, they haven’t even gotten this one out yet and I’m already asking what he’s working on next.  That’s how much I want him to succeed and keep writing great books so I can keep reading them.

Ahem ….

When I was in 6th grade, my family lived in Hannibal, MO.  The three things which stand out in my mind all these decades later are the mannequin of Becky Thatcher with ankle long blonde braids, the address at which we lived, and the Mississip’.

We were a nomadic family and so were only in Hannibal for one school year.  But the impression that big brown river made on me stays, and makes me homesick for a place I’ve overly romanticized in my childhood memories.

Which is to say, I can relate in some small way to the call of the river.  And that is what Alexander and Dale,  their spotted dog Doris Faye, and a left for dead 1955  forty-five foot Chris-Craft Corsair answer.

It starts in Texas where Alexander finds the wooden yacht, and ends with a refurbished beauty which they sail to Betty Jane’s home berth in Cleveland.

I was smitten pretty early on.  A gay couple is gonna fix up their boat and sail it into unknown territory.  In the South.  They are going to sail right into the belly of unallayed bigotry, and count on the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.

I knew it was going to be good when Watson relates the story of finding The King & I (later renamed Betty Jane).  The man who handles the transaction for the boat tells them, “They think wood boats just sink or break apart … for no reason.  That’s bull.  They fail ’cause somebody quit lovin’ ’em.”

This is a hard life they’re putting themselves into, and it becomes apparent they have enough love for all concerned.  Alexander and Dale go into this knowing it’s going to be one of the hardest things they’ve ever done, and they do it anyway.  And they keep doing it, even when it gets harder than anyone could have expected.

Watson does not sugar coat anything.  Nor does he dwell on the difficulties.  He writes about it all.  And there are some heartbreaking moments in this book.

Awkward’s in there too.  One that had I been within earshot, I’m not sure I could have looked either of them in the eye afterwards.  Watson doesn’t flinch in the telling.  Their loud argument has a good reason to be in the story, it’s not there as some sort of nod to, “See?  We’re just like straight couples, we argue too.”  Nothing in this book is done to make anyone feel Alexander and Dale are other than what they are.

And they are two men who love each other fiercely and work together to rebuild this boat and fulfill their dream.  The people they meet along the way, for the most part, are polite and helpful.  River folk in the South are friendly and say, “See ya down the river.”

Even when they question what two ho-mo-sex-u-als are doing in their river.  And there are several encounters that make me wince for the state of grace which cannot allow people to just be people.

Gods and goddesses what adventures these two have.  It makes me want to pay for adult beverages while they regale me with tales and tell me how they got through heartbreaking death, horrifying weather, and the sweltering humidity of life on a boat on a river.

There’s not a whole lot wrong with the way this book is written.  It’s elegant in a way that so few books these days are.  It’s evident Watson worked hard, and lovingly, on River Queens, but it doesn’t read like hard work at all.  It reads smoothly, like a lazy day on the river when all is right with the world.

I am grateful Alexander Watson reached out to me and asked I read his book.  And I look forward to reading more of his writing as it becomes available.  The country could use a few more gentlemanly intrepid travelers.

Review: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Title:  American Gods
Author Neil Gaiman
Published: 2001
Publisher: Harper Torch
Twitter@NeilHimself
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming — a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.

“This isn’t about what this is,” said Mr. Nancy.  “It’s about what people think it is.  It’s all imaginary anyway.  That’s why it’s important.  People only fight over imaginary things.”  (p. 427)

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a simple premise.  The old gods are dying as people forget them and create new ones.  As simple as that may sound, the story is rich and complex, exploring the relationship of people to their gods, and of the gods to their people.

Shadow Moon gets out of jail early to take care of his wife’s affairs after she and his best friend die in a car accident.  We later find out they were having an affair.  Shadow accepts this news numbly and spends the rest of the story allowing events to move him along.

On the plane home, he meets the persistent Mr. Wednesday, a somewhat shabby old man who keeps offering Shadow a job.  When Shadow finally accepts, he’s told that he’s expected to just do whatever Mr. Wednesday tells him to do.

