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The Calculating Stars

A Lady Astronaut Novel
Narrated by: Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut, Book 1
Length: 11 hrs and 38 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (75 ratings)

Non-member price: $34.76

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Publisher's Summary

Mary Robinette Kowal's science fiction debut, The Calculating Stars, explores the premise behind her award-winning Lady Astronaut of Mars

Den of Geek - Best Science Fiction Books of June 2018 

Omnivoracious - Fifteen Highly Anticipated SFF Reads for Summer 2018 

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the East Coast of the US, including Washington, DC. 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 requires a much-larger share of humanity to take part in the process. 

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But 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. 

Elma’s drive to become the first lady astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

©2018 Mary Robinette Kowal (P)2018 Audible, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Disappointing

The story had promise but the whimpering main character and cringeworthy attempts at romantic/sex scenes almost laughable.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A wonderful 'what if tale'

A wonderful tale of what would have happened if space race history had been changed. I fully endorse MRK's reading and her writing in this narrative.

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Perfect women centred alternate timeline space drama

I loved all the new information I learnt about how women actually shaped our space timeline from this book. I heard an excellent interview from the author about all the research she does to make her characters and world building fit the time period she is writing about. I never knew much about the WASPS and all I knew about women computers came from Hidden Figures (I am not American and the space race is not taught in history class). Loved this book and will recommend it.

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Great story, enjoyed it.

The performance was great, a good story with some interesting ways of thinking about the future

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Well paced but too hard on the messaging

An enjoyable story that set a cracking pace, with good character development. The author's narration is excellent too. However, I did feel that every 5 minutes I was being reminded of the main character's religion and that she was working really hard to overcome her anxiety. Yep, I understood the third time - don't need it a dozen more.

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  • sonja holmes
  • 16-07-2018

it's a nice story

"The calculating stars" is a nice story about an alternate history Space Program. The author does an excellent job of bringing life to the story, which is a good thing, because I think if I were to just read it, it would have been a little flat. This would be a fantastic story for a preteen or even a child, but it lacks drama. Now, not all stories need to be a daring space drama with horrible monsters and and heroic leaps of... heroism, but i kept eaiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. I see this story as the way the Space Program would have proceeded if everyone in the world were Canadian. A good read, but don't expect action.

59 of 65 people found this review helpful

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  • Mean Jane
  • 27-07-2018

Super impressed

Wonderful attention to detail, phenomenal voice acting, and wonderful characters. My only quibble is that it does sag in the middle as the story turns from the meteor strike and space race to the main character dealing with her anxiety. It does pick up again and finishes with a bang. Highly recommended.

66 of 76 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard Bruno
  • 01-10-2018

Never achieves lift off

So very disappointing. An interesting alternate history premise, but a deeply awkward and clunky execution. Infuriating, repetitive, formulaic. Every now and then there are whiffs of originality and creativity (like when, in listing a group of new astronauts, the familiar names of actual Mercury and Gemini astronauts are included, without calling any attention to the fact), but these moments are rare. And the obsessive and obligatory (but, of course, socially sanctioned) sex scenes between the protagonist and her husband are excruciating as they strive to call up every rocket launch innuendo that they can. Eew.

The author reads her own work, which doesn't help matters. Over the top narration and exaggerated characterizations.

69 of 81 people found this review helpful

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  • Karen
  • 16-10-2018

Promising story, cringeworthy main character ...

This story had promise and if you like romance novels with an intellectual undertone this might be for you. (I'm not a fan of romance novels so I can't say for sure.) I found the main character way too whiny. While her issues were justifiably real and I appreciate that ... it was the method they were delivered that I disliked. I am curious whether I would have the same impression of the main character as whiny if I had read rather than listened to the book. It is possible that this is more a narration rather than a story issue ... so I'll give the book the benefit of the doubt there. The other possibility is that this is simply how women in the 1950s behaved and that this is a more accurate representation than other books. If so, I guess it is a good thing I was not around then. I probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble.

53 of 63 people found this review helpful

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  • Shykim
  • 17-08-2018

Wanted to love it

There is a difference between reading and narrating. The author is OK at reading, but a complete amateur as a narrator. Her attempts at accents are painful - and distracting.

