The first sequel to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Hugo-nominated novel, The Calculating Stars takes us to Mars—in the early 1960s.

Title: The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

First published August 21, 2018

ISBN-10: 076539894X
ISBN-13: 978-0765398949
Available from Amazon, Amazon.ca, and as a kindle.

Premise:

In an alternate timeline, a former WASP pilot, now a NASA computer, and her husband, one of the country’s top aerospace engineers, survive the meteor strike that may doom the planet or, at least, lead to untenable circumstances and mass extinction. An accelerated space program has us trying to establish a Martian colony by the early 1960s—but can technology and our better nature triumph over cultural prejudices and our baser qualities?

High Points:

An error leads to a ship landing outside of the expected zone.

The people forcing their way in aren’t involved in the space program, and they’re carrying weapons.

Like its predecessor, The Fated Sky creates a world where that beloved post-war, near-future SF– you know, stories set in our era, as we once imagined it would be– could take place. Kowal, however, has access to more accurate knowledge regarding solar and social systems. She has an historical perspective on cultural biases and movements that many of those often excellent authors failed to see or understand. How would we rise to the challenge of putting our eggs in various baskets? How would the Civil Rights and women’s movements have unfolded? What would international cooperation look like? Would the west be able to trust the USSR, even under these circumstances? Not everyone would support funds going to a space program. What role would terrorism play in a hi-punchcard-tech world? The combination of elements makes for a fascinating retro-futuristic reading experience.

Low Points:

The problems created by cultural assumptions and prejudices create much of the novel’s conflict. That works, frequently. However, a winced a little at two developments:

-a safety oversight that creates a serious problem en route to Mars. Even under these rushed circumstances, I find it difficult to believe the best engineers and technicians in the world would overlook a part of the ship’s daily routine that presents a fire hazard when mishandled. NASA has a procedure for everything. Alt-NASA has managed a functional punchcard-era space station. They would have gone over this particular aspect meticulously before launch.

I am more willing to overlook the over-the-top racism of one astronaut as something that could happen, but the novel works better when it addresses the less overt forms of social prejudice, as they affect the mission. A certain character might get on an international space flight, but I’d like to think the selection process would exclude him, especially once his idiocy pre-emptively, publicly undermines the mission.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 This novel follows up an earlier work set in a world Kowal had already described in short fiction. She’s readable and thought-provoking, to be sure, but she does little that’s original in The Fated Sky.

Imagery: 5/6

Story: 5/6 The story improves on The Calculating Stars, though the decision to develop a plot in that first novel to facilitate making this story two novels does a disservice, though, I suppose, not to the author and the publisher’s financial rewards.

Characterization: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Editing: 5/6

Overall score: 5/6

In total, The Fated Sky receives 31/42