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Lady Astronaut Universe #3

The Relentless Moon

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Mary Robinette Kowal continues her award-winning Lady Astronaut series, which began with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC's goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

544 pages, Paperback

First published July 14, 2020

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About the author

Mary Robinette Kowal

229 books4,803 followers
Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the Lady Astronaut Universe and historical fantasy novels: The Glamourist Histories series and Ghost Talkers. She’s a member of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses and has received the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, four Hugo awards, the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, several Year’s Best anthologies and her collections Word Puppets and Scenting the Dark and Other Stories.

Her novel Calculating Stars is one of only eighteen novels to win the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in a single year.

As a professional puppeteer and voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), Mary Robinette has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures, and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She records fiction for authors such as Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

Mary Robinette lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,123 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,081 reviews2,939 followers
December 30, 2021
4.5 Stars
With each new installment, the Lady Astronauts series just gets better and better. I enjoyed the first two books, but I absolutely loved this third novel. 

Despite coming from similarly privileged white backgrounds, Nicole was very different than the character than Alma. Nicole was independent and self assured in a way that Alma was not. While this is a character focused series, there was a lot of action in this third volume. The saboteur plot created a mystery that was made even more interesting by being set on the moon. 

I always appreciate the author's dedication to writing accurate historical and scientific information. I recommend reading the section at the end of the book where the author describes the real science and historical events behind this story.

This story tackled so many important topics from vaccinations and infertility. I particularly liked the representation of disordered eating recovery, which was depicted realistic without ever being triggering. I found so much of my life experience in this novel, which only made me love it even more.

Needless to say, I absolutely recommend this  series but readers should start back at the beginning with The Calculating Stars in order to fully understand the characters and story.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
June 3, 2020
In a lot of ways, this is superior to the second book -- which didn't like as much as the first. Being stuck on the craft to Mars had its charms, to be sure, but there's a lot of good to be had staying closer to home.

Astronaut Nicole Wargin takes the narration up and she spends a lot of time on Earth and the Moon. Not only are the technical aspects interesting as such a small portion of humanity will be able to survive the coming cataclysm, but we're treated to lots of feels, espionage, murder, sabotage, and sleuthing -- ALONG with the whole basic plot of SURVIVAL. :)

Plot-wise, I had the best time of all. :)

No spoilers, but there are some rather hard surprises and interesting twists.

All in all, I'm really enjoying the direction it's going. It's a winner!
Profile Image for Crini.
352 reviews411 followers
November 21, 2019
This book straight up murdered me.

I love that we get to read about what happened in parallel to the events of the second book. I was a bit worried about me missing Elma who I LOVE, but Nicole and the rest of the crew are just as great.

- the women casually talking about sex and freaking men the fuck out will never not be hilarious
- will never tire of happily married couples
- punches right in the feels repeatedly = instant favorite
- investigations galore IN SPACE = right up my alley

(before anyone asks: I beta read the book)
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,147 reviews1,119 followers
August 31, 2020
Checked every boxes of my preference. A female character in her 50s (something I kept asking Mary Robinette in various venues, including the last Torcon). Personal demons. Space exploration. Hard SF with meticulous research. Politics. Gender dynamics. Tight plotting that kept me glued for every page I am losing sleep. (Actually losing sleep is a great indicator on how good a book is to me). Competent people in an enclosed environment trying to do their best and beyond. And most of all, the Moon. I love almost every novels set on the Moon so excuse me if I am biased towards this one.

There was a news bit in front of every chapter and one of them was about Semarang, capital of Central Java. I asked her in Twitter about it and she said she used a real news article from 1963, that she tweaked to adjust for the LAU timeline. And then I sort of invited her to come visit since she had not been there....She'd love the wayang puppeteers there, being one herself.

My fangirling aside, I think this is the best of the series so far. I loved Elma, but Nicole was so much fun to read as a character. With elements of sabotage, espionage, and murder mysteries, the novel is a strong contender for Hugo next year.

PS: I did not fully watch the audio recording process the author put in her YouTube channel - for the whole book! - since I want to devour every page with no delays but I'd recommend everyone to watch it so you know how hard it was. Here's the full playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list...
Profile Image for Justine.
1,132 reviews309 followers
January 4, 2021
4.5 stars

This latest installment in the Lady Astronaut series switches POV characters from Elma York to Nicole Wargin, and runs approximately parallel in time with The Fated Sky

Nicole was always an interesting character, but in this book we get to know her from the inside out. And what a complicated woman she is! As is the case with Elma, Nicole has her own set of both internal and external pressures that she must work with. For Elma, the biggest internal pressure comes from her anxiety, for Nicole, it's a lifelong struggle with anorexia. However, and thankfully, neither character is defined by their "issue."

Kowal has done an admirable job including Nicole's anorexia without making this a book all about a woman with an eating disorder. The author's willingness to expose herself in this respect is clearly evident, and is in part why the Nicole's character rings so true. Kowal's writing in this way reminds me of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman. In both cases the authors have explored difficult mental health issues with a deftness and grace born from close personal experience. The result in both cases are characters we can empathise with and understand, without seeing them as weak or worthy only of pity.

I loved too that Nicole is a woman firmly in middle age, demonstrating both fierceness and intellect, strength and weakness. Her level of self-knowledge would not ring as true in a young character, and so we see a depth of maturity and interest that really can only come in a realistic way from a woman of her age and experience.

Overall an excellent addition to the growing body of work Kowal is creating in this alternative history of space exploration.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews1,130 followers
September 15, 2020
The remarkable "Lady Astronaut" series continues, and I keep on loving it! Mary Robinette Kowal created a wonderful alternate history sci-fi world, and uses her characters to explore a wide range of issues with refreshing perspective.

