The Calculating Stars
The Lady Astronaut of Mars - Book #1
by Mary Robinette Kowal
I loved THE LADY ASTRONAUT OF MARS, so I was looking forward to loving this. Unfortunately, I didn't. It was good, but not great.
I've got a few pet peeves about writing, one of which is that I hate it when authors overthink things. As one of the hosts of Writing Excuses, a writer's podcast, Mary Robinette talks a lot about how to create characters and tell compelling stories. I think she overindexed on her ideas, because she really, really played up the things she talks about and it kind of got in the way of the story.
Here's an example: one way to build relatable characters is to give them quirks and flaws. One of the quirks that she chose to give Elma York, her protagonist, was that Elma is Jewish. This means she observes the Sabbath and eats kosher and so on and so forth. Not a chapter goes by (and often not a PAGE goes by) that we aren't reminded of Elma's Jew-ness, through some message or another. It's way, way too much.
For context, I'm Jewish. And the number of times I think to myself "I'm Jewish" is... maybe a handful of times per YEAR. Certainly not every day.
As another example, I'm profoundly deaf. I say "what?" a hundred times a day. I put in and take out my hearing aid every day. My battery dies once a week. I have to make special accommodations to do certain things like make phone calls and take meetings. But you know what? I don't think about it! I don't think about it because for me it's NORMAL. This is how my life IS. It's not different, it's not worth calling out. It's just ME.
And in this book, Elma York is Jewish. She's got anxiety. She's not a racist. These are things that should only come up with the affect the plot in a meaningful way. I don't walk around thinking "Oh yeah, I'm deaf" while I'm eating a burger. I only think that when something makes me think about it.
Kowal's insistence on reminding me that Elma York forgets that black people are black, and that she can't eat bacon because she's Jewish, and that she throws up literally every time more than two people look at her at once... I dunno. It was really, really distracting.
And that's a shame, because the setup, the backdrop, plot, and the characters themselves were great... the writing was just blah. And I loved GHOSTTALKERS, one of Kowal's previous books where she didn't bludgeon me over the head with her character choices.
I dunno. It's good, but I didn't love it. I'll probably buy the sequel, FATED SKY, slated to come out in August, but I'm not really looking forward to it.