The characters, with the exception of the protagonist, are stereotypical and one dimensional. The protagonist is also a stereotype. She is what medicine used to described as a female hysteric. And yet, she is supposed to be a brilliant mathematician with 2 advanced degrees from Stanford, a child prodigy, and an accomplished pilot. Finally, she comes across as helpless, whiny and immature.

I suspect that the author may be trying to set her main character up for growth and change in the next book in the series, if so she overplayed her hand.

This book might be better if you read it rather than listen. Between the amateurish delivery and the whiny, pathetic marin character, the audio version is just annoying.

68 of 82 people found this review helpful

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  • Aubrey Reese
  • 17-05-2019

Had so much potential to be great-BUT

I was so excited to listen to this book. It had so much potential to hit many complicated and interesting topics but was ultimately very bland. It was chock full of simple annoying characters with no depth and loads of unrealistic scenarios. I kept catching myself thinking get it together b!&$#, the world is ending but we (the listeners) are stuck hearing you gripe about your stage fright and how hard growing up was with a powerful father and gifted mathematic abilities, poor thing! Not to mention, all the support needed to earn a PHD as a women during WW2. All in all I'd say life had been very kind to our lady astronaut but she still wines and complains at every opportunity and crumples when ever any person (man or woman) disrespects or disagrees with her-barf.

Lastly, why the heck is her husband so shocked she encounters sexism around every corner? It's 1952- it's everywhere and the norm. Realistically the shock should of been her drive to have more then the domestic life. Could of been so good but left much to be desired and with a urg to poke most of the main characters in the eye.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • sbsd13
  • 25-09-2018

awkward sex scenes ruin message

I didn't like this as much as Ghost Talkers. Mostly bc the character isn't as likeable and all she and her husband seem to do is exchange rocket ship sexual euphemisms before they bone. If I hear that "his engines were firing" one more time, I quit. (this was about 75% through).

But no, the “rockets firing” sex analogies didn’t quit. I did keep going though and read till the end. The women’s empowerment, mental illness, and racial equality storylines were cheapened by the foibles of the main character and the attempts to make Elma seem sexy and empowered by showing that she liked sex. How do we know she liked sex? Oh, because she talked about her husband’s genitals in rocket ship terminology. Of course! Completely accurate and representative. Best parts when the “lady astronaut” was actually doing things like flying a plane and solving flight trajectories, and I wish Kowal had made those parts the majority of the book.

38 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • Alex Levine
  • 27-07-2018

Close to perfect

I am a literary nit-picker. I can't really help it. When I read a historical novel, part of me is always hunting for inaccuracies, and when I read an alternate history novel, that same part is always hunting for premise-breaking implausibilities. For me to really, really enjoy an alternate history, it has to either be entirely free of such defects, or pretty damn amazing, so amazing that my nit-picking module shuts down. This book is pretty damn amazing.

The amazingness has many facets, of which I can only mention a few. The first is its timeliness, appearing as it does just two years after Margot Lee Shetterly's wonderful "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race," along with the movie it inspired. Shetterly's book helped bring overdue attention to the contributions Black woman mathematicians, employed as computers, made to the American space program, when the electronic digital computing revolution was in its infancy. In our timeline, their efforts were supplemented by electronic computers as the technology improved, and a state-of-the-art electronic computer traveled to the moon with Armstrong and Aldrin. It may not have worked very well, but it was ready in time to make the trip.

In the timeline of this book, the American space program gets its start ten years earlier than in ours, and vast investment spurs most of the necessary technologies to advance more over the course of the 1950s than ours did over the 1960s. The one exception is electronic digital computing, which appears to be no further along in the 1955 of this book than it was in our own 1955. Suppose space program managers realize that astronauts may need to solve unforeseen problems in orbital mechanics on the fly. Suppose, further, that the best way to obtain a quick, accurate solution to such problems is to consult a skilled human with paper, pencil, and slide rule. Finally, suppose that the most skilled such humans are women. We have a recipe for a narrative in which, rather than lagging well behind the rest of 20th Century American Society in its lurching, uneven progress toward gender equality, the space program leads the way.

