The Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This alternate history of the space race is an excellent readalike for Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and The Mercury 13. In 1952 a meteorite hits Chesapeake Bay while scientist Elma York is on vacation in the Poconos with her husband Nathaniel, an engineer. They have a narrow escape in Elma’s Cessna plane, and end up in Kansas City working for the International Aerospace Coalition. Elma was a WASP (pilot) in World War II, and works as a computer on calculations of the effects of the meteorite and later on rocket trajectories. She has kept her phobia of public speaking secret, but an adversary from the war years may expose it and derail her hopes of becoming a lady astronaut. The Yorks are Jewish, and their struggle to stay observant is noted, but prejudice against women and African-Americans in science is a major theme. The author, most known for her Regency-era fantasy novels, really did her research on Apollo era science, technology, and daily life, and this makes for an immersive, compelling reading experience. I would have liked less about Elma’s anxiety disorder and more about how others survived the meteorite strike but still found this to be quite the page-turner. The second part of the Lady Astronauts’ story is The Fated Sky, which I hope to read while I’m rereading Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, for a book discussion on February 19.

Brenda

Alliance Rising

Alliance Rising by C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher

The dramatic, unexpected arrival of Finity’s End sparks a crisis at Alpha Station, the closest space station to Sol, which sends cargo ships every five years. Alpha Station resources have been directed to building a faster-than-light ship, which has glitches, an inexperienced crew, and too many security personnel. This is the welcome return of Cherryh and co-author Fancher to the award-winning Alliance-Union Universe, and a good place to enter a far future that includes Downbelow Station, Cyteen, Rimrunners, and Finity’s End. Told from three very different points of view: station master Ben Abrezio, navigator trainee Ross Monahan, and Finity’s senior captain JR Neihart. The space ships are owned and crewed by families, and Neihart is seeking an alliance to protect the rights of smaller ships and promote trade without being dependent on Sol or distant Cyteen. Low in violence, but with plenty of thrills and intrigue; very enjoyable space opera.

Brenda

The Consuming Fire

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

In this entertaining, fast-paced science fiction novel, Emperox Grayland II, aka Cardenia, pulls out all the stops to keep her empire from unraveling into chaos while also avoiding assassination attempts. The Flow streams (interstellar expressways) begin collapsing, disrupting commerce and travel. Lady Kiva Lagos, sexy and snarky, has become the administrator for a corrupt family corporation, and supports the Emperox. Meanwhile, physicist Lord Marce travels to a star system last visited 800 years ago, finding surviving colonists and an ancient avatar who may help save the day. Dramatic, engaging and action-packed, this sequel to The Collapsing Empire is a fun, fast read.

Brenda

 

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

April becomes a celebrity after she encounters a large metallic statue late one night in Manhattan. Her friend Andy records a video with April and the statue they nickname Carl, and the video goes viral. Sixty-four identical statues have appeared in cities around the world, including one in Hollywood. April gets a publicist and makes the rounds of talk shows, yet doesn’t know how to maintain her relationship with Maya. April, now known as April May, has plenty of adventures trying to solve the mystery of the Carls. While she definitely has some weaknesses, April thinks the Carls are benevolent, and has high hopes for the future. Fast-paced and entertaining, this first novel is a compelling, quirky read. More, please!

Brenda

All Our Wrong Todays

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren briefly traveled back in time to 1965, then returned to another timeline in 2016. Instead of the high-tech utopia he’s used to, everything is different. His parents are still together, and his father is nicer but never invented a time machine, instead writing science fiction. Tom even has a sister. Everyone calls him John, who turns out to be a very arrogant architect who copied the buildings of Tom’s world through shared dreams. With the help of his family and his new girlfriend, bookseller Penny, Tom tries to make things right, whatever the cost, with predictably entertaining results. For more time travel books and films, check out my July book display at the library. This is a good readalike for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, a Great American Read selection.

Brenda

 

Tomorrow’s Kin

Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress

I found this science fiction novel, a quick read, on the 2017 Locus Recommended Reading List. Locus Magazine reviews science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Set on Earth in the near future, aliens have made peaceful first contact. They have a ship in New York harbor, and want to meet evolutionary biologist Marianne Jenner. Her research may help the aliens find distant kin on Earth, including her son Noah. The aliens from Deneb have come to warn Earth about a deadly spore cloud they will soon encounter, and the race is on to prevent a pandemic. Noah, who uses the intoxicant sugarcane, quickly bonds with the Denebs. The aliens leave behind plans for a space ship, just as the spore cloud appears. This is the first book in a trilogy, so it’s no surprise that the spore cloud’s effects aren’t as dire as predicted. Marianne’s young grandson Colin has super hearing, along with many other young children. Predictably, there are ecological and financial problems from the spore cloud, and differing opinions about the proposed starships to Deneb. The book is fast-paced, with appealing characters, and slightly mysterious, nonviolent aliens. The second book is If Tomorrow Comes, to be followed in November by Terran Tomorrow. This book is based on the award-winning novella, Yesterday’s Kin, and is a good readalike for Kim Stanley Robinson’s ecologically focused science fiction, including Forty Signs of Rain and New York, 2140.

Brenda

Space Opera

Space Opera by Catherynne Valente

This amusing, engaging science fiction novel was inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest, David Bowie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the author’s Maine Coon cat. Set in the near future, first contact with Earth is made by the appearance of an alien who resembles a flamingo and a fish, and can speak with your grandmother’s voice. The sentience of Earth’s inhabitants is in doubt, and Earth must participate in the upcoming Megagalactic Grand Prix and finish anywhere but last to survive. As Yoko Ono is no longer available, Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, a former British glamrock trio, is selected. The two remaining musicians aren’t on speaking terms and have no ideas for a new song. Danesh Jalo (Decibel Jones) parties with the aliens en route to the contest, while Omar Caliskan (Oort St. Ultraviolet) misses his kids and chats with Oö, who resembles a red panda. Fans of Douglas Adams or Connie Willis may enjoy this whimsical, bittersweet, and ultimately hopeful musical extravaganza.

Brenda