This is an alternative history story that follows Dr. Elma York, a pilot, physicist and mathematician who works at the International Aerospace Coalition. One night in 1952, a meteorite falls to the earth, wiping out most of the east coast of the United States, including the capital. Elma soon figures out that the meteorite collision will result in a climate cataclysm, causing such high temperatures that the oceans will boil and the earth will be inhospitable for humans.
This threat accelerates the space program and the need to colonize space sooner rather than later if the human race is to survive. This also creates a need for many more astronauts. Soon, Elma begins to wonder, with so many skilled female pilots, scientists, and mathematicians why women cannot become astronauts and go into space.
In so doing, Elma strives to become the first Lady Astronaut even though the societal conventions of the 1950s are against her goals. Additionally, the author did an excellent job of illustrating how sexism and racism prevented leaders of the space program from taking advantage of all of the highly skilled and exceptionally talented people who could definitely be an asset to the program.
What’s interesting about this book is that it didn’t examine only the issue of sexism but also of racism, both of which were pretty much the norm in the 1950s. Elma was mostly unaware of racism issues in society, or at the very least it wasn’t something she thought about until people closer to her were affected by it. Initially, she was kind of self-centered and mostly unaware of the oppression of those around her.
In this way, the book illustrated nicely how even well-meaning, supposedly open-minded people can be utterly ignorant of other people’s struggles until those struggles are really brought to the forefront of their attention. I enjoyed the book’s exploration of discrimination across gender, race and even mental health and appreciated how these topics were the main themes of the story. The book also did an excellent job of showing how challenging life in the 1950s was for anyone who wasn’t a white male.
As for Elma, she’s a wonderfully inspiring character. She’s determined, brilliant, brave and competent. But it was also interesting to learn how she suffers from crippling social anxiety which was an important theme in this book, especially once she became thrust into the spotlight.
I thought it was especially empowering that Elma eventually comes to terms with her anxiety, understanding that it is a medical condition and does not mean she is weak. In this way, it was an extremely accurate portrayal of what anxiety looks like so an excellent representation here of anxiety disorder I thought.
My only niggle with this novel were the sex scenes with her husband, Nathaniel. Now Elma and her husband had a wonderfully sweet relationship (perhaps even a tad too sweet), and a lot of the book focused on their romance. But the sex scenes felt awkward to me and like they didn’t really belong in this story. There were a lot of sexual innuendos such as “launch is a go,” that caused me to roll my eyes a time or two. To me, the sex scenes just felt out of place and a bit forced in this story, and they may have been better left out.
But apart from that, I loved this gripping and riveting story. There are so many important subjects that this book addresses including discrimination against women, racial inequality, climate change, space travel, and mental health, to name a few. But what I especially like about the book’s treatment of these topics was that it wasn’t done in a preach or heavy-handed way but rather with sensitivity and fitness.
I can’t begin to imagine the amount of research that went into this story. The author clearly did her homework here with the result being a fully immersive and realistic novel with a diverse cast of characters. Ultimately, this book hooked me and wormed into my heart and mind
This book is part of a series but can be read as a standalone as everything was nicely wrapped up at the end. I do plan on picking up the sequel entitled “The Fated Sky” as I am looking forward to continuing on with this series.