Our heroine and first-personal protagonist is, as we would expect, an extraordinary individual. But she is NOT a "steely-eyed missile man" in drag. She has payed a serious, even crippling price for having succeeded in a string of male-dominated fields, and her struggle to shoulder that baggage is perhaps the most compelling aspect of her more general struggle. She is also a woman of her time and place, one who has developed her strategies for selectively ignoring numerous small injustices, and for coping with those she cannot ignore. This is NOT an idealized crusader for women and minorities anachronistically written back into a society that no time for such people. She is a completely believable person who has learned how to pick her battles. She is surrounded by an equally believable supporting cast.

I won't sully this review by rehearsing any of the small number of nits I have picked. Read the book, or better yet listen to it in the author's expert narration.

68 of 84 people found this review helpful

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  • Dubi
  • 28-07-2019

But What About That Meteorite?

In the early 50s, a meteorite hits Earth near Washington DC, killing millions including the entire U.S. government, launching a climate crisis predicted to be a dinosaur-level extinction event. In response, the government that emerges from the superheated ashes embarks on an ambitious and expensive plan to go out into space and colonize it, saving humanity from an uninhabitable planet.

Science fiction most often tackles contemporary issues by projecting them into the future and sometimes out of the confines of our home planet. Sometimes, it goes backwards in time instead, either via time travel, or by imagining an alternate history. The meteorite in this book creates an alternate history in which a buttoned up 50s-era America faces accelerated social issues, and has forced upon it the climate crisis that in actual history was a half century away.

Kudos to Kowal for tackling these issues of gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and mental health. And kudos to her for setting it in a science fictiony world where the science she presents is so credible and highly detailed.

But there is a huge problem -- the meteorite. No, not the problems created on this alternate universe by the impact of the meteorite. Quite the contrary -- the absence of problems created by the impact once the story fast forwards a few years to focus on the preparations to go out into space. Millions died, cities were eradicated, the two superpower regimes were wiped out. What then? It's nearly 20 years since 9/11 and we're still not over that, how can an extinction event become a non-factor in a story about an extinction event?

Then there is this -- the social issues Kowal tackles played out over the ensuing decades in the real world. It didn't take a deus ex machina event like a meteorite to trigger women's rights and civil rights movements. Or even a space race and a moon landing. Or even a climate crisis. So why does this story need that event to get it going? The word is: gratuitous. We don't need it. Why does Kowal need it? I for one would have been more impressed by reading an alternate history where a woman like Kowal's protagonist is the catalyst for social change in the real world.

Surely Kowal must have considered how different it would be to examine a climate crisis created by (and potentially solved by) us vs. one that was completely out of anyone's control -- that there is nothing to be learned in this situation is perhaps a good explanation for why Kowal abandons discussion of the meteorite and its climate impact for the majority of the book. It seems like she's avoiding it, as it dawns on the characters that money and resources would be better spent on mitigating the problems on Earth rather than throwing them at some far-fetched plan to move everyone out into space -- and if not everyone can be moved, who decides who stays behind and perishes, which will number in the billions of people?

Too many problems. Not enough drama. Still, this is an award winning book that is highly celebrated and well reviewed by readers/listeners. But look closely -- there is an undercurrent of head scratching about why that is the case. At least the narration is excellent -- Kowal has the perfect voice to tell the story of her first person protagonist.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Melissa B. South Carolina
  • 02-02-2019

I'm not a writer

I am a reader. I read a lot. I wanted to love this book. being that I am a woman and reading about women fighting to become astronauts in the male dominated 50's is enticing. this writer dares to write. for that I give her a million stars. I can't do it. that being said, someone else here wrote about all the mundane descriptions of every piece of paper being shuffled, every single nuance being described in the most normal movements that we all participate in our every day lives. Eating, dressing, walking, breathing....this writer uses way too much ink on these details. I almost stopped reading by the 5th chapter . I held out though. I did not care for the antagonist very much. Her personality annoyed me. I've met woman who act like every tiny upset in their life is going to destroy them mentally. I can't be around those people for long. This main character would fall apart at the most seemingly small things that go wrong in her life but does not react normally when something monumental happens. She sounds like a nervous wreck all the time. In real life, I highly doubt someone so ridiculously fragile would ever be considered to shuttle a minivan, let alone a rocket. During the parts of the story that tried to address racism and sexism, I would find myself getting PO'ed. Nobody reacted the way they should have. Even the so-called supportive and enlightened husband was very sexist. The main character simultaneously wanted to be treated as capable and to be treated with kids gloves. That annoyed me to no end. All of this is admittedly just a matter of taste and opinion of someone who does not have the ability to write a decent review let alone a whole book. Do with it what you will.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • M. Atkinson
  • 08-09-2018

