So I never actually wrote a review of the first book in this series. I review-amnestied it late last year, in the 40+ reviews I just gave up on because I let my review backlog get Out Of Control. We read this for my IRL book club, and we were all excited to read about lady astronauts doing science and winning against misogyny, but all of us had very mixed feelings about it. I flew through the book, but also had problems with it at the same time. I thought, with the exception of the first 100 pages, which were tense and exciting, that our main character, Elma York, was too passive. Things just happened to her, rather than her happening to them. It was also tough to have a main character whose main source of inner conflict is anxiety, because that character then ends up being just constantly overwhelmed.
But overall, I did like it, and I liked this one much better than that one, largely because things actually happen this entire book.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it follows a group of astronauts trying to colonize the moon and Mars after an asteroid hits Earth and scientists realize that within decades, the Earth will become uninhabitable. But this all happens in the 1950s and 1960s, so it’s also an alternate history piece of historical fiction, as well as science fiction.
It’s been ten years since the incident now, and the astronaut program is well under way. The moon has its first successful colony, and the first mission to Mars is about to launch. Things on Earth are starting to deteriorate. Elma is assigned to the mission, amidst some controversy, because she is the Lady Astronaut, and the space program needs good publicity, among arguments that resources should be going to support those on Earth, not being wasted on space. As with the first book, Kowal tackles issues of race, gender, and class, while a bunch of people with all different backgrounds all work towards the same goal. The prose and style she uses aren’t my favorite, but it’s workable, and the pull of reading a story about the first mission to Mars is strong enough that it overcomes a lot of things that weren’t necessarily my favorite. (I personally can’t stand the constant rocket metaphors Kowal uses for sex, though it is very nice to see such a healthy marriage portrayed in fiction.) I also still think that Elma seems like a passive narrator. I find many of the other characters more interesting than I find her.
The next book comes out this summer, and I will definitely be reading it, because apparently it switches narrators! I’ll be interested to see what Kowal can do with this concept and another main character.