Tag Archives: The Calculating Stars

Review: 2018 Reading

Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Calculating Stars signature
Binti by Nnedi Okarafor
River Queens by Alexander Watson
How Fiction Works by James Wood
The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

For the first time in so many years, I’m not in utter misery looking into the New Year.  2019 holds great promise and hope for me. As unexpected as that is to say, it comes as a great relief.  Books and lists are the great constant. The great coping mechanism of all time, making lists. It was like the sun shone only on me the day I realized I could combine the two and keep my sanity.

One blissful weekend in August when I was hanging out with other geeks and nerds who loved what I did my vague dissatisfaction was temporarily banished.  I went to panels about writing, met authors (and a real live astronaut), sat in lines with others and talked about writing. Frequently amused that wherever there was a line, we all had some kind of device out in order to read. My device was dead tree style.

Exhaustion was my companion the entire con, but gods I was happy.  Happy? How could that possibly be? When WorldCon 76 San Jose was over, the sticky film of vague unrest returned.  Barf, I thought (or words to that effect, anyway). Inklings filtered through my overtaxed, hyperalert brain.

When great ideas hit it can feel like a jolt of lightning, adrenaline flowing through my spine.  This idea was quieter. An author I met at WorldCon started posting about teaching writing. And so I asked, “do you have something for me?”  His probing questions finally got me to the bottom of my unrest. “I want to learn to read and write about books better.”

And that’s how I found a mentor, and made the last quarter of 2018  happy. Best decision of my life ever. It’s not just the reading and writing which have evolved.  Unexpected personal growth came at me like sunshine filtered through open doors. Even on the hardest of hard days when I think I can’t even get out of bed, and the writing is like carving bricks of granite with my bare hands, I know I’ll be good.  Discovering the weird joys of LitCrit have given me a new dimension of meaning.

It is nearly impossible to pick just a few great books from 2018, but here’s my attempt at defining the seminal books for me.

2018 Books by the Numbers:

  • 68 read
  • 20,382 pages
  • 26 unique publication years
  • 40 unique author names
    • 19 female authors
    • 23 male authors
    • 26 new to me authors
  • 98 books new to the stacks
    • 48 new to the stacks read
    • 7 new to the stacks Pearl Ruled

Favorite Reads

The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood, Margaret
Even more relevant today than when first published, Atwood’s description of a dystopian, Puritanical society with no agency for women chills.  My review will focus on the use of Scripture as justification.
The Armored Saint by Cole, Myke
The Queen of Crows by Cole, Myke
Heloise is the hero we need now.  Tight, intricate, suspenseful story about a young woman leading the uprising against the religious order in charge.  Book 3, The Killing Light, comes out in 2019.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Egan, Jennifer
Freakin’ brilliant.  We spent a month on it, I read it three times.  Don’t let the non-linear style throw you off. Egan tells a hell of a story.
American Gods by Gaiman, Neil
What happens when Old Gods realize they’re being squeezed out by the New Gods?  Just as fantastic on the second read.
My Journey in Creative Reading by Gallowglas, M. Todd
Don’t know how to review this book since he’s also my mentor.  Every bit is so good and resonated so deeply I knew I had the right guy.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Hurley, Kameron
My love letter to Kameron who speaks the truth about being a woman so hard.  I continue to learn a lot from her about feminism and writing. GFR has earned a permanent place on my reference shelf.
The Calculating Stars by Kowal, Mary Robinette
The Fated Sky by Kowal, Mary Robinette
Speaking of feminism … Elma’s a wonderful example of all any human could be; blind spots and social anxiety and all.  Mary Robinette Kowal is as kind and generous as I had hoped. An hour with her and real live astronaut, Kjell Lindgren was more than I’d expected.  Excitedly waiting for two more Lady Astronaut books.
Beloved by Morrison, Toni
Because I am stubborn and refuse to read what “everyone” else is reading, it took an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad, and some serious prodding from a trusted friend to read Toni Morrison’s classic.  Best opening line ever, “124 was spiteful.”
Binti by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti: Home by Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti:  The Night Masquerade by Okorafor, Nnedi
Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant story about a young African woman who breaks tribal taboos to go to university on another planet.  My review will focus on the bigotry Binti encounters on her quest.
River Queens by Watson, Alexander
Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant as he tells the tale of refurbishing a wooden boat and sailing her from Texas to Ohio.  His is the most polished debut I’ve read and I’m forever grateful he asked me to review it.
How Fiction Works by Wood, James
Every writer, every critic, every anyone interested in reading and writing needs to read How Fiction Works.  My review focuses on why critical reviewers should know about craft in order to write better themselves.

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.

Three Days at WorldCon 76: Saturday

Day 1 – Day 2: Saturday, August 18, 2018 – Day 3

WorldCon Saturday

The must do event was the KaffeeKlatsche with @Mary Robinette Kowal and @astroKjell (Kjell Lindgren) .  MRK has written two of my favorite books ever, her Lady Astronaut series.  (Reviews coming much later when I get caught up with stuff.)

Getting to sit at a table and talk to the woman who wrote a fantastic book whose protagonist is strong, smart and an advocate for women in the space program knocked my socks off.  Oh, and a real live astronaut.  What a great way to start the day.

Mary and Kjell are some of the best people I’ve ever met.  They were kind and generous with their time, and allowed the 10 of us at their table to ask questions.  I’m grateful to for the opportunity to meet and engage with them.

Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars signature

Kjell Lindgren

Kjell Lindgren signature

Panel:
1001 Years Later – What Happened to Arabian FictionShayma Alshareef and Yasser Bahjatt

1001 Nights is the first anthology ever.
“Fiction gives voice to the voiceless.”

Science fiction writing is booming in the Middle East now.  Yasser Bahjatt started a publishing house so that these voices can be heard.  One of his goals is to work with translators so that English readers get to hear the voices too.  It’s a really exciting development for world science fiction/fantasy

Recommended reading:
Frankenstein in Baghdad

Celebrity sighting:  George R R Martin in the audience

Panel:
Women Who Out Steampunked Steampunk:  Real Life Soldiers, Inventors, TravellersCarrie Sessarego.  

I couldn’t possibly do justice to Carrie’s roll call of Regency and Victorian era women who “broke” the rules.

Recommended Reading:
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

Panel:
Houston, We Have a Problem …Bridget Landry, Norman Sperling, Kjell Lindgren

Two thoughts:  Failure is how we learn, and make new mistakes