This is a terrific sequel to Kowal’s previous novel, “The Calculating Stars.” Picking up where the first novel left off; it’s now the early Sixties and finally a small lunar colony has been established containing a couple hundred people. It is time to move on to Mars.
We are back with the terrific characters of the first book, Dr. Elma York, the original Lady Astronaut, (and her husband, Dr. Nathaniel York) Colonel Stetson Parker, Dr. Leonard Flannery, Dr. Ruby Donaldson, etc.
The novel starts with Elma on a regularly scheduled trip down to Earth from the moon, when the ship suddenly goes off its trajectory and lands 260 miles from where it should be. They’re now in the boonies of Alabama. When their hatch is finally opened from the outside, instead of rescuers; they are confronted by a band of hunters, all members of Earth First. This organization wants the money being siphoned off to support the Mars expedition to go to help the planet recover from the disastrous meteor crash of 1952 which took out most of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, including Washington D.C. Now the whole planet is headed to catastrophic climate change and the temperature is rising. Earthlings need to move on to Mars before Earth is totally uninhabitable.
Eventually the authorities come and Elma and her crew mates are rescued. The whole incident, however, just fires up the intensity of the anger and unrest the space program has generated across the world. It clearly delineates how people see the drive to Mars: that only the special, the specifically educated are going to get off planet and the rest will be left behind. But Mars is really their only hope so the scheduled launch to the Red Planet still takes place while Earth, especially what’s left of the U.S. roils with more unrest, racism, rioting and divisiveness.
The focus of the novel not only deals with the training of the Mars crew, such as making repairs in zero-g, dealing with living on a small space ship and what they need to do when they finally arrive, but more importantly, the interactions between the two crews (for a total of fourteen international astronauts) and the supply ship that head off to Mars: The Nina, The Pinta and the Santa Maria. The journey should take 320 days.
Kowal handles the issues of Earth in this microcosm, the racism, and misogyny, the flare-ups of superiority with aplomb. It is tense and riveting, as the crew deals with accidents, personality clashes, and collaboration. The characters are just as compelling as they were previously and because they are in the pressure cooker of the longest space flight humans have ever undertaken, and represents a hopeful solution to the problems of a slowly dying earth, it was hard to put the book down.
I really can’t wait to read the next novel. ~~ Sue Martin
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