Fun fact, Robinette is not part of her last name and while it sits in the middle of her name it isn’t technically a middle name either. She is Mary Robinette, and that is how she prefers to be called. Both Mary and Robinette are in honor of her grandmothers. It is not uncommon to find her books misshelved due to this misunderstanding.
The Fated Sky is the second book in the Lady Astronaut duolgy that started with The Calculating Stars. The alternate timeline Kowal created has humanity rushing to space, to create off planet colonies as temperatures rise on Earth due to dramatic climate change as a result of a meteorite striking the planet in 1952. The Fated Sky begins with the International Aerospace Coalition (IAC) gearing up to send it’s first manned mission to Mars. Dr. Elma York passed on the opportunity to be one of the 14 astronauts going on the three year mission to Mars and back due to not wanting to be separated from her husband for so long. But when Earth Firsters criticize the amount of funding the IAC requires for it’s off world missions, at the perceived loss of funding to try and remedy the situation on earth, Elma is convinced to join the mission at a late stage to rally support with her “Lady Astronaut” status.
This book excellently continues everything it started in book one. Elma’s anxiety continues to be problematic, though significantly better managed than before. In The Calculating Stars the anxiety is primarily caused by the spotlight put on her as she was turned into a symbol, the “Lady Astronaut”, convincing people of the need for women in the space program. Now she faces continual resentment from her fellow astronauts for replacing a team member, being more than a year behind in training and the time her role as “Lady Astronaut” and ambassador of the IAC takes her away from being able to catch up.
Elma’s problematic, grudge filled relationship with Mission Commander Stetson Parker is thoroughly examined. It is a good example of how one can loathe a person but still admire them, all tangled up with the complexities of conversations that frequently seem to go wrong. I greatly appreciate the nuance with which Kowal writes about her characters and their interactions.
Tension is definitely ratcheted up in The Fated Sky as more than half of the novel is during the trip to Mars and all their training is put to use. More than the physical dangers of space travel, a bigger danger is the fracturing of humanity as racial tensions in this fictional timeline mirror our own in the 1960s. Feminism remains to be a concern for Elma but is not as predominant as her grappling with how to be a good ally to people of color and particularly her teammates on the Mars mission. Kowal is a delicate writer doing a wonderful job of portraying the many complexities of the human condition.
This is excellent science fiction exploring themes that are very much relevant. I highly recommend the two books in the Lady Astronaut duology. My suggestion is to get The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky at the same time. I suspect publishing limitations is why this story is in two volumes. Now I Just need to get a hold of the short stories in the same world setting!