“The Relentless Moon” is set at the same time as “The Fated Sky” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). While Elma is on her way to Mars, her fellow astronaut Nicole Wargin is getting ready for another mission on the station Lunetta, which is progressively being filed with colonists to establish a permanent human colony on the Moon. But signs that a saboteur is at work begin to show before she’s even left the planet: strange malfunctions, equipment breakdown, poisoning attempts… Nicole and the rest of the ICA strongly suspect that the Earth First movement has a mole working from within the space program, but no clue as to whom it could be. Knowing the risk, Nicole decides to go to the Moon anyway, and try to figure out what is going on from there, but the problems on Earth were just the tip of the iceberg.

This instalment is quite different in tone from the previous two because it really is a bit of a spy mystery: we spend the book with Nicole, trying to figure out who is the mole, what the goal of all the sabotage is, and sitting on the edge of our seat, wondering who will make it to the last page alive. The pacing is great, but sometimes bogged down slightly by very technical explanations of what is going on. My hat is off to Kowal for impeccable research and mastery of jargon, but it did confuse me a little on a couple of occasions.

Nicole is, like Elma, a smart, stubborn woman with a strong character, but that’s where their similarities end. She’s a governor’s wife, a former intelligence operator and a recovering anorexic. Her strengths and her challenges are nuanced and described very compassionately: I truly felt her disgust with food when she relapses and I could see her brain firing on all cylinders when new clues pointed towards the mole.

Kowal uses this alternate history to take jabs at science deniers and people who are too selfish to understand efforts made for the greater good, and while that sometimes lack subtlety, I have to admit that I am 100% on board with her. I already had a hard time with anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers and people who feel like their culture is the only one worth saving, and 6 months of sheltering in place and reading the news has not softened me up on those idiots. In other circumstances, I might have found the way she describes the Earth First movement as a little too didactic, but as of today, I’m like “yup, those people are irredeemably terrible”.

This series is a fun, engaging and entertaining thought experiment on what might have happened if humanity had begun space exploration earlier, and under different circumstances. I’m really looking forward to getting back to Elma’s story in tome 4, but the whole series is well-worth reading if you enjoy Golden Age sci-fi but find it too sexist and colour-blind.

4 and a half stars, rounded up!
Profile Image for Gabi.
693 reviews120 followers
September 12, 2020
A suspenseful thriller set on the moon with the wonderful interaction and friendship I loved in the first book.
The story of a competent, middle-aged woman who's fighting her own demons and is trying to balance private life and career.
Profile Image for Di Maitland.
259 reviews79 followers
July 12, 2021
"Such a pleasure. Please do come and visit me on the Moon.”

I was a little dubious of this book to start, but by god it picked up and by 50% I was hooked, struggling to put it down even to sleep.

The Relentless Moon is a whodunnit. Set at the same time as The Fated Sky, we leave Elma on her way to Mars and follow Nicole Wargin, another of the original six Lady Astronauts, as she roots out the saboteur that’s causing chaos on the moon.

The story begins on Earth and, I admit, I struggled at first to acclimatise to the new protagonist. I missed Elma and her nervous yet determined crusades, I missed Nathaniel and his rocketry innuendos, and I wanted to see Elma and Nathaniel on Mars. Nicole is a harder woman to like and to know. She’s a politician through and through, playing the game and playing the system.
"Oh, and Kenneth doesn’t have a mink cat-o’-nine-tails.”
[…]"I didn’t think so.”

“It was suede.”
[…]"I am, suddenly, very glad you never played poker with us.”

And yet the more I read, particularly once she’s ensconced in Artemis Base, the more I grew to appreciate and admire her, to like and understand her. She’s a confident, infinitely capable, middle-aged woman, but like all of us, she has her weaknesses and her own challenges to overcome.
"So…what. That’s okay now? So I can just lie to you when I’m on the Moon?”
Kenneth looked at me, finally, and my heart cracked in two. “Oh, baby. I love you, but I don’t expect you to tell me the truth. Not about food.”

Nicole’s anorexia plays a prominent role in the story (though I wouldn’t consider it’s revelation a spoiler). It is portrayed in such a way that, even before I read the end note, I had little doubt that Kowal herself had first hand experience with the condition. Having never suffered the problem myself, nor knowingly known others to, it was illuminating to see its nuances and the myriad ways it’s experienced. Nicole’s struggle to overcome it made her so much more real and approachable as a character, and I salute Kowal for including such a difficult topic.

Alongside Nicole, we meet her husband, Kenneth, and see a little more of what it means to him, and to Nathaniel, to be left behind. It was nice to see the gender stereotype overturned, and yet my heart bled for the strong, kind, gentle men who loved their wives enough to let them go. Meanwhile, on the moon, we see more of the Lindholms, Myrtle and Eugene, who have settled in as long-term residents and appear to be, for all intents and purposes, the colony’s pseudo-parents, mothering their brood and gently but firmly chastising them when they step out of line. What utter babes.

I can’t imagine that setting up a colony is ever easy. By the time we see Artemis Base, it is reasonably well established (with an art exhibition to boot!) but still new enough that everybody knows everybody and things have the potential to go very wrong. Add to that a player who is intentionally trying to do harm and you’re left in a very scary space. If the vacuum isn’t trying to kill you, then one of your friends might be; the lights keep going off, the air might not be breathable, and help is another planet away, if it’s not already compromised. I was scared - more scared than Nicole seemed to be! I would have been out of there in a flash, jetting home for a much needed hug from mum, not carrying on as if nothing happened!

And yet the trouble is, I can sympathise. Humanity’s only hope of survival is to get off-planet and set up in the stars (well, on the moon and Mars anyway). However, time is scarce, places are scarcer and money is scarcest of all, and only a privileged few will escape the climate change that’s coming. For the poor, the uneducated or the unlucky left behind, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. They have no hope, and the money that they desperately need for food and basic infrastructure is being spent sending the elite away. Is their anger justified? Yes. Would that lead me to sabotage the small chance that humanity has to survive? No! Those people are crazy.