Uplifting (pun intended)

Following Dr Elma York from the day she escapes the impact of an extinction-level meteorite, through her time as a computer at the now-international NASA, and her fight to allow women and POC to become astronauts. I normally like my heroines to be infallible, but Dr York is humanised by Southern-feminine style self-effacement (we only find out halfway through the book that she holds two doctorates) and a crippling social anxiety. A very enjoyable and uplifting listen.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruth de Haas
  • 19-02-2019

Made me cry a lot in public. Super embarrassing.

MRK makes her book come to life such that I was having panic attacks with Elma, sad crying whenever anything bad happened, happy crying whenever anything good happened... basically this book left me a complete mess.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul Joseph Walsh
  • 28-09-2019

Disappointing

Full of good intentions, climate change, equality and so forth but was more a book on social commentary than true science fiction.

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  • R. Maines
  • 28-09-2019

Great!

I’m a sucker for an alternative history story and this one grabbed me. It set in the past, but it also feels like an old fashioned story from the golden age of science fiction.

The author narrates her own book and does a great job apart from the English accent.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-09-2019

An unexpected journey to a future past

Wow! This was so different and so good and so unexpected and so masterfully done that I am downloading the second book without hesitation. This is a great story told from the unusual perspective of, a Jewish female maths wiz living in a fictional 1950’s America. This plucky young woman works hard to overcome crippling insecurities and misogyny in a fight to put women in space. The stakes are incredibly high, but her struggle feels real. It has the charm of early sci-fi novels from the golden age, that sucked me right in. After a year of reading hard core sci-fi and space opera this was a completely refreshing read. Loved it!
All in all, a warm, charming and well told story.

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  • Brian - UK
  • 04-09-2019

Strong lead character...

... but too often is weaker than projected. Although I get it, the discontinuity detracts. Ultimately worthy but unsatisfactory. Great depth and study, but somehow on its head. Alas, I shan’t be listening to more.

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  • Adi Loya
  • 31-08-2019

Let's go to the stars!

In this inspiring tale a woman defeats all social constraints and personal challenges and goes to the moon.
Earth has suffered a meteorite hit, and human race has a few years to escape the disastrous effects of it.
Human race also has to defeat outdated thoughts about white man's superiority over women and / or people of colour.
The readers are being confronted with these views constantly, as Elma - a brilliant computer who works for the space agency - needs to overcome her sex, her religion, and her anxiety to become the lady astronaut.
I laughed and I cried and then some. We all can identify with the moments Kowal shows us of humanity, strength and weakness in her complex characters.
Loved it!

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  • Martyn. R. Winters
  • 27-08-2019

It quite simply doesn't get better than this

I am totally in awe of Mary Robinette Kowal. Not only has she turned in a well deserved Hugo winning novel that pushes every emotional button in its roller-coaster ride of a story, but she narrates it superlatively, giving life to the already abundantly well-rounded characters.

Set in the fifties on an alternative Earth which has been stricken by a cataclysmic meteorite strike off the East coast of the USA, the novel tells the story of humanity's race against time to establish off planet colonies to ensure the survival of the species. Set against this backdrop is the struggle of a woman to become an astronaut by overcoming prejudice against her sex and religion.

Listening to it threw me from emotional highs to sobbing lows as I lived every moment. I can't recommended this too highly.

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  • Brian Sargent
  • 14-08-2019

Enjoyed it way more than expected

Having failed to keep going with one of the author's previous books I was concerned that I wouldn't gel with this either but the story and the narration were both excellent and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.

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  • Ms. Gabi Walshaw
  • 10-08-2019

The best audiobook I’ve ever heard!

What a wonderful book. Exploring the opportunity of space from the view of a woman, a Jew, a fallible, anxious and desperately determined protagonist. The glorious, human, hopeful narration does such justice to a brilliant text. I finished it in tears!