The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

Vertigo

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The Fated Sky is the second full novel in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series (there are also a couple of shorts; one set before the first book and one after it). A small colony of mainly scientists and engineers has now been established on the moon and with the runaway climate, following the meteorite impact of the first book, getting steadily worse the space agency, on this alternate history sixties Earth, is now aiming for Mars. The goal being to spread humanity’s eggs around more baskets to avoid possible extinction.

This is really quite a remarkable series of very well researched hard science fiction, which is, admittedly, a slightly odd description of books set in the past! However, it is a very valid one; Kowal shows with great but not overwhelming detail how everything would have been possible with the technology available at that time and with the motivation of experiencing a devastating meteorite impact in the fifties. There is plenty of credible science and engineering detail giving a strong sense of plausibility which supports the story without taking over. This is generally handled very deftly and there is even a bibliography at the end of the book for anyone who wants to see what all that detail is founded upon.

Slightly less deft, in my view, is some of the characterisation. There is no getting away from the strong anti-discriminatory message running throughout these books, both of gender and race, and, for me at least, I sometimes found this a little heavy handed. Maybe that is a very realistic picture of the times, but would it have really played out quite so in-your-face on two spaceships with small crews crammed together for three years? I feel that the members of such crews would have been carefully picked to ensure their professionalism and compatibility which would have precluded that sort of friction and, regardless of the political and economic considerations, I simply don’t believe a South African with such deep levels of racism as Kowal presents the reader with would ever have been allowed on the expedition. Maybe I’m wrong about this but it just felt implausible to me, although it does, of course, provide for plenty of drama.

One other implausibility that grated with me was the depiction of the women on the crew. Yes, this was an era when the woman’s place was definitely considered to be in the kitchen, particularly within the sort of social class these women came from. But some women rise, or fight their way, above that, which is fair enough, but having done so would those women also maintain their fascination with crinoline, lipstick and fingernails one minute and battling the misogynists the next? This I struggled with; sure, it also makes for some great narrative drama, but it just didn’t feel as real as the science and engineering; it felt overplayed to me. Again, I may be wrong about this, I was after all only five years old at the time this book is set! And my mother, who has also read these books, does not feel quite as strongly as me about this aspect!

Despite these misgivings, Kowal has written a solid, engaging and generally believable piece of hard science fiction. And a very unusual one at that. I’m not normally a lover of alternate history but she has absolutely made it work for me in these books. I’m looking forward to the next one!

4/5 stars.
 
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Rodders

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Will do.

I do have a soft spot for this kind of expansion of mankind out into the solar system style of book.
 

Phyrebrat

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@Vertigo - have you access to Apple TV’s For All Mankind ? It’s Ronald D Moore’s alt-history take on the space race if Russia got to the moon first. It’s a very pro-woman story and does so without banging on about it preachily. I loved it.

Kowal is very clued up on feminism, gender (in)equality, race sensitivity and so on. I used to listen to the Writing Excuses podcast but she used to drive me mad - a lot of me me me-ing, and relentless contextualising of writing with puppetry (!!). I quit listening a couple years ago but it’s nice to hear she’s produced such an enjoyable series.
 

worldofmutes

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I think if I pick up The Relentless Moon right now I might get over my slump.
So I’ll pick it up and see how it goes.
 

Vertigo

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@Vertigo - have you access to Apple TV’s For All Mankind ? It’s Ronald D Moore’s alt-history take on the space race if Russia got to the moon first. It’s a very pro-woman story and does so without banging on about it preachily. I loved it.

Kowal is very clued up on feminism, gender (in)equality, race sensitivity and so on. I used to listen to the Writing Excuses podcast but she used to drive me mad - a lot of me me me-ing, and relentless contextualising of writing with puppetry (!!). I quit listening a couple years ago but it’s nice to hear she’s produced such an enjoyable series.
I watch almost no TV and then only free broadcast TV; no subscription tv at all. I just don't find I have any desire to watch tv other than for exceptional documentaries. For my drama I turn exclusively to reading; I just seem to enjoy that so much more and find it more rewarding. After an hour or so or reading I feel far more fulfilled than an hour or so of visual entertainment.

So no I'm afraid not. Presumably there's no book, only the TV story?
 

worldofmutes

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I don’t watch any tv either. Just books and more books.

I’m halfway done with the first book now. I don’t know about all that you said, it seemed that up until recent „fashions” misogyny and racism were rampant in the work place. I understand your grumbling, but for it’s audience in present day it makes for good reading. Thusfar the first one strikes me as insightful. Somehow Mary wrote about the very beginnings of space travel, and it is definitely important that she talked about sexism of the pioneers. Well, it’s an important topic, and needs to be understood. Even though we sometimes overdo it with the identity politics.

Overall I often think that women writers are doing better work today than men writers are. Not always, but it is becoming the norm particularly with my generation. So I welcome it (y)
 

Vertigo

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I don’t watch any tv either. Just books and more books.

I’m halfway done with the first book now. I don’t know about all that you said, it seemed that up until recent „fashions” misogyny and racism were rampant in the work place. I understand your grumbling, but for it’s audience in present day it makes for good reading. Thusfar the first one strikes me as insightful. Somehow Mary wrote about the very beginnings of space travel, and it is definitely important that she talked about sexism of the pioneers. Well, it’s an important topic, and needs to be understood. Even though we sometimes overdo it with the identity politics.