I never guessed who did it, and usually I can. I found out when Nicole did, and let me tell you, she’s one smart cookie, one cool cucumber, one….I’ve run out of food analogies. The plot kept me absolutely rapt, terrified of what was around the corner and suspicious of everyone I met. It’s different to The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, but it worked. And what a result at the end!

I’ll be reading the next in the series as soon as it’s out, whether it’s Elma, Nicole, Myrtle or Helen who’s fronting the show. Give me more, more more!

Thank you to NetGalley and Rebellion Publishing for providing me with this complimentary ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,410 reviews389 followers
August 9, 2020
Trigger Warning: Anorexia, grief, pandemic and suicidal thoughts

While Elma York, aka The Lady Astronaut, is away on a three-year mission to Mars, it's up to Nicole Wargin and the others to hold down the fort. Except something is rotten on the Earth, and the trail of sabotage is leading straight to the moon. Nicole is tasked to investigate, discreetly, of course.

This would be 4 stars except that epilogue. I am still crying a little.

Her vibrato sounds like she's using a jackhammer as a dildo.

Welp, if you were hoping for the delicate sensibilities of Elma York, and her aversion to all things sex and love of rocket euphemisms, you have come to the wrong book.

Nicole Wargin may be the perfect politician's wife on the outside, but on the inside she is ice cold, fiery hot and all sorts of bored. She's over fifty and despite being one of the most experienced astronauts in the solar system, has been consistently pushed aside because she is old hat. Determined to prove them otherwise, she's going push her mind and body to the limits.

Despite her forthright nature regarding sex and the ever-presence of the reader in her mind, I never felt like I had a sense of Nicole. It always felt like she was holding something back. Like she was blocking away everyone and everything and keeping the world (minus Kenneth) at arm's distance.

Which goes to show the nature that long-term trauma takes and how people cope to pressure, stress and trauma. Nicole survived the Meteor and World War II, and she also survived her high pressure childhood, which led her to compartmentalize everything.

Writing this kind of character is intensely difficult to pull off, and I'm just not sure that this was a success. Nicole wasn't a character you could connect with—she didn't do beyond the surface connections, even with friends—and she wasn't one you could really empathize with. She knew the calculations of the risks she took, and she did it.

However, what I did connect with was her grit. Nicole had a lot of it and she just. kept. going.

Until she couldn't.

And then she tried harder.

Even if we hadn't been observing quarantine procedures, there wasn't anywhere on the colony for all 326 of us to gather. So everyone gathered in the largest common space of the module they were in and listened to Eugene address the moon.

One of the things this book addressed that I loved was how marginalized people were held back because of their marginalizations—and when they were freed of their tethers (both of policy and of their own minds) they soared. Eugene and Myrtle are two of my favorite characters, mainly because Myrtle is fantastic and kind and has a sharp wit, and Eugene is just about the most competent and humble man who was ever a jet pilot turned astronaut. I loved them and their relationship, and I was so happy to see more of it—and to see Eugene take over as administrator of the Moon.

Another bit was on Nicole, and how women over a certain age are told to retire with grace and dignity or be gently shoved out an airlock. And how Nicole was like, fuck you, but no. Even with literally one arm tied behind her back and trying to get through a devastating loss, she still pushed.

Not marginalized but still a favorite character was Nathaniel. I loved reading more about him outside of Elma's POV, and he's just one of those utterly brilliant and utterly hopeless individuals. Which makes the events of The Lady Astronaut of Mars that much more heartbreaking.

The last bit that hit home was the pandemic.

Yep, that's in the trigger warnings. Due to the sabotage, there is a polio pandemic on the moon colony. And...a lot of it hit home really hard. The isolation. The pulling together while being apart. The complaints and the pain of the people most affected. The mental strain on those not affected. All combined with the fact that getting polio was the end of the line for many of these astronauts' careers, and it meant a death sentence when they returned to Earth (either because they would be hard pressed to survive a return journey or because it meant they would be forced to stay on a dying Earth).

We grieved, but we carried on because that was what made us human.

A good chunk of this book deals with grief and loss, and how each person hands grief and loss differently.

I will not go further, because that's entering mild spoiler territory (it's revealed in The Fated Sky).

Anywho, things I wasn't so fond of in the book, my lack of connectively to Nicole (I understood her and her motivations, particularly with the big reveal of her background) aside, I felt like the plot was uneven. It went through spurts of excitement and then long lags of lull where it felt that very, very little happened. Which made it feel that the plotting was not paced as well as it could have been, which turned something that had a pretty exciting plot—lunar colony, space walks, poisonings, sabotage, eating disorders, spy hunting, assassination, and heists—into something of a slog at times.

Without that epilogue, this would be a solid 3.5 story because of how uneven and sloggy the pacing was.

However, that epilogue.

I can't wait for the next book in the series.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,260 reviews222 followers
August 31, 2020
The third book in the Lady Astronaut series follows Nicole Wargin and her time on the Moon during the events of The Fated Sky with the first mission to mars.

Nicole Wargin is a veteran of the IAC astronaut program and is getting to the point where her age (and gender) is beginning to sideline her from the jobs that she really wants to be doing in space. Her husband, the governor of Kansas, is also getting ready for a Presidential run. But when a chilling manifesto from anti-space travel groups is discovered, and with sabotage beginning to appear across the space program, Nicole's other talents and top secret security clearance make her suited for a unique position on the moon.

There's a formula here: incredibly tough and competent women astronauts with interesting previous careers that have mental health issues to overcome while they go through tough times. It's a formula that works really well for me. I believe the term is "competence porn". Nicole is also a really interesting character who has moved past most of the gender-based challenges that Elma York had to take on in the first two books.
Profile Image for Kelsea Yu.
Author 7 books121 followers
June 6, 2020

Look, I'm one of those people who doesn't bother reading the premise of a book if it's a new release from a favorite author. I just trust that the author will deliver -- especially when it's the next installment of a favorite series, like Lady Astronaut.

