Summary Kowal

What we enjoyed about the novel:

  • Setting, science was cool, early space flight cool
  • Depiction of racism and sexism
  • Elma was partly self-aware of her being part of the problem
  • Setting was surprisingly well done and even for people not interested in the technicalities
  • Good book even if you don’t love science fiction
  • Knowing “Hidden Figures” before made picturing the book even better
  • Sexism and racism very important especially for today
  • Mansplaining!!!
  • Beginning was very well done, in medias res, “where were you when the meteorite hit?”
  • Alternate History beginning cool, point of diversion was efficiently done yet subtle
  • Note by the author in the end: newspaper clippings were actual newspaper clipping (mostly)
  • Alternate history and actual history are well connected
  • Competitions between Russians/Chinese vs. the Western world: Cold War in this alternate history
  • Climate change aspect very strong, hauntingly realistic
  • Annoying and frustrating with how people refuse to deal with antisemitism, sexism, racism, and climate change
  • Balance between her being oppressed as a woman vs. her being very self-conscious when realizing that she is part of the oppressive group!
  • Heroine makes mistakes, very good
  • Parker: interesting figure, misogynist but also a good teacher and scientist or a brave man
  • Relatable Elma
  • Elma smart, learns from her mistakes, some did not find her captivating, some steps in her career feel too fast, anxiety very realistic, some of us would like to have more astronaut stuff and less personal stuff
  • Elma’s husband cool, nice person, not a “chauvinistic jerk”, also focusses as a counter to Parker’s sexism
  • Math fascinating, Elma very impressive, calculations as a technique to calm herself down, women can also be good at maths! Empowerment!
  • Very urgent reason to go into space: planet is doomed, loads of pressure on the ‘computers’
  • Some of us will read the sequels as the book got us hooked from the start
  • Impressive research, very well done
  • Not only American astronauts in here! Internationality well well well done! Communists aren’t the ‘baddies’ here
  • “I really enjoyed it. It’s a book I would’ve never picked up”
  • Happy with the ending, comfortable

What we discussed / did not enjoy:

  • Some things were predictable (vacation, for example)
  • Too much focus on Elma as a person, not enough science?
  • Too many characters, partly confusing, maybe even interchangeable in parts (nuancing could’ve been better)
  • Pacing of the story could be better in parts: very strong start, middle part a bit too slow, shift to politics could’ve been done better; ending comes super-fast
  • Parts of us disliked the plot, boring, also has to do with personal preferences (not being into the 50s setting, rockets or travelling into space, hate maths)
  • 50s full of too much kitsch? Romanticised? Corny?
  • Perspective on World War II very American – with a German background problematic
  • Nathaniel a too perfect husband for the 50s? Passive? Also plays with the roles? Supporting husband and not supporting wife?
  • Elma a bit too good: so smart, pretty, good with the kids, great pilot, great at maths, doctorate, brother also a scientist, husband leading engineer – very coincidental!
  • Prose neutral-good, not very aesthetically, conventional writing style
  • Sex scenes weird, very cringey, funny, too many for some; Elma uses sex to get what she wanted?
  • A bit bland in parts, unused potentials in many parts
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