The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor 978-0765398949, $15.99, 384pp, tp) August 2018.
Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Fated Sky is the second half, mostly, of The Calculating Stars, which I talked about in more depth a couple of months ago [review here]. While The Fated Sky could stand alone if a reader is really good at picking up context clues, it doesn’t feel like it was intended to do so. Its mission is to finish the story of how Dr. Elma York developed from an anxious math whiz into an assured astronaut in an alternate version of the 1950s and ’60s era US.
Kowal, as she did in the first book of this duology, excels when she focuses on Elma’s growth both as a member of the Mars-bound team and as a human who is forced to manage imperfect situations both within her own physiology and in the wider world. Rather than portray Elma as a hero who can overcome all and permanently fix what’s wrong, Kowal takes on the harder task, which is the one that we all face in the actual world. In so much of life, there isn’t an easy, one-size-fits-all answer and real change occurs incrementally. It’s not as glorious as more traditional storytelling would lead us to hope – but it is a lot more satisfying when it works.
Sometimes, however, it feels like Kowal is trying to right centuries of social injustice while also telling a nuanced story, and both are getting short-shrift. At times, the balance feels skewed. Elma’s story occasionally regresses into what could be an outline so that she can get some plot out of the way and/or the larger backdrop of inequality becomes set dressing more than a lived experience. It’s a hazard when you are taking a big swing and some big ideas – and, with a few exceptions, Kowal makes it work.
Given that she’s now gotten Elma on Mars (um, spoiler alert, I guess?), I’m hoping that Kowal will continue connecting the dots to her 2012 Hugo Award-nominated novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”. The path from where she is now to what she will become is far too tantalizing to leave behind.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the August 2018 issue of Locus.
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