Often, that works out in my favor, since I like knowing as little as possible going into a story. In this case, though, it worked very slightly against me, because I had no idea that this book wasn't from Elma's POV!

So, admittedly, it took me a while to accept that I wasn't getting a new installment in my beloved Elma York's story. But once I got over that, I found myself loving the story and getting more and more invested in Nicole (whom I remember liking from the first two books, but not having particularly strong feelings about). As a note, this story is parallel to book two -- it gives the reader insight into what was happening on Earth & the Moon during The Fated Sky. And it was fascinating!

I loved learning more about Nicole's background. I loved her and her husband -- both their marriage and their issues. And I loved loved LOVED that the story turned very space thriller-y. (Hi, thrillers + adult SFF are two of my favesssssssssssss so of course I ate this UP.)

Andddddd without saying too much more about it, once again, Mary Robinette Kowal SLAYS US with hard-hitting emotional stuffs. Prepare yourselves.

So, if you're reading this review, you know more than I did going in (LOL) and you've prepared yourself for a different POV + parallel novel. Trust me -- Nicole's POV is just as interesting and complex as Elma's and there's a whole heck of a lot of fascinating things that happened on Earth/the Moon while Elma was off in space! Or, don't take my word for it and read it for yourself!

Thank you Tor Books via Netgalley for providing a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. (And for approving my request the same day. Did I mention I love you, Tor Books?)
Profile Image for Lata.
3,589 reviews191 followers
September 14, 2020
4.5 stars. Nicole Wargin, one of the first astronauts, along with Elma York, is the main character in this really enjoyable story. Not only is she a skilled pilot and astronaut, she is also the wife of the governor of Kansas, who’s readying himself for a Presidential bid. Unfortunately, the only dark cloud in Nicole's life so far is that management of the space program is starting to see her as getting too old to continue to fly into space because misogyny.
Nicole has been involved with the moon colony, and when a group begins sabotaging the space program, Nicole is drafted into investigating whether any saboteurs have made it to the moon. This isn’t just because she’s good at math and can skillfully handle the many personalities at a governor’s reception; her other, wartime skills are what are needed, which we find out more about as the story progresses. We also find out that Nicole has her own mental health issues, and these are exacerbated by the ever- increasing tensions at the moon base as many things begin to go wrong as she investigates. And, if things weren’t already bad, space program management freeze out the actually competent people (incidentally also the people originally brought into the space program, and who are also people of colour) from the information flow so Nicole has no one she can tell of her growing suspicions, and there’s also a sudden polio outbreak at the base.
This story moved fast, was wonderfully tense and also another great entry in Kowal’s alternate history of the twentieth century's space program where even with the progress spaceward, racism and misogyny are intact, and climate change is rampant.
Nicole struggles greatly with her anxiety throughout this book, and only makes real progress on every issue because of the competence and efforts of Helen Chu, Myrtle and Eugene Lindholm.
I liked how sensitively Kowal handled Nicole’s anxiety and her coping methods, and how even while things were falling apart on the base, her fellow astronauts held her together, and together solved the sabotage mysteries.
I am enjoying this series so much, and really can't wait to read the next installment.
Profile Image for ReadBecca.
824 reviews86 followers
April 17, 2022
SJDlrdrgrd;ogmr;fs,'gsfe',;djskhfuhsikfl.... COMPETENCE PORN!

I have immensely enjoyed all the Lady Astronaut novels thus far, but this one the most. The Relentless Moon takes place concurrently with book 2, from a new POV Nicole Wargin. While I loved the previous character for different reasons, Nicole is the reason I was so pulled into this one, she is the complete opposite of our previous pov, a sly and savvy politician's wife, who is skilled in society and charisma. She is extremely passionate in her desire to continue progressing as an astronaut, while also divided with her role on Earth as her husband is moving up politically. It is amazing that this series has focused on centering hyper-competent, skilled women that are also still humans who are flawed, struggling with their own mental health issues - in this case Nicole is recovering from, and at times falling back into, eating disorder. Characterization throughout this series has been amazing.

With things in the space program going increasingly wrong, sentiment toward the program becoming hostile from some groups who forsee a racial and class divide, suspicions of sabotage are growing. Nicole winds up desperate to uncover whether fellow astronauts might be behind failures in the mission, if there are actual spies on the moon, giving us a brilliant fast paced & thriller-esque plot.
Profile Image for Steve.
923 reviews134 followers
October 20, 2020
Hmmmm, round three with the Lady Astronaut(s), and the story arc proceeded in (to my mind) along a logical trajectory, but ... and I'm not sure why ... but, but, but ... I enjoyed this one a little less than the first two.

Currently, I'm waffling between any number of (genuinely unhelpful and quirky) theories as to why: (1) as protagonist/narrator/voices/perspectives go, I prefer Elma, THE Lady Astronaut, herself, (2) the novelty may have worn (or begun to wear) off, and ... other than the period-piece gender angle ... I just don't love the story, (3) this one was just a little too long, or longer than it should have been, and I felt like it could've worked better with 100 less pages, ... or (2.5(?) or, hmm, 2 & 3 combined, of the three books, this one was, for me, the easiest to put down), (4) it was just a tad too much in the Series of Unfortunate Events vein for my tastes, or (5) well, it is what is, too much joy has been sapped out of my life during the 2020 coronavirus-pandemic-quarantine-without-any-end-in-sight, and I've become a more harsh critic (or, let's just put it out there, a grumpy old man)...

