• The Good: Mystery on the moon
  • The Bad: World building at the expense of character building
  • The Literary: Highly researched alternate history and space science

As the climate disaster accelerates, the International Aerospace Coalition works toward getting as many people as possible off the Earth and onto the Moon. The Earth will eventually become uninhabitable, but some people are too poor or too sick to travel in space, and riots and sabotage plague the space program as the Earth Firsters want those in political power to focus resources at home. Elma York, protogonist of the first two novels in the series, is on her way to Mars, and her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin now takes center stage, using her expertise to keep the Moon colony on track.

At the start of the book, the shift in POV for the third installment of the series threw me off, but I slowly grew to appreciate Nicole as subject, especially since her voice is so confident and self-assured compared to Elma’s. The first two books focus heavily on social issues in this alternate-history of the American 60’s, especially women’s and racial issues. And while this book does touch on those, Nicole’s struggles with mental health, particularly anorexia, is the highlight. The undercurrent of control issues is always there for Nicole, but when things get bad on the Moon, and also back at home where she can do nothing, she controls the only thing she can. I appreciate the care Kowal takes in depicting this mental health struggle—including Nicole’s simultaneous desire to have a normal relationship with and actually enjoy her food—while steering far from a potential “thin-spiration” hero.

My favorite aspect of all the Lady Astronaut novels is the technical scifi details. Kowal’s obvious love for the material, consultations with experts, and in-depth research creates a setting that is engaging, clear, and feels realistic. What really steps up the stakes is the unexpected mystery plot, in which an Earth First saboteur is on the Moon, wreaking havoc on stable systems, causing regular power outages and environmental system failures. Combined with an outbreak polio among unvaccinated colonists, the subjects are particularly timely.

Although I find each subsequent book in this series to be better than the one before it, I’m still looking for an emotional connection with the protagonists.

Highly recommended for fans of hard scifi, alternate histories, and mystery… in spaaaaace!