Monthly Tor free ebook reading: 'The Calculating Stars'

Discussion in 'Non-WOT - Literature and Fiction' started by Thaddius al'Guy, Jun 25, 2020.

  1. Thaddius al'Guy

    Thaddius al'Guy That Guy Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Game Master

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    Yes! We are gonna read Chapters 10-17 this week!
     
  2. Stephen Lightheart

    Stephen Lightheart Aes Sedai

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    In my memory, this was a novella. I need to reread desperately lol.
     
  3. Thaddius al'Guy

    Thaddius al'Guy That Guy Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Game Master

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    Maybe it was so good it felt like a short book :lol
     
  4. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    • It seems odd to me that ideas such as property values still exist in this world. I forget the timeframe, but life on Earth is going to end in their lifetime, right? I feel like, even with the people doubting the upcoming apocalypse (which is so painfully relatable), people actively working to preserve the human race should just have a place to live and not have to worry about property values. :cheese Money isn’t going to exist soon anyway. What incentive does anyone have to pay off debt?
    • Ughhh, yes, of course, women are clearly physically unfit for the rigors of space. :rolleyes Everyone knows Y chromosomes are necessary to survive in space. (because you know they would also be transphobic, too, and have a strict biological view of gender) Again, I keep forgetting we’re in the 1950s. :facepalm
    • “Women? No, no. If we want people to be excited, we need the most highly qualified pilots on these missions.” I just… :facepalm Ugh… I know this is probably intended to be infuriating, but gahhhh… :mad Yes, ‘allowing’ women to fly is ‘charity work’ apparently. And how the fuck is a woman dying more tragic than a man dying? I just… :mad
    • Poor Becky being forced out of work just because she’s pregnant. :(
    • I like how she portrays unconscious racism. The main character (I always forget her name since it’s first person) has her own biases, acknowledges them, and tries to fix them. But she also falls on her face sometimes and it doesn’t make what she says ok. (like the comment about mopping floors) But she apologizes and tries to learn. I love that Kowal doesn’t shy away from the racism of the time and how even ‘good’ people like the main character still have their thought processes and automatic responses permeated by prevailing attitudes of the time. It reads as very realistic.
    • People denying the apocalypse because "the weather was nice today" is to real. :facepalm As is the government's stance that if it doesn't have military significance, it's not urgent. :rolleyes I'm glad the president, at least, knows about agriculture and weather.
    • Things in this week's reading that remind me that we're in the 1950s: Pin boys at bowling alleys, recent memory of Jim Crow laws (i.e. recent legal desegregation)
    • Little kids wanting to be pilots/astronauts... it's sweet, but all I can think is how in a generation or so, kids won't be able to actually fulfill those dreams before the Earth becomes uninhabitable.
    • I like their depiction of the main character panicking with regards to public speaking and crowds. Other people trying to pressure her into doing something that is so far outside of her comfort zone and her immediate automatic response of hanging up on Captain Herbert. And then the physiological reactions she has to being on live TV.
    • I like Captain Herbert insisting on calling her Dr. York on TV. :joy
     
  5. Thaddius al'Guy

    Thaddius al'Guy That Guy Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Game Master

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    I keep running into the same issues above where you keep forgetting the timeframe of the book so I found myself goin ‘Really?’ A lot at some of the dialogue. Otherwise it has been pretty dang good so far.
    I felt bad for the woman who was forced out of her job due to being pregnant.
     
  6. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    I just started reading the Binti trilogy and it amused me that I've ended up reading two books at the same time that involve someone calming themself down through math. :lol
     
  7. Thaddius al'Guy

    Thaddius al'Guy That Guy Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Game Master

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    Math is calming, apparently :lol
     
  8. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    I'm appreciating how this novel portrays panic attacks and how the main character and the people around her react to her anxieties. :)

    (and I'm grateful that my panic attacks don't involve vomiting... that sounds miserable :( )
     
  9. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    Are we planning to read 8-9 chapters again this week?
     
  10. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    I just finished chapter 25, so if you don't want spoilers for the first 25 chapters, read at your own risk!