Still, I'm glad I read it. Hopefully I'll be in a better mood/more receptive by the time the next installment hits the shelves.
Profile Image for Shaun Hutchinson.
Author 25 books4,634 followers
August 1, 2020
I enjoyed this a lot. Getting to read from Nicole's POV was a nice change of pace, though I did miss Elma.
Profile Image for Evelina | AvalinahsBooks.
859 reviews439 followers
July 12, 2020
How I read this: Free ebook copy received through NetGalley

The Relentless Moon seems very different from the other books in the series – The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky. Both of those were about the ambition of spaceflight – getting Man up above in the skies, as well as getting Woman up there along with him. It had a very far-reaching goal and it made the themes very heroic, which appealed to the general way I understand space travel in real-life media.

However, The Relentless Moon is less about space travel or even space ambition – it’s more like a mystery set in the same universe. I admit I didn’t see that coming. The IAC (the space agency) is being sabotaged by the Earth First organization, and Nicole, the main character, is trying to get to the bottom of who it is that got on their Moon team who could be in league with the bad guys.

So it’s constant suspects, clues and agendas. It was tense and it was interesting, but not in the same way as the books before. The goal is the same – to establish colonies in space. The characters are largely the same too. But the vibe and mood of the story feels entirely different. More than that, the book is incredibly dark. It's hard to put all my thoughts in a short Goodreads review, so please read my full review here:


Triggers include but may not be limited to

I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of the ebook in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.

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Profile Image for Bee.
392 reviews3 followers
August 14, 2020
Oh the bitter joy of finishing an incredible book.

This series, and this book in particular resonated with me in a way that should have ripped me apart at Max-Q.

Funny, technical, razor sharp, and deeply insightful into what makes us human. Full of precision science and broken humans carrying on despite everything.

Mary Kowal, thank you
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,920 reviews1,255 followers
July 29, 2020
I didn’t realize until I started reading that The Relentless Moon, while technically a sequel to The Fated Sky , is more of a spin-off in the series. Mary Robinette Kowal writes from the perspective of Nicole Wargin, a white woman who was a side character in the first two books. She is one of the original astronauts (or astronette, ugh) alongside Elma York, the Lady Astronaut and narrator of the first two books, who is on her way to Mars during the events of this book. Nicole is also the wife of Governor of Kansas Kenneth Wargin. So Kowal gives us a healthy mixture of political intrigue, semi-religious fundamentalist terrorism, and true physical danger. The Relentless Moon is the mystery I wish Artemis had been.

Trigger warnings in this book (and review) for mentions of anorexia/eating disorders, anti-Black racism.

Nicole Wargin is headed back to the moon, albeit not as a pilot like she has always craved. No, the IAC still doesn’t let women fly the rockets, eh? Nicole is entrusted with a secret mission: help the administrator of Artemis Base figure out who is working with the terrorist group Earth First to sabotage missions. Some of that very sabotage nearly finishes Nicole before she can begin, however, and after that point The Relentless Moon becomes a slow drumbeat march against the inexorable ticking clock. As blackouts become more frequent and the enemy seems to get bolder and bolder, outside events put Nicole under the most stress she has ever experienced. Yet it’s up to her and a small group of trusted colleagues to unravel this conspiracy before humanity’s presence is space is doomed forever!

So, no pressure.

For anyone worried that Nicole isn’t as formidable or enjoyable a narrator as Elma, let me just reassure you right away: Nicole’s great. She’s different, of course. She has the political experience that comes with her upbringing and her marriage, so she knows how to put on a face and schmooze in a way that Elma came to a lot later in her life. Nicole is very pragmatic in that way, even though we are privy to her true thoughts about the boorish or unproductive behaviour of some of the men around her. Perhaps what sets Nicole apart the most from Elma would be that Nicole likes being slightly out of control. She relishes the edge, and the moments that make her despair most are the ones where she shares with us her fear that she might not get to do that anymore—might not get to fly, might not get to go to space, etc.

The Relentless Moon has two very relatable elements for me. The first one, almost everyone will relate to: quarantine in the face of an infectious virus! I don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but let’s just say that “polio on the moon” sounds incredibly scary. Kowal in her author’s note had the opportunity to comment on the parallels between polio epidemics in the mid–twentieth century and the COVID19 pandemic. Just be aware going into this book that if you want to escape from pandemic protocols, you might not get that chance here!

The second relatable element is Nicole’s broken arm. Again, no spoilers. But I broke my arm in June 2019. Much like Nicole, I wondered how much mobility I would recover after physical therapy, whether or not I’d be able to do the tasks that I had up until then really taken for granted, such as typing, knitting, and riding my bicycle (which was how I broke it). Now, I didn’t have to worry on top of that about the brittleness of my bones from living in low gravity! Nevertheless, Nicole’s experience really rang true for me. (In case you’re wondering, I’m doing great! I have less mobility in my left wrist than in my right, but not to the point where it limits my daily activities. I now have a “weather elbow” as they say.)

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect regarding the plot. The first act of The Relentless Moon takes place Earthside and is very concerned with politics and the optics of the space program. I was tempted, at first, to dismiss this as boring. But that’s very shallow of me. One of the best parts of Kowal’s Lady Astronaut universe, or LAU as she calls it, is how she is shaping the alternative history of the 1960s. We see this unfolding with the U.S. capitol now relocated to Kansas City, and a very different political landscape from the one we’re familiar with from our 1960s. I am very intrigued to see how the situation on Earth, with its drastically accelerated climate change timetable, affects the development of technologies that we take for granted, particularly when it comes to electronics and computing. While one might argue that a lot of those inventions will still occur because of necessity from the space program, there is room for Kowal to delay certainly, and perhaps bypass entirely, certain developments, should she choose.

After we get to the moon, the plot definitely kicks into a higher gear. I enjoyed every moment of Kowal throwing Nicole into a new and different problems to help solve—or, frustratingly, when Nicole realizes she can’t really help solve the problem and has to wait. I really like that Kowal isn’t afraid to sideline her protagonist—obviously when this is done at an inopportune time it’s annoying, but when done appropriately as Kowal does here, it helps keep the protagonist humble. That way, when they do pull off little miracles, the reader is more impressed than if they were a superhero the entire time.

