Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Lady Astronaut series, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I first heard about Mary Robinette Kowal when one of my writer friends joined one of her short story beta workshops back in 2016. I finally got to meet her at this year's WorldCon, and she treated each one of her fans with kindness and grace. I just finished reading SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY, the first in her Glamourist Histories (think Jane Austen with magic). Her new Lady Astronaut series is a fascinating alternative history that explores what might have happened if women had originally been the faces of the space program in the 1950s.

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.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission? Could Elma really leave behind her husband and the chance to start a family to spend several years traveling to Mars? And with the Civil Rights movement taking hold all over Earth, will the astronaut pool ever be allowed to catch up, and will these brave men and women of all races be treated equitably when they get there? This gripping look at the real conflicts behind a fantastical space race will put a new spin on our visions of what might have been.

When we spoke, you said, "Only you have a true vision of what your story is." Have you encountered instances in which that vision has been somewhat unclear, and if so, what ways have you resolved it?

I've definitely encountered those, especially when I've signed up for an anthology and don't have a solid story idea. When I do that, I have a worksheet that I use for the things I'm having trouble getting traction on. For instance, I'll ask what it is that my character wants and then what are the concrete actions they take to try to achieve that goal. Then what goes wrong. I'll brainstorm lists of twenty looking for the thing that excites me. Really, it's all about chasing my joy. That's the piece that no one else can really know until you find it.

Joy is definitely an important thing to chase! Your latest book, THE FATED SKY, is the latest in the Lady Astronaut series, which explores an alternate history of the space race. What, if anything, did you discover while writing this series that surprised you?

I was amazed at how long and thoroughly women have been involved in the space program. Jet Propulsion Labrotory had a policy that they did not hire men for the computer department -- that's what they used to call the women who did calculations. They only hired women. So all of those orbital mechanics were worked out by women with, at most, a mechanical calculator. There's a great book called Rise of the Rocket Girls that talks about JPL, and of course, there's Hidden Figures.

The Hidden Figures book is great--and it includes a ton of fascinating stuff that the movie didn't get a chance to cover. You're also a member of the Hugo-Award winning podcast Writing Excuses. What led to your involvement in this podcast, and what do you enjoy most about contributing to it?

They asked me! What I enjoy most is the way the guys make me think. It's like being on a really good panel at a convention, where someone says a thing that opens up new avenues in your brain. I've been especially enjoying the last two seasons where we bring season-long guest hosts in. These folks are so very, very smart.

They are indeed! What are some of your current projects? 

Currently, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo by working on book 3 in the Lady Astronaut series. It's called The Relentless Moon and is a parallel novel to the events in The Fated Sky.

Lady Astronaut:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

The Glamourist Histories:

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

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