The Lady Astronaut of Mars

Mary Robinette Kowal
The Lady Astronaut of Mars Cover

The Lady Astronaut of Mars


One of the podcasts I listen to in my spare time (or rather, while I'm mowing the lawn or doing laundry or in the car, because really: who has spare time?) is Writing Excuses, which includes Mary Robinette Kowal. She is the author of the Glamourist Histories, which I hear is something like Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell). I say 'hear,' because I've never actually read one of them. There's really no accounting for taste, but I've just not been able to work up the interest in Regency England romance sufficient to crack Shades of Milk and Honey.

But I love the podcast, and I've always been impressed with Kowal's contributions to it. When I heard she had been nominated for the Hugo, and for science fiction to boot, I found it a good excuse to finally read something by her.

And I was impressed. The Lady Astronaut of Mars takes place on Mars in a future where an astronomical catastrophe has driven us to space before even the development of the information age. Space ships utilize punch cards for programming, and Mars has been colonized. Our protagonist is the first woman astronaut–the "Lady Astronaut of Mars" of the title–who has settled down to care for her slowly dying husband while she longs for the stars.

It's a tear-jerker of a story, light on the science and heavy on the fiction. Kowal hits all the right keys to build sympathy for characters that are real, even though they are A) astronauts and B) on Mars. If there's two things I'm not (and, chances are, neither are you), it's a Martian astronaut. But it doesn't matter, because Kowal connects us to her characters with the twin sympathies for dying and of longing for more. Instead of carrying her story with the details and excitement of space exploration, which is certainly there, she focuses on the relationship between the characters, listening to the desires and hopes in their head, and guiding their actions accordingly. It makes for a sad, but hopeful, story, and one worth the read.

Whether Kowal gets the Hugo for the story or not, I wish her the best. It's a worthy addition to the selections, and I hope she gets full consideration.