Books Read: The Calculating Stars

Book Info


An alternate post WWII history where an extinction level meteor wipes out Washington DC and most of the US government. The main character is a “computer”, a women who calculates mathematical problems for engineers in the fledgling space program. Elma is a Jew from the south, was a WASP during the war and has dreams of becoming an astronaut.


I first starting following the author via the Writing Excuses podcast but this was the first book of hers that I read. It had been getting lots of mentions across my various feeds. Knowing what I did about the background of the book and its author the first pages were a struggle to get past the perceived virtue signaling. But once I got past the first half dozen chapters those issues faded into the background.

Anytime you introduce an alternate history you need some sort of deus x machina to fuel the change. I thought the meteor strike was a great way to force the change. I like stories where authors explore what science could produce if we only funded and focused our efforts.

I found two scenes in the book were particularly striking. The first was a commemorative sermon by a rabbi where he talks about the threshold between Before and After and says “There will always be Befores and Afters. The question is: what do you do after you cross that threshold?” Similar to the sentiment of only being able to control your reaction to events and not the events themselves this scene resonated with me. The second scene was when Elma met Werner von Braun and struggles to decide how to react. In the years immediately after the holocaust and indeed today we often have to decide how to interact with good people doing bad things and bad people doing good things. The scene captured this struggle exquisitely but unfortunately came to the same conclusion most people find, to work with the person.

While many people where happy to find representation in a Jewish main character I’m still waiting for a mainstream Modern Orthodox main character. I couldn’t find any egregious errors in the depiction and that is to the author’s credit.

Final Word

I’m giving this 45 stars on Goodreads I enjoyed this book, would recommend it to my friends and look forward to reading the sequel.