Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Because I’m a professional, I actually made it to the gravity toilet in the centrifugal ring before I threw up.”

Hard science fiction with a heart. Kowal melds hard physics and space flight procedures with realistic conflicts of identity and personality. Even better than The Calculating Stars. She never lets the reader forget that this tale is set in the 50s and 60s, not the 60s and 70s. Huge, but often subtle difference.

“This’ll be the only time that Apartheid works in our favor.” At my puzzled glance, she shrugged. “You don’t know? We’re on the separate-but-equal ship.”

Many appropriate SF similes and metaphors. “Like the difference between a slide rule and a kitten.” “As if we were trying to make an ablative grief shield of our bodies.”

“What’s going to kill us next?”

Lots of quibbles, but only to the hardcore hard SF fans; they rarely detract from the story. One, a violation of Newton’s first Law of Motion, was probably committed to increase the drama. “… the stars we would need for the Mars trip were different.” Really? “We have to be in the Earth’s shadow for the sky to be dark enough.” No, you don’t. Besides, in route to Mars they’re never in Earth’s shadow. “After they completed nearly two orbit s to build up their speed to a blistering …” Wrong again. “The snapping sound of vacuum tubes.” Snapping? (I’m old enough to be familiar with vacuum tube computers–big ones (SAGE). No snapping.)

“I am trying to remember that you mean well. But at the moment, I cannot take the protestations of a well-meaning white woman. I do not have the energy to assure you or to pretend I am happy and content with my lot in life.”

Many current readers may not remember South African apartheid was and how it makes a fitting surrogate for the America racial divide. Fellow crew members fail to recognize York as one of history’s most persecuted people. That said, many Americans are so wrapped in their own victimhood, that Kowal’s sympathetic picture of overlapping, unacknowledged discrimination sets illustrates how blind we are to the pain of others.

“Why would I feel guilty” “You’re Jewish. You’re Southern. You feel guilty about being alive.”

Parker is transformed into a real person. Good job. DeBeers assumes the role of two-dimensional punching bag. That the protagonist is a female Southern Jew numbers wiz provides many serious and humorous angles. Kowal uses Earth First as her Luddites, but forgets her own premise: all of them–or the children’s children–are probably going to die. They’ve a right to be unhappy.

“Do you think everyone but you is an idiot?” “Yep.”