The Lady Astronaut series is based around a very simple concept- Shortly after President Thomas Dewey leads the United States to victory in the space race in 1952, a meteorite strikes the Chesapeake Bay, obliterating most of the Eastern Seaboard. In the aftermath, mathematician and former WASP pilot Elma York calculates that the resulting climate change will make the planet uninhabitable within 50 years. This threat accelerates efforts to colonize space and leads to Elma joining the International Aerospace Coalition in its attempt to reach, first the Moon, then Mars.
The rest of the series is about this space race as seen through the eyes of Elma York, and later, Nicole Wagin. It addresses racism, sexism, and other issues of the ’50s while also grappling with a realistic question of how the space race would go if getting off the planet was a serious concern in the ’50s.
While the concepts are worldwide and broad, the stories told are deeply human. The first two books are told through the lens of Elma York- Lady Astronaut. Her husband was partially responsible for realizing that the meteorite that hit Earth will eventually cause planet wide climate change disasters, eventually leading to Earth being uninhabitable. Elma herself flew fighter planes in World War I and becomes a spokesperson for the new astronaut core, as well as a leading figure making the case for allowing women an equal role in the program.
The third book shifts to Nicole Wager, who I must tell you, is one of the best written characters I have encountered in a long time. I would spend so many more pages with Nicole, just living her daily life and changing the world. She is fascinating. Elma is a lovely person to spend time with and her books are fantastic. But she’s very nervous and rather straight forward. Nicole is twisty and cunning and always 10 steps ahead strategizing in her mind. It’s my favorite kind of character to read.
At their core this series is an alt-history take on the space race but it combines hard science with deeply human stories. If you’re looking to start it, the first book is Calculating Stars. If you’re wondering if it’s worth continuing- take heart. Relentless Moon more then sticks the landing.