Shadows Beneath The Fated Sky

I finished reading The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal during my travels to Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference. I can’t wait to tell you all about it in my next blog post, but for now, we have a book to discuss. As you know, The Fated Sky is the sequel to The Calculating Stars. Click here if you want to see my analysis on TCS. I can’t think of a better book of the month for Black History Month than these two. Let me explain.

A meteorite struck off the coast of D.C. in 1952, changing the course of history, particularly the space race. Book two picks up the story in 1961 when the International Aerospace Coalition has a colony on the moon. They are trying to reach Mars, a planet that might be able to save humankind from complete extinction. In a way, it’s a race against time, but set in the 60’s where racism is rampant. The First Earthers resemble the Black Panthers: they will use force to get their point across. They believe all the money being used for this space solution should stay on earth to find a way to survive without leaving the planet.

I love this premise! There’s so much depth in it and the possibilities are endless. But I sort of feel the same way about this sequel as I do about my own sequel, Smells of Exile. There’s something missing. I’m not entirely sure it’s missing in a bad way, though I suppose that’s a possibility. I think Mary tells a page turner story, but lacked the driving force that The Calculating Stars had: the ticking time bomb. Not that it couldn’t have the ticking bomb effect, what with the need to find a way to sustain life and all, but this need was only in the background and not a driving force. There’s more to it than that. Let’s see if we can break it down.

Things that worked for The Fated Sky:

  1. Cool Premise
  2. Parker’s redemption arc
  3. Elma’s blindness to her own flaws and inconsistencies
  4. The portrayal of real life

Things that didn’t work:

  1. Reader connection to the cast of characters
  2. Trying to tackle every facet of the social injustices of the times
  3. over the top word choices
  4. The portrayal of real life

Obviously, these are generalizations in the above lists. So, let’s examine each one in turn. We already talked about how cool this premise is, and it being a sequel and all, we, the readers, are already invested in the story. Tell me in the comments below what you’re favorite aspect of the book is.

#2. Parker was the character we detested in the first book. He was the bad guy, a not nice guy. But he may have been my favorite character in this book. He’s still not very good at being kind but I think he has the most growth of all the characters, including the main character. Really, it’s his relationship with Elma that makes it okay for the secondary character to be more interesting than the main. When Elma has a fight with him, we see how wrong she was about him. This ties into #3. Elma can be just as mean as Parker, but since we know what she’s thinking, we can sort of brush it off and shake our heads at her. She eventually discovers her mistake. These prejudices and assumptions help us understand Parker in a way we didn’t think possible from the first book. We get to know him better, why he acts the way he does and it goes a long way towards redeeming him. In fact, his moment of grief was the most moving part of the whole book, I cried real tears.

I wish more “bad guys” were portrayed this way. Because all too often in our story telling we make them out to be purely evil when in reality we are all just as bad (yes, I’m including the racist South African who is the main bad guy in this book, we just don’t know why he is the way he is. None of his bad actions can be excused nor should they, but what makes us think we are better than him?).

That brings us to point #4. Mary did an excellent job portraying what real life looks like. One might say she did it a little too well. Life sometimes is boring and mundane. I wouldn’t say the book was exactly boring but there were times I wondered when I was going to get to the next exciting part. Was it a pacing problem? I don’t think so. At least, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was a good thing. I wish more books branched out from the traditional American story telling. In fact, I think Elma may be one of the few “heroes” that we all can relate to in an accurate way. We want to like her but we know there are things about her that we shouldn’t like. For example, she thinks she knows better than everyone else, but more often than not, she doesn’t and sometimes she gets something right.

For one, Elma, doesn’t connect with her flightmates, and neither does the reader. In a sense, because Elma is a loner, so is the reader. I liked the cast of characters but I kept getting them confused with each other. The lack of connection made it hard to weep when they died or to process what the others felt when their friends died. Then again, it’s sort of realistic. How often do we work alongside someone without really knowing them? Do we always feel sad when someone we know dies? That sounds like a horrible thing to say but I think there is some truth to it.

As for #2 and #3 of the things that didn’t quite work for the book, I can sum those up in a couple of sentences. Overall, I think Mary does an excellent job juggling the social injustices between her characters and in her plotting but with that always comes the one ball that slips out of the air and lands on the floor. Why is it that the only racist crew member was from South Africa? I find it hard to believe he was the only one. I get why one character had to be worse than all the others for the sake of the story telling but if we’re honest he wasn’t the only racist on board, or shouldn’t have been. And last but not least, the prose. I typically love Mary’s way with words, but she did go over the top with her euphemisms and the repetitiveness of the math, Elma was thinking. I definitely skimmed several paragraphs.

Well, there you have it. I enjoyed The Fated Sky and look forward to reading the last part to the story in The Lady Astronaut of Mars (yes, I know she wrote this one first but I’m reading them chronologically). What about you? Did you enjoy The Fated Sky? Who was your favorite character?

Next month, we’ll be reading Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage. Confession, I’ve already started reading it and am about halfway through! This is one you’re not going to want to miss if you haven’t already read it. Until next time, Happy Reading!

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