    This week’s things that made me remember that we’re reading a book set in the 50s :lol:

    • Payphones
    • At least, I assume it’s a temporal cultural reference, but I’ve never heard of ‘Miltown’ before, while it seems to be everywhere in this book (as in, Elma sees ads for it and all she has to do is say the word ‘Miltown’ for Nathaniel to know what it is). If you wanted to go for a generic anti-anxiety medication today, I can’t imagine you’d go with Miltown… Unless it’s actually commonly known and I’m just weird for not having heard of it before. :cheese
    Elma and anxiety… so painfully relatable:
    • She’s told people about her issues with anxiety, but only as jokes and funny stories. Personally, I only got diagnosed with anything a couple years ago and for the longest time I’d always just laughed off my own idiosyncrasies and failures, since that was the only way I knew to talk about it, since I didn’t know what was actually wrong. I figured if people laughed with me, they wouldn’t think I was just seeking attention and complaining. :cheese
    • Elma’s “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I feel that so hard… when I’m having a panic attack, I get to a point where I just can’t talk… and if anyone forces me to talk, all I can say is “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know.” over and over and over again... :(
    • Nathaniel telling Hershel about Elma’s anxiety problems pisses me off. :mad I know you’re trying to help, but that is not ok. Similarly, I’m on board with Elma not forgiving Betty yet for ambushing her with reporters. That’s also a super shitty thing to do to someone.
    Other notes:
    • The boat tour guide references that the lake isn’t frozen this year like it was last year… in December. That’s ominous.
    • Wow… mortgages. People are really that convinced that an imminent apocalypse isn’t coming if mortgages are still a thing. :blink This novel is interesting in its apocalyptic framing because it’s not as ‘imminent’ as most apocalypses are in similar stories I’ve read. With Seveneves (sorry, I know I mention that book a lot! :lol ), it was very obvious what was happening, partly because the effects of the ‘incident’ were something everyone could see every single day and the timeframe for the end of the world was much sooner than in the Calculating Stars. In Seveneves, there are still big societal problems and groups who are angry at how the Powers That Be are handling the crisis, but they are trying to handle it. And humanity as a whole does not exactly continue as normal after the fate of the world becomes clear. It’s interesting in this book to see people just going about their daily lives, raising children, and planning long-term. It’s a stark contrast.

      The main thing people are doing is things like building underground bunkers… which only makes sense if you’re trying to create a cooler living space when it starts heating up. There’s no reason to expect a 2nd meteor strike will happen soon. :cheese
    • The global climate change concerns are painfully similar to real life. Hershel explains to Elma that, according to their models, if humanity can limit greenhouse gases, it’s possible to make the Earth habitable for longer, at the very least. Unfortunately, as is the same in modern society, it’s hard to motivate society as a whole based on promises of what will happen in the future (decades from now) if we don’t do something now. (using today's resources, labor, and time)
    • Elma’s friend’s husband: “A couple of years of bad weather, and they’re telling us we have to go to space?” :facepalm :facepalm
    • And the dismissive “Ma’am, there are economic forces involved” is so infuriating. :rolleyes
    • It’s interesting having a sci-fi book that starts from 1950s era technology. It feels almost like a puzzle. Most sci-fi books I’ve read are either based in a hypothetical future or use our modern technology as the starting point. (I can’t think of any I’ve read that were actually written decades ago and used the technology of the era as a launching point) Books that have these sorts of ‘space puzzles’ (not sure what else to call it) fascinate me. Books like Seveneves where something terrible happens and humanity has to figure out how to survive in space; Seveneves starts with humanity at roughly modern levels (post 2000s) of technology. Or several of Arthur C. Clarke’s books which read like mysteries sometimes. (i.e. something’s gone wrong; we must use the technology/resources we have to fix it) Clarke’s books tend to be set in futuristic sci-fi worlds.

      The Calculating Stars, however, takes place right at the period that we tend to think of as the start of the space age. Before we landed on the moon and before the ISS. In Seveneves, with the apocalypse coming, they were able to modify the ISS and use it as a starting point. In this book, they start with… plans to go to outer space. It’s fascinating seeing how Kowal extrapolates how humanity would react and how this alternate history might be both similar to and different from our own.
     
  11. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    Anyone else still reading this? :)

    Did I annoy everyone with my walls of text? :lol
     
  12. Thaddius al'Guy

    Thaddius al'Guy That Guy Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Game Master

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    Not at all!

    I've been doing site visits for the last two weeks and I'm so beat when I get home I haven't been doing anything, That and the last mafia game really took it out of me too.

