Friday, September 22, 2017

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Lady Astronaut of Mars is a novelette about Dr. Elma York, who helped establish the first colony on Mars.  But that was a long time ago, and Elma is getting old.  At 63, her space-faring days are all but over, until one day, she gets a call from the director of the space center.  There's one last mission,
if she wants to take it, but she will probably never return, if she survives the journey at all.  Meanwhile, her husband is slowly wasting away before her eyes.

Elma is left with a difficult choice; should she take this last opportunity to go into space, or should she stay and take care of her dying partner?

The Facts

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre:  Sci-fi
Sub-Genres:  Alternative History
Length:  30 pages
Publisher:  Tor Books
Date of Publication:  May 27th, 2014

My Opinion

I was really amazed by this little book.  It won a Hugo in 2014, so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised, but there's so much packed into these thirty little pages... there's allusions to the Wizard of Oz, it's reminiscent of Bradbury's The Rocket Man and it's thick with emotion.

I seriously can't remember the last time a story so short made me cry.  Twice.

The opening of the story deals with Elma seeing her doctor, Dorothy, who, it turns out, she met as a little girl in Kansas in 1952.  Yeah, that's a fun little kicker; the story takes place in the past.  Programming is done through punch cards, and "the present" is probably happening in the 80's or 90's in an alternative timeline.

Through her memories, we see Elma deal with the sexism of space flight in the fifties and the triumphs of technology and Earth over the natural and man-made disasters, which push man further and further into the cosmos.

There are so many heart-breaking aspects to this story, but so many lovely ones too.  Elma's relationship with her dying husband, Nathanial, and how much they obviously love each other is really touching, but also devastating.  I love when stories use time and the vastness of space to temper relationships, for some reason.  Example: Voices from a Distant Star.  This isn't exactly the same thing, but it has a similar flavor.

Should You Read This Book?

Definitely.

It's not long, it's really well written and heartfelt.  The characters are endearing.  It's a great mix of literary and sci-fi, so it would probably appeal to those who like either.  Plus, you can say you read an award-winning short story, which is always going to make you sound good.

Other Useful Information:

Bechdel Test: Pass
Helpful Tropes: Alternate History, Bold Explorer, Family Versus Career, Life Will Kill You, Retro Universe

Links: Goodreads, Author Website

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