On the night of August 18, at the 77th World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland, the 2019 Hugo Award Winners were announced. For those who don’t know, the Hugo Awards are presented annually by the by the World Science Fiction Society for the best work in Science Fiction or Fantasy published in the previous year. There are quite a few categories, but the most popular one is always the award for Best Novel. Previous winners have included the first award (1953) for Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1960), Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1970), Isaac Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge (1983), Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (1996), and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2008).
This year the winning novel is Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars. If you haven’t discovered this book (or this writer), let me tell you about it. You’re in for a treat! This book reminded me why Science Fiction is my first love.
The book opens on the morning of March 3, 1952. Former WWII Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) and human computer Elma York and her husband, rocket scientist Nathaniel, are vacationing in the Poconos. Their morning is interrupted by a bright streak of light crossing the sky. They later learn that a meteorite has struck the Earth in Chesapeake Bay, destroying Washington and most of the eastern seaboard of North America. Escaping to the west in their Cessna, they end up at Wright Patterson in Ohio, helping out with other refugees and figuring out what happened. Elma eventually calculates that the dust and debris thrown into the atmosphere will cause years of global cooling, but that after it settles out the planet will experience rapid and catastrophic global warming, making Earth uninhabitable. The remainder of the book tells the story of humankind’s attempts to escape the planet by colonizing the moon and Mars, fighting politics (and politicians), and ingrained prejudices against women and people of color.
The characters are very well developed, with even those the reader doesn’t like having good points and the heroes having faults. They’re very believable, and the plot keeps the reader constantly involved and looking forward to the next chapter. It’s really hard to put down and will keep you reading long after your bedtime.
I worked on Nathaniel’s calculations in the evenings. It helped to have the solace of numbers to retreat to after helping with the refugees during the day. Today I had served soup to a group of Girl Scouts and their scout masters. They had been on a camping trip when the Meteor hit, and by sheer luck had been spelunking in the Crystal Caves. They’d felt the earthquake and thought it was disaster enough. Then they’d come up and everything was just gone.
Kowal really makes you feel like you’re there, experiencing the events yourself. Each chapter is introduced by a brief newspaper article, and that adds to the realism. If you’ve never read science fiction, The Calculating Stars is a good introduction. If you haven’t read any in years, it’s a great way to meet up with an old friend. The library has two copies: 1 print and 1 ebook. Check it out and let me know what you think!