I can’t remember if Kowal hinted at or outright mentioned Nicole’s eating disorder in the earlier books, but it features heavily here. Kowal says she put a lot of effort into avoiding triggering portrayals; I, not having experienced eating disorders, can’t evaluate that. All I can say is that I appreciate that Kowal depicts Nicole’s eating disorder so complexly. It’s not something she “beats” and then she’s fine. It’s a monster that is always lurking in the background, something that she battled when she was younger and now it rears its head over and over throughout her life, especially in times of stress, which The Relentless Moon certainly qualifies for. As much as I love books that are about people struggling with mental health issues, we also need books that show protagonists who just happen to have mental health issues. I want to say Kowal is normalizing eating disorders, except, you know, this is a book about an alternative 1960s where people are colonizing the moon.

Speaking of which: hats off to Kowal for tackling the thorny issues of colonialism and eugenics in space. Although the Earth Firsters are, broadly speaking, terrorists and their actions are reprehensible, Kowal carefully finds a way to make it clear that they have a point. In the rush of various countries to make space, the moon, and Mars a viable alternative for human habitation given Earth’s dire prognosis, there are serious questions about who will get to survive in this new future. Kowal doesn’t hesitate to address racism in space, particularly as it relates to the Black characters of Eugene and Myrtle Lindholm. Similarly, she mentions the problematic selection criteria for space travel—both the practical, physical requirements as well as the highly political ones.

All in all, The Relentless Moon is just as good as the original LAU novels. I’m holding back on five stars only because I don’t want to give the impression that this is better than the original novels; I’d need to re-read those first. But I ran, not walked (ok, I drove my privileged ass) to the bookstore to buy this book the week it came out, and I have no regrets.

If you want a book about women on the moon, solving mysteries with math and guile, The Relentless Moon is the book for you.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,231 reviews169 followers
August 28, 2020

When I found out that this third instalment was not narrated by Elma, I got a little worried. Really shouldn’t. This novel ended up being as thrilling as the first one, but in a different way.

The events of ”The Relentless Moon” take place more or less at the same time as The Fated Sky but from Nicole Wargin’s point of view, who is at first on Earth and then on the Moon. The main plot strands of human survival and political mayhem are still here, as are the usual sexist and racist slants. The author even focuses on another mental illness angle, which surprised and impressed me. What I completely loved however was the addition of a mystery! Nicole ends up playing the investigator in an ever-more complicated and ramified situation, one that has the potential to blow up and hurt many.

I’m totally hooked on this series and cannot wait for the next title :O)

P.S.: Just watched ‘Hidden Figures’ film. Loved it!
Profile Image for Susanna - Censored by GoodReads.
543 reviews590 followers
September 17, 2020
Our narrator this time is not Dr. Elma York, who is on her way to Mars in 1963, but her friend, Nicole Wargin, another "Lady Astronaut." Mrs. Kenneth Wargin is the First Lady of Kansas and a former WASP pilot. She's headed to the Moon to investigate suspected sabotage from the "Earth First" movement (she's also a retired OSS agent). And then things get very hairy.

Another 4-star read in this very good series.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,399 reviews463 followers
August 14, 2020
I recommended the first book to a coworker who likes space and women and wanted something really engaging. And then my boss decided to also give it a go. Now two more have heard the praise and are planning to read it, too. As much as I loved The Calculating Stars, and as confident as I am at recommending it, the series gets even better. This is frighteningly timely while being even more engrossing than the first two.
The only good thing about 2020 is the books that have been released.

Library copy
Profile Image for Sarah.
62 reviews
October 4, 2020
4.5 stars

The Relentless Moon is a masterfully written addition to the Lady Astronaut series. It is more of a companion story than a follow on from the last instalment and this time there is a new protagonist in Nicole Wargin, who is a supporting character from the first two novels. This book is quite fast paced and is full of tension and intrigue which makes it thrilling to read. Bring on book 4.
Profile Image for Julie.
938 reviews241 followers
December 2, 2020
And then, of course, night flights when the stars come out. I remember seeing stars from the surface of Earth, but I've always been a city girl, so they have been muted pale things that fluttered against a sky lit by sodium vapor lamps. On the Moon, when I'm flying at night, it is as if someone has spilled diamonds on black velvet. I would kill for a gown that looked like the stars in space.

I continue to love all these books!! The Lady Astronaut series is an alternate history where a meteor hits the Earth in the 1950s, which will eventually turn the Earth uninhabitable, and so it rapidly accelerates the midcentury space race in order to get off-planet -- all of which also results in accelerated gender equality & civil rights. Unlike the first two books helmed by Elma York, this time her friend Nicole Wargin takes a turn as the main character: a governor's wife, a canny politician and manipulator in her own right, and astronaut, but now aging into her 50s and starting to feel the toll.

And she's a great protagonist, too: rather than Elma's social anxiety, you eventually discover that Nicole suffers from anorexia, and there's some touches later in the novel of characters struggling with some physical injuries and disabilities. Nicole has a very cool backstory that comes out in drips and drabs, where once it's revealed, you can look back and see all the clues to it along the way; it's not quite enough to make her an unreliable narrator, but it's more like she kept her cards close to her chest, and I loved that.

The plot of this one is largely set on the now-established lunar base Artemis, and it becomes more of a political thriller or mystery, as the astronauts and administrators try to track down a mysterious saboteur intent on dismantling the space programme. It's full of disasters and clues and schemes, and a really fun plot structure as you try to figure out whodunit. There's some developments that took me by surprise, and which didn't entirely get me in my feels, but I had a blast going through it anyway: I constantly loved seeing Nicole's rigid control over herself, the way she manipulates others around her, the way she assesses and works a situation. I also preferred her relationship with her husband (the way these two work together as a fantastic team, their strategising, their habits and secret unspoken language) over Elma/Nathaniel -- idk, I still continue to just find Nathaniel the blandest human being.

