Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun 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.
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Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.
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Kowal continues her exquisite exploration of race and gender relations in an alternate 1961 that is still shockingly close to our own. The stunning second part of Kowal's duology picks up 10 years after a meteor strikes Earth (depicted in The Calculating Stars) with series heroine Elma now serving as a pilot to the lunar colony. After she survives being taken hostage by a terrorist organization opposed to space travel, Elma is asked to join the first Mars mission, replacing a close friend and incurring the resentment of the existing crew. For Elma and her colleagues on both ships, contained in close quarters for three years far from family and friends, the journey is filled with tension, joy, terror, and sorrow, including the deaths of crew members and an anxious period when contact with Earth is cut off. The clever details of life in space from baking challah in zero gravity to finding tricks for communicating privately, as well as the more horrifying practicalities of how to deal with illness and corpses create an immersive world that will stay with the reader well past the final page.
The best books are the ones that take you places you didn’t think you were going. This is one of those books, and series. I find myself genuinely invested in the characters. Best book I’ve read in a very long time.
Can’t wait to get going on the third book in the series.