I was intrigued by the premise – and my attention was sharpened when I read glowing reviews from the likes of The Cap from Captain’s Quarters, so I bought myself this one as a birthday pressie from me to me.
BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
REVIEW: What a delightful premise – an alternate history that forces humanity to engage with space travel because of a serious meteor strike. Given this was the event that did for the dinosaurs and we’re overdue another one, this is all too chillingly plausible. Kowal’s engaging protagonist drew me right into the story – I love Elma. Her geeky cleverness, horribly dented by enduring years of social ostracization, nevertheless shines without managing to make her sound unduly entitled or smug. Her ongoing anxiety in certain situations is also completely understandable and gives her character sufficient vulnerability, so that she doesn’t end up being implausibly and insufferably perfect.
Kowal’s description of the institutional racism and sexism is also all too realistic. The weary resignation of many of the black characters over the fact that all the highest status jobs were out of their reach made my heart hurt. As for the determined devaluation of women when they excelled at anything regarded as within a man’s province – that was something I recall as still being firmly in place during the 1970s. I thought the ongoing Space Programme worked well, taking into account the limits of the technology of the time and I enjoyed the occasional news items that provided an effective insight into how the effects of the meteor strike on the climate were playing out around the world. It was nicely judged – much more, and it would have impacted on the pacing and narrative arc.
All in all, this is a classy, well written alternative history where Humanity’s effort to reach the stars has been given much greater impetus. I will be getting hold of the second book in the series in short order, especially as the third book, The Relentless Moon is due to be released later this summer. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well written science fiction.