I think one of my only downsides is that the epilogue felt extremely rushed, since it goes straight into a timejump and handwaving certain developments that I would've liked to see play out with a bit more time, but the whole book is still just a fun, well-plotted jaunt through this AU that I really, really like.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,285 reviews395 followers
February 21, 2022
Elma York, protagonist for the first two books in this series, is on her way to Mars. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still recovering from a meteor strike and Nicole Wargin, one of the original Lady Astronauts is the main character. She is one of the colonists on the Moon, but finds herself back in Kansas, with her husband, the Governor. Earth First is riling people up, and manages to poison Elma's husband at a poker game at the Wargins. Despite attempts to kill Nicole and others by damaging her plane, she is sent back to the Moon, where sabotage is rampant, including increasingly frequent power outages and an outbreak of polio. Protests on Earth are also escalating as many object to frivolous spending on the lunar colony, which will only support a small slice of humanity, further impacting Nicole. Tragedy ensues. Enjoyable. 3.5 stars, rounded up.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books530 followers
October 14, 2022
When I started reading, I was jolted that this book shifted in perspective to Nicole Wargin rather than following Elma York as it had for the previous two books, but there was nothing to worry about. This book is brilliant and emotional, addressing matters of hard science within what is, at heart, like a closed room murder mystery but set on a lunar base. I won't give away details of the book; this is the third in a series that truly requires reading the previous books to get the scope of what is happening. I read most of this on a cross-country flight, and there was a point at 60% that almost made me bust out sobbing right in the middle of the cabin. (Note: sobbing in a mask is not ideal and is best avoided.) The very end also made me tear up. What a book. What a series.
Profile Image for Lisa Wolf.
1,619 reviews176 followers
December 30, 2020
The Lady Astronaut series is an absolute favorite, so I’m thrilled that I finally read my copy of The Relentless Moon.

In the first two books in the series (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), we’re introduced into an alternate version of 1950s and 1960s America, in which a catastrophic meteor strike has wreaked havoc on the world. Scientific analysis shows that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable due to the climate change that followed the meteor, and this brings about a global focus on developing a space program. The future of humanity rests on finding a new home for people among the stars.

In books one and two, scientist Elma York is the main character. Here in book #3, The Relentless Moon, a supporting character from the earlier books takes the lead role.

Nicole Wargin is a glamorous politician’s wife. She’s also one hell of a pilot, a former WASP who entered the space program as one of the initial women allowed into astronaut training. Nicole is beautiful, polished, and full of grace, always knowing the right thing to say to the right people. She’s also much more than she appears to be, with secrets from her professional past as well as her own personal struggles that she usually manages to mask.

As the book opens, Nicole is about to join the next launch to the Moon. Her husband Kenneth, governor of Kansas, is poised to announce his candidacy for President. On Earth, protests by the group Earth First are becoming more dangerous and violent day by day — demanding that the space program be abandoned so that government dollars can be focused on helping those who lost so much due to the meteor, and those who — whether for lack of privilege, access, or health — will never be candidates for traveling into space.

Despite the threats, Nicole journeys to the Moon, but things go badly, quickly. The landing mechanisms are damaged, forcing a life-threatening crash landing. It could be an accident… but it could also be sabotage. More problems arise, as small mechanical problems and power outages escalate into situations of increasing danger. Nicole is assigned to help determine if there truly is Earth First sabotage going on, and if so, to stop the perpetrators before the damage becomes catastrophic.

At 500+ pages, The Relentless Moon is a long book, but it flew by. I was completely engrossed in the discussions of life in space and on the Moon, as well as the whodunnit aspects of the hunt to find the saboteurs.

That alone might make for dry reading, but Nicole is a fabulous character with so many layers, and it’s getting to see beneath her surface that makes this a terrific book. She’s smart, sophisticated, and experienced, yet also vulnerable in unexpected ways. Her perspective on the space program, her colleagues and friends, and the pressures of being a public figure are all fascinating, and her personal struggles and tragedies in this book are incredibly moving.

The events of The Relentless Moon happen in the same timeline as those in The Fated Sky, so here, Nicole and her fellow astronauts on the lunar base hear about some of the events from the earlier book as they happen, and we get a different look at what happened and why, as well as information that Elma was not given in The Fated Sky. I love how these two books work together.

A final reveal at the end of The Relentless Moon made me so happy. That’s all I’ll say about it!

The fourth book, The Derivative Base, is due out in 2022, and I don’t want to wait that long! I can’t wait to see how the author wraps up this incredibly masterful and exciting series.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
975 reviews68 followers
July 4, 2020
I have been looking forward to the latest of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series, and now #3 is here. Several short stories, and the first two books follow the path of Elma York, the first woman astronaut of the International Aerospace Coalition (IAC), in an alternative historical setting. Those earlier books were The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, both released in 2018 – and yes, you should read those first.

As you can see from my earlier reviews of those two, I did not care much for the overly idealized character of Elma York, but was pulled along by the alternate history and plot. However, I found the perspective character of The Relentless Moon, Nicole Wargin, to be more believable and interesting. Wargin is a fellow astronaut of York’s, who appeared as a social outsider in the earlier books. While she was one of many who were eligible for the women’s astronaut program, she was only accepted because she was married to an influential politician. She is also older than the others, and an extremely astute observer of people due to her life in the public eye (and some earlier life experience that I will not reveal). This allows Kowal’s commenting on sexism and racism to be less overt than in the earlier books. The characters also give a lot of attention to female perspectives in long-term cis-married relationships. Because the writing uses Wargin’s first-person voice, and she narrates her story conversationally, it is not necessary for readers to identify directly as her. At least that worked for me.

