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The Calculating Stars

by Mary Robinette Kowal

This alternative history describes the beginning of space travel. Elma, a Jewish pilot and mathematician, aspires to become the first female astronaut after a meteor impact on the East Coast that is going to cause a huge climate crisis. Her efforts are opposed by the anti-feminist ideas that prevail at that time. The emphasis is more on science and much less on action. Still, I found it a light read and an interesting take on the fifties.

Extract

'I'm curious, Colonel Parker. How would you have handled being unarmed? As a man?' Tactical mistake no, this got right to the heart of the astronaut issue.
He held up his hands. 'Look. You were clearly very fortunate. I'm just saying that you should never have been put in that position.'
'I agree. My plane should have been armed. As a woman, I'm smaller and lighter. That means that my plane needs less fuel and I handle G-forces better than a man.' That last was skirting the truth, because I was tall for a woman, and the ability to handle G-forces was more related to height and blood pressure. 'In fact, I would argue that women should already be in the astronaut corps, for exactly those reasons. To say nothing of the fact that we're trying to establish a colony.
'And men are better suited to do that work.' He glanced around the room and parroted what Clemons had said during the press conference. 'Christopher Columbus didn't take any women on his voyage, did he?'
'That was about conquest.' Sweat beaded under my brassiere. 'The pilgrims, on the other hand, did bring women. If you want to establish a colony, we need women in space.
'I see no compelling reason for that.'
'Here's a reason.' Nicole laughed, lifting her glass over her head. 'Babies!'

Parallels

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
 

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