Overall I often think that women writers are doing better work today than men writers are. Not always, but it is becoming the norm particularly with my generation. So I welcome it (y)
Yes as I said, they were only slight grumbles and marginally worse in this second book. However there were in my view inconsistencies present in the behaviour of the pioneering women; one minute tough campaigners for equality, the next simpering women adoring their muscled husbands. But But I don't want to make too big a thing of my complaint; it was there but it wasn't major, I felt it was overdone but not massively so. And setting those issues aside, the book presented a fascinating view of how the space program could plausibly have progressed far faster than it in fact did. And that, I think, is the most fascinating aspect of the book.
 
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worldofmutes

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And setting those issues aside, the book presented a fascinating view of how the space program could plausibly have progressed far faster than it in fact did. And that I think is the most fascinating aspect of the book.
I say this all too often. As a species we are very young in our space-faring journey. It’s amazing how slow it can be, the planets just need to align so we can get out there in the great vast universe!
 

Bick

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The Fated Sky is the second full novel in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series (there are also a couple of shorts; one set before the first book and one after it). A small colony of mainly scientists and engineers has now been established on the moon and with the runaway climate, following the meteorite impact of the first book, getting steadily worse the space agency, on this alternate history sixties Earth, is now aiming for Mars. The goal being to spread humanity’s eggs around more baskets to avoid possible extinction.

This is really quite a remarkable series of very well researched hard science fiction, which is, admittedly, a slightly odd description of books set in the past! However, it is a very valid one; Kowal shows with great but not overwhelming detail how everything would have been possible with the technology available at that time and with the motivation of experiencing a devastating meteorite impact in the fifties. There is plenty of credible science and engineering detail giving a strong sense of plausibility which supports the story without taking over. This is generally handled very deftly and there is even a bibliography at the end of the book for anyone who wants to see what all that detail is founded upon.

Slightly less deft, in my view, is some of the characterisation. There is no getting away from the strong anti-discriminatory message running throughout these books, both of gender and race, and, for me at least, I sometimes found this a little heavy handed. Maybe that is a very realistic picture of the times, but would it have really played out quite so in-your-face on two spaceships with small crews crammed together for three years? I feel that the members of such crews would have been carefully picked to ensure their professionalism and compatibility which would have precluded that sort of friction and, regardless of the political and economic considerations, I simply don’t believe a South African with such deep levels of racism as Kowal presents the reader with would ever have been allowed on the expedition. Maybe I’m wrong about this but it just felt implausible to me, although it does, of course, provide for plenty of drama.

One other implausibility that grated with me was the depiction of the women on the crew. Yes, this was an era when the woman’s place was definitely considered to be in the kitchen, particularly within the sort of social class these women came from. But some women rise, or fight their way, above that, which is fair enough, but having done so would those women also maintain their fascination with crinoline, lipstick and fingernails one minute and battling the misogynists the next? This I struggled with; sure, it also makes for some great narrative drama, but it just didn’t feel as real as the science and engineering; it felt overplayed to me. Again, I may be wrong about this, I was after all only five years old at the time this book is set! And my mother, who has also read these books, does not feel quite as strongly as me about this aspect!

Despite these misgivings, Kowal has written a solid, engaging and generally believable piece of hard science fiction. And a very unusual one at that. I’m not normally a lover of alternate history but she has absolutely made it work for me in these books. I’m looking forward to the next one!

4/5 stars.
Interesting review, thanks. Your misgivings about it are what have put me off these books.
 
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worldofmutes

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If anyone posted the reverse of this, there would be an outcry over what would be seen as sexism. Just saying. I’m not sure what you base the observation on, either.
Well, I’ve read more women writers this year than I have in past years. I just seem to enjoy the prose more. With women it’s not as flat, it’s more vulnerable and empathic. You might even say, more daring. I love men authors, and no, I wouldn’t fault you for saying the reverse of this statement at all. Just that men are naturally harder, stiffer, even in writing. I don’t like rampant liberalism either, but that’s not really the point. These women know how to write, rather well, and if you fail to recognize that because of a hang-up about the fact that Mary Robinette Kowal is Trying to reach more women in the sci-fi genre, then don’t waste your time on it anyway. You’ve read the review, and you don’t like what you’ve heard, so read something else. Meanwhile, there are a lot of women who I think would love to read a “Lady Astronaut Novel”.

I myself enjoy it, and don’t find any problem with a little feminism now and then. Although I’m a man, and not politically affiliated, it never hurts to pick up a book, does it?
 
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Vertigo

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Interesting review, thanks. Your misgivings about it are what have put me off these books.
That's completely understandable. However I would reiterate that for me the alternate space mission engineering was so well done and so fascinatingly plausible that it was worth it. I did have strong misgivings just like yourself and put off getting it for a long time but I'm now very glad I did. Which doesn't stop me grumbling a little! It is, though, a slightly odd juxtaposition of excellent very hard science fiction and very soft discrimination fiction.
 

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