The plot is driven by the imperilment of the lunar colony Artemis to which Wargin has been assigned, beginning immediately on the trip out, and tension continues to the final resolution. It was gripping, if occasionally contrived. The story is set in the year 1963, about 15 years after the election of Thomas Dewey as president and his start of a US manned space program, 11 years after the climate-changing meteor strike of 1952, and simultaneously with York’s journey to Mars as told in The Fated Sky. The historical development of the alternate timeline progresses further in this story, especially with the 1965 epilogue.

While the emphasis here is characters and relationships, I tend to read for concepts. Unfortunately for me, there is a section of my Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) labeled “About the History” which was left completely empty. Perhaps it will deal with my concerns, but here are a couple:

After a period of cooling and acid rain, the Earth is now facing a run-away greenhouse effect as a result of the meteor. Scientists are predicting a boil-the-oceans-into-water-vapor climate change. But the last time this sort of thing happened - the meteorite strike in the Yucatan Peninsula that caused the K-T extinction of 66 million years ago - the consequences are thought to have been an immediate intense pulse of heat, followed by a decade-long global winter and acid rain. But afterward, the planet was still inhabitable.

There is a dependence on human computers even in this advanced space program. In the real world, the space program was a principal driver behind the development of electronic computing. In this alternative world, electronic computers should have been developed a decade earlier. But the IAC is launching ranks of human beings to the Moon, whose primary job is just to perform manual calculations.

I received this ARC from Tor Books through netgalley, for purposes of reading and publishing a review on my blog and other social media. There were a few grammatical errors, which I assume have been corrected for the final release. It is due to be published July 14, 2020.
Profile Image for Lark of The Bookwyrm's Hoard.
854 reviews153 followers
July 23, 2020
Review originally published on my blog, The Bookwyrm's Hoard.

The Relentless Moon is terrific! It absolutely lives up to the previous books in the series. The novel is gripping, suspenseful, and sometimes wrenching, with moments of levity that never detract from the deadly serious situation in which the characters find themselves.

There is so much I want to say, but I can’t without spoilers. The Relentless Moon takes place on Earth and on the Moon, during the time frame covered by The Fated Sky , and is told from the point of view of astronaut and governor’s wife Nicole Wargin, a secondary character in the first books. Those who have read The Fated Sky will understand the need to change narrators in order to tell this part of the overall “history,” since Dr. Elma York is altogether elsewhere during the events of this book. Readers of the series will also anticipate at least one of the major events that occurs in The Relentless Moon… but believe me, knowing something about what’s coming doesn’t diminish the rising suspense and tension in the least.

Kowal is an excellent writer who really knows her craft.* Her characterization is topnotch. Nicole’s character and voice are distinctly different from those of Elma, the narrator of the first two books. Nicole’s personality is harder, more worldly (or cynical), though she projects a smooth and polished persona befitting a governor’s wife. She is also an occasionally unreliable narrator, at least when it comes to certain aspects of her life or personality… and no, I’m not going to tell you what, only that all becomes clear eventually.

Although the book is written from the point of view of a white woman, the cast is racially diverse. The international astronaut program and colonization program both include individuals from a number of different countries, as well as both white and black Americans. Two of the major secondary characters — good friends of Nicole’s — are black pilots; another is a Taiwanese woman who works as a computer. Since the time frame is the early 1960s (albeit an alternate timeline), race inevitably arises as an issue at times, with several incidents of overt racism and unconscious bias on the part of some secondary characters (most of them minor.)

Nicole’s perceptions of other characters are important throughout the novel, for reasons I can’t specify, but that will be obvious as you read it. The book reads like a mystery, or perhaps a thriller. Kowal expertly builds a feeling of tension and impending danger throughout, racheting up the stakes for Nicole and the rest of the lunar colony’s astronauts and colonists. I could hardly put the the book down! At the same time, I found it too intense for middle-of-the-night insomnia reading; instead of falling back asleep, I would have read straight through the night.

Kowal’s worldbuilding is equally strong. She really does her research, both through reading and by corresponding with experts, and it shows. Everything feels and sounds realistic, from piloting a small plane on Earth to the design and function of the lunar colony modules. You have only to read the Afterword to see how much care and thought Kowal puts into making sure every aspect of the book makes sense and is scientifically feasible.

As wonderful as The Relentless Moon is, I recommend reading The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky first. The first book sets up the premise on which the entire series rests, and the second covers events which greatly impact what happens in TRM. While I think I could have followed everything that happens in TRM without having read TCS and TFS, my background knowledge gained through the first two books gave context, depth, and urgency to the characters and situations in TRM.

If you enjoy audiobooks, it’s a fantastic way to experience this series. Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional audiobook reader as well as a writer, and she did a fantastic job on the first two books. I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to The Relentless Moon, but I’m sure her narration is just as good. And of course, one of the joys of listening to an author read her own work (well!) is that all the voices, emphasis, and interpretation are as close as possible to what she had in mind while writing the book.

*Ms. Kowal co-hosts the Writing Excuses podcast with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. It’s always interesting and informative to listen to her and her colleagues discuss the craft and techniques of writing.

NOTE: On my blog, I offer a CW (content warning) in hidden text. If you prefer to check for trigger warnings before reading a book, you can find it there.

FTC disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher. All opinions are entirely my own.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,647 reviews1,691 followers
August 26, 2021
This is my favorite of these books so far, but I will admit that there is just something about Kowal's writing that doesn't perfectly gel with my tastes. I'm curious enough to keep going to see how this series turns out, but I may need to rethink reading any more of her books (I also was pretty unenthused about the first book in her fantasy-Austen-pastiche series).

We switch narrators from Elma York (who is on her way to Mars during the course of this book) to fellow original astronette (ugh) Nicole Wargin. I liked this