    I get so gung-ho about these and then life finds a way to get in the way. :lol
     
  13. Stasia t'Andrei

    Stasia t'Andrei Just Your Average Sith Lord Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Marketing Project Manager

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    I finally started reading this over the weekend! I made it all the way through part 1 in one go.

    Minor spoilers for Part 1:
    The opening chapters were very strong. I have read another book by the same author (the first in her Glamourist series) and really didn't care for it, so I was pleasantly surprised by how drawn in I was immediately with this book. The way she described the devastation and immediate aftermath while managing to weave in subtle narrative points about race, gender, and class was expertly done.

    I'm very excited to read more!
     
  14. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    Wow, hope you've had some time to relax since the site visits, at least!

    Glad to hear others are still reading. :) I finished the book a few days ago. Will type up my notes eventually.
     
  15. Thaddius al'Guy

    Thaddius al'Guy That Guy Aes Sedai Forum Moderator Game Master

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    Yes. After Friday I have a week of Vacation off so I’m looking forward to it and I’m gonna power through this book
     
  16. Kassina Tendar

    Kassina Tendar Aes Sedai

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    Notes for chapters 26 to the end:
    • Things that remind me that we're still in the 1950s: carbon copies
    • The regulations for becoming an astronaut 'just happen' to be such that they exclude most non-white applicants. Elma doesn't notice, though she admits that the requirements seem a bit odd (since flying a spacecraft is not the same as flying a jet plane). :rolleyes I am continued to be happy with how Kowal protrays this sort of insidious under-the-radar racism.
    • Same. :look
    • Man, Elma finding out that her grandmother survived the meteorite but died before she could see her or even know she was alive... :cry
    • From one of the newspaper excerpts: "Future spacemen can become earthmen again with minimal trouble." :rolleyes Another example of how male-centric the sciences are, even after it's already been announced that there will be women astronauts.
    • They don't even try to disguise the blatant racism in the astronaut hiring process... Getting rid of the only non-white candidate early 'cause of an undiagnosed heart murmur and not even allowing most non-white candidates to participate in the applicatoin process.
    • From one of the newspaper excerpts: "These beauties range from blond to brunette and are among the best feminine specimens on the planet". I just... ughhh. :facepalm :balefire They're astronauts, not beauty pageant participants. :|
    • Aunt Esther telling Elma she has to become an astronaut is the best thing! :joy
    • Parker asking Elma to keep a secret 'one pilot to another' is so painfully hypocritical that I'm amazed he was even able to get the words out. :facepalm :mad Especially when what he's doing is literally endangering the space program. :|
    • And then he turns around and blindsides her with news of her acceptance into the astronaut program...
    • In the discussion after said announcement, Clemons makes another reference to the "talent and beauty of our lady astronauts". Yes, clearly beauty is important for astronauts. :rolleyes
    • I love Elma's desire to stick up for her friends! :joy She has blind spots and she knows it, but she then uses everything in her power to advocate for Helen and for the elimination of racism in the astronaut hiring process.
    • And again when Clemons is greeting the new astronauts on their first day, he starts off by saying "There are my beauties." :facepalm
    • The astronauts comported themselves impressively well during the press conference will all the inane questions they were getting asked.
    • I'm impressed that they were so explicit about not really preparing the female astronauts to go into space. From the fucking BIKINIS they are asked to wear in a simulated underwater plane crash to the blatantly reduced expectations and requirements... I mean, they knew they were targeting WASPs with their application criteria, of course some of them are going to be actual trained pilots. :rolleyes It's like they don't even mind if Elma and others know that they're just going through the motions.
    • Clemons and the others standing up for Elma against Parker is amazing. :joy Such a satisfying scene.
    • And Terrazas explaining that he would have taken Miltown if he could when he got back to Earth! :D Not only advocating for astronauts' mental health, but demonstrating that anxiety isn't just a 'woman thing'.
    • Elma blames herself for Betty's alienation from the group. :( I mean, it's because of an incident regarding Elma, but Betty was clearly in the wrong and refused to apologize. :|
    • Betty making that anti-semitic comment really surprised me. :(
    • In the acknowledgments, Kowal says that Stetson Parker's existence is Brandon Sanderson's fault. D: Noooo, Brandon, why?? :lol
    • I was surprised when I learned that most of the headlines and articles were real! :eek I mean, I figured they were inspired by headlines from the time, but it's still wild to see how recently newspapers were printing things like that.