When I find a new author I enjoy, it feels something like starting a new romance. I will often become infatuated and go on a jag, reading their books almost exclusively until: a) I have read everything they’ve ever written or b) I get excited about something/someone new. I am currently on a Mary Robinette Kowal jag.
My son had “Ghost Talkers, opens a new window” on his holiday wishlist, and since he and I often enjoy the same books, I checked it out from the library and read it. I really enjoyed it! It was set in World War I, and the premise is that the Allies are using mediums, working in a Spirit Corps, to gain intelligence from recently deceased soldiers. Historical fiction meets magical realism - although its official classification is Science Fiction. Very interesting and enjoyable. And so started my current reading jag...
I looked at Kowal’s other recent books and became interested in “The Calculating Stars, opens a new window” - another historically-based Sci-Fi book with a twist. This one is an alternative history set in the 1950s. (You know it is alternative on the first page when you read about President Dewey.) Also, on the first page, you hear about the Meteor: “Do you remember where you were when the Meteor hit?” It smashes into the Earth, leaving behind a much-changed world with many problems to address, including climate change. Much of the book deals with a newly-developing space program as well as gender and racial issues and prejudices. It shares a lot with “Hidden Figures” such as women (including women of color) employed as “computers.” The author does a pretty good job of using the popular jargon of the day and dealing with the social issues in a manner that is realistic for the period. I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’ll leave it there - except to say that my only disappointment was that there comes a point where I felt that things tumbled into place a little too neatly. But mostly, I just really enjoyed a compelling story told well!
After finishing the book, I read the historical notes at the end and discovered that this book was written as a prequel to an earlier piece of short fiction, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” a Hugo Award winner. I was delighted to find it in a compilation of Sci-Fi short fiction, “Worlds Seen in Passing, opens a new window.” It would have been interesting to have read this first - in the order in which they were written. I enjoyed it and felt that it was true to the characters I had gotten to know in “The Calculating Stars.”
There is another book in this series that takes place between the prequel and the short fiction piece, “The Fated Sky, opens a new window.” I have not read it yet, but I’m really looking forward to it! It starts out with “Do you remember where you were when the Friendship probe reached Mars?” (I’m sensing a pattern here…)
Kowal has also written a number of Fantasy books, The Glamourist Histories, that combine a Jane Austen-like society with a twist of magic. I am currently reading one of these, “Shades of Milk and Honey, opens a new window.” It is enjoyable and easy reading, but I don’t find it nearly as compelling as Kowal’s Sci-Fi books.
Finding a new author that you enjoy feels like receiving a wonderful gift - knowing that hours of enjoyment are in store for you. Frankly, I can’t wait to get my hands on “The Fated Sky!” Since I love a little historical fiction with my Sci-Fi, these Lady Astronaut novels are a perfect fit for me. If you'd like help finding a new author, please feel free to ask library staff for suggestions. We love to play matchmaker!
-Jill Mickel is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.