4 ways The Fated Sky improves on its predecessor


Although The Fated Sky arrived just a month after the first book in the Lady Astronaut series, it still manages to do some things better.

The Calculating Stars stood out last month for its strong research and character work. Naturally, the second book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s series, The Fated Sky, had some pressure on it from this reviewer, because not only did it promise more of Elma York, but it also promised going to Mars, which does have a certain appeal. Tor kindly sent the book along, and, thankfully, it’s stronger than Calculating Stars.

How so? There are four places that yours truly has pinpointed.

This is normally where we’d dive in, but instead, let us launch ourselves into counting down why, for the sake of a particularly good pun.

Elma still has growing to do

In reviewing the previous novel, I noted that Elma has the opportunities to not do everything right the first time. Here, it’s the same way. Her lessons in how to be a good ally to people of color continue, and they’re complicated by how she manages to get on the Mars mission, as she bumps her friend, Helen, who is from Taiwan originally.

Kowal seems to understand that the process of working towards racial equality and justice is not one that is solved by just doing something once and resting on your laurels after that. That’s why it’s a process. The fact that Elma doesn’t magically know just what to say and do in every situation despite having the good intentions of wanting to help is solidly helpful.

Stronger emotional punches

Although Nathaniel and Elma’s relationship provides most of the emotional fodder here, Nathaniel doesn’t join the first Mars expedition. That separation helps Kowal explore new avenues of Elma’s emotions in particular, and it also allows Kowal to dive deeper into some of her other characters.

That means, when certain events happen, a reader will feel them more strongly. For the sake of not spoiling it, I can’t say more. But because the cast is so limited, we get to spend more time learning about others and growing attached to them.

Increased tension

Although The Calculating Stars has the looming threat of further climate change overshadowing everything, The Fated Sky has the much more immediate threat of not making it to Mars present in every single chapter that covers the expedition. Whether it’s the crew not getting along with each other or mechanical issues, there’s a sense that though this journey is calculated out, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. The limited setting also contributes to this sense, although it never quite gets to the level of full-on claustrophobia.


Mars is still a goal over 50 years after this book is set, since it only jumps forward to the ’60s. Sure, The Calculating Stars focuses on the early stages of getting people into space on a regular basis, but by skipping forward, The Fated Sky expands the scope of the work even as it narrows down in setting and environment. For lack of a better term, that’s cool.

dark. Next. Review: Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover

Is The Fated Sky a perfect book? Not necessarily; there are still some moments where dialogue doesn’t quite hit, and it is pretty nasty at some points. (It almost reminds me of Dead Space at one point, which is a very weird shift to sci-fi horror over alternate history.) But what it does, it does well, and if you enjoyed the first, you’ll find plenty to like here as well.