“The Calculating Stars” is set in an alternate 1950’s in which a meteor hits the Atlantic not far off the coast of D.C. this creates a set of events in which the space race is not just a mater of furthering science but of human survival. The planet is no longer stable and creating colonies on the Moon and Mars are necessary. This also means that women are also going to be needed in space not only to be astronauts but to help colonize the planets once bases are established.
This is where we meet Dr. Elma Wexler York. She’s a mathematician and pilot. The daughter of an air force general and a pilot of her own right in the WASPs, Dr. York loves flying and mathematics. Due to the catastrophic loss of life after the meteor hits the East Coast, Drs. Elma and Nathaniel York find themselves on the ground floor of building the International Astronautic Corps.
Even though this is historical fiction, the author doesn’t ignore the misogyny and racism of the era. It’s frustrating to see how the female mathematicians and astronauts are treated. Dr. Elma York’s experience is probably one that is all to familiar to modern female readers and one that is important for male readers to understand. The racial element is a little more subtle and I thought Ms. Robinette Kowal did a great job showing that even while Dr. Elma York is dealing with gender discrimination, her White privilege blinds her to Black female colleagues. There’s some great moments in which her privilege is called out and she can see that even while she is calling for gender equality, there’s an underlying understanding that White women might achieve the equality that Black, Asian, and Latinx women won’t.
While set in an alternate 1950’s there’s a lot that clearly hasn’t changed in our culture. We are still having a conversation about gender and racial equality. This book would make a great book club read in order to have a common text to create a spring board for a discussion.