Mr. Wednesday, later revealed as Odin,  is recruiting the old gods to a final battle with the new gods (Media, Technology, Drugs, etc.).  One of those meetings is with Mad Sweeney, an Irish leprechaun.  Mad Sweeney teaches Shadow how to retrieve gold coins from thin air.  It is one of these coins which Shadow places in his wife’s coffin as she is buried.  The coin brings Laura to life, and she follows Shadow on his adventures, offering a Greek chorus commentary along the way.

The final battle occurs when Shadow Moon offers himself as sacrifice after Wednesday is killed.  Shadow is hung from the Tree of Life (Yggdrasil) for nine days and nights.  During the tasks Shadow performs on his vigil, he learns that Mr. Wednesday and his former cell mate Low-Key Lyesmith (Odin’s son, Loki) have been playing a long two-man con meant to generate an all out battle between gods so the old gods would die in Odin’s name, making him powerful once again.

Shadow returns to the battlefield, explaining this to the gods, who all disappear.

And yes, of course, I have oversimplified the story.  American Gods is nearly 600 pages long.  In preparing for this review, I visited many websites which go into the story, the characters, the symbolism, etc. more deeply than I do.

I’ve been interested in ancient religions for quite some time.  Finding authors who give the gods a different spin is really entertaining. Richard Kadrey does it to great effect in his Sandman Slim series.  Kevin Hearne with his Iron Druid ChroniclesAmerican Gods is top of the heap for me.

Having read it twice, and expecting to read it many more times, the surprises of the familiar never stopped.  And as with all good stories, I just followed along.  Or, as Shadow Moon says,

I feel like I’m in a world with its own sense of logic.  Its own rules.  Like when you’re in a dream, and you know there are rules you mustn’t break.  Even if you don’t know what they mean.  I’m just going along with it …” (p. 90)

It’s not necessary to be familiar with all the gods to enjoy this story.  There were many I didn’t know,  like the Slavic god Czernobog and his relatives the Zorya Sisters, the story never faltered.  Mr. Wednesday was up to something and he was involving everyone he ever once knew.

The concept of people creating their gods and bringing them from their home land to a new land is intriguing.  It seems obvious to me now.  Even the Christians did it.  But we often overlook the diversity of the United States, missing the stories of so many who have come in the hope of a better life.

Of course we brought our gods with us.  The gods are the familiar, the tether which we hold on to as we try to make sense of the unfamiliar surrounding us.  This idea shouldn’t be new, nor should it be shocking.

If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor.  Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all …

Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.  (p. 508)

Neil Gaiman uses this idea in American Gods, to illustrate how each of us has a story, and it’s often different from our neighbor’s story.  New gods shove their way in, pushing the old gods aside.  This is one of the most fascinating themes in the book.  How does your god differ from mine?  Is mine a new god, or an old one?  And have I morphed mine into something different in order to survive the times in which I live?

This is the beauty of Gaiman’s work.  He touches on these ideas in all his books.  And American Gods focuses on it with charm and wit.

Three Days at WorldCon 76: Sunday

Day 1Day 2 – Day 3: Sunday, August 19, 2018

WorldCon Sunday

Exhausted! By the time I got home Sunday afternoon, I was veering into walls.

Panel:
SETI:  What Do We Do When We Find Them? – Andrew Fraknoi Guy Consolmagno, SB Divya, Douglas Vakoch, Lonny Brooks

Wow!  Lots of interesting questions about contacting extra-terrestrial intelligence.  While there was a massive amount of smarts on the panel, it was really cool to learn Vatican City has an observatory, and the director of the observatory, Guy J. Consolmagno, was on the panel.

“We’re always looking for ourselves.”

Interesting questions:
How do we not anthropomorphize aliens?
Maybe we should warn them about us?
What are we not including/asking?
What is our motivation for searching for extraterrestrial intelligence?
What are the consequences of contact?
Will aliens be truthful?  (Based on human history, there’s been a lot of dissembling.)
Should we just remain quiet?
Should we be more powerful?

Recommended Reading:
Would You Baptize An Extraterrestrial?

John Scalzi Signature

After the panel it was time for another swing through the Dealer’s Room, and find the line for a John Scalzi autograph.

What a great weekend!