• The Good: Alternate history of the space program and the civil rights movement
  • The Bad: Flat-ish secondary characters; Low stakes
  • The Literary: Historical details, like family members with polio; astronaut details, like how to give directions in space; naming the Mars landing site Bradbury Base!

Dr. Elma York, known to the public as the Lady Astronaut, loves the idea of working for the International Aerospace Coalition to establish a colony on the moon, but flying shuttles on the moon is tedious, and she longs to be back on Earth with her husband permanently. Though, at the same time, she finds herself envious of the mission crew working towards the first exploratory mission to Mars.

The Fated Sky continues Elma’s story as a pilot and human computer in the alternate history of the space program begun in The Calculating Stars. A meteorite falls to earth and causes cataclysmic climate change, prompting countries around the world to work together to send two spaceships to Mars in 1961.

I really enjoy both the hard scifi and the historical details in this alternate history. The story doesn’t center around the world building, but the research behind the writing is clear. Instead of the science or the history, the story focuses on the character’s emotional journey; Dr. Elma York, pilot, wife, mathematician, and astronaut, and her long distance relationship with her Earth-bound husband, Dr. Nathaniel York. Elma is an extremely relatable character whom you want to root for. She’s smart and stubborn, and is torn by professional ambition, saving the world, and wanting a quiet life.

The Calculating Stars saw Elma single-mindedly fighting for women to be considered for the space program. It focused on equal rights, especially in terms of women’s equality, with a very minor dash of race issues. However, just focusing on the women’s rights felt underwhelming, and I am pleasantly surprised to see that the sequel does better. As a woman, Elma could of course fight for gender equality, but in The Fated Sky, white, Jewish Elma learns that fighting for racial equality requires her to assume less and listen more. Even though her heart is in the right place, she makes a lot of mistakes.

Recommended as a cute feel-good story with civil rights at it’s core, with a little scifi thrown in! Watch out for those space germs!