This is another book on the shortlist for Best Novel at the Hugo Awards and then my local library picked up a copy of both this and the sequel (The Fated Sky), which discovery delighted me greatly. While I appreciate reading ebooks for sheer portability, and of course ARC tend to come in this format now, I much prefer proper books if I can get them!
A couple of years ago, a shorter piece of fiction featuring the same protagonist picked up the Hugo for Best Novelette, so I was delighted to see these books make an appearance. They're only science fiction in that they posit a world where a massive meteor strike off the eastern coast of the US in the early 1950's has pre-empted climate change to the point where the planet is likely to become uninhabitable in the lifetime of the people driving this story. As a result, plans to go into space and then to other planets are pushed forward dramatically as a worldwide endeavour but with all the period issues around discrimination still looming large.
Our main character, Elma York, is a computer - a woman (as most of these workers wore, before mechanical computers took over their jobs) whose job it is to calculate the information needed for space flight. She's also a pilot, one of a number who had ferried aircraft around during the recent war, and sees absolutely no reason why she and women like her shouldn't be considered as potential astronauts. Surely this is even more sensible, given that impending disaster on Earth will require colonisation rather than just exploration?
In this book, we see the immediate aftermath of the meteor strike and the tentative formation of worldwide efforts, as well as the results of Elma and her peers pushing to be included in the plans that are made. Alongside the discrimination she faces, Elma also suffers from anxiety and a fear that even taking medication to manage this will be seen as a sign of weakness. She, and the other women like her, are there for window dressing according to some and aren't taken seriously by everyone. There's a particularly galling scene where they're put through an underwater escape simulation but are first dressed in bikinis for the benefit of the press, before discovering that they aren't even going to be allowed to do the simulation in its entirety.
All in all, this is an excellent book and the amount of research involves shines through without becoming overwhelming. Alongside the solid world-building, there's also strong characterisation and a real sense of uncertainty about how this will all resolve - a few twists and turns along the way! I'm now looking forward to picking up The Fated Sky at some point soon, for the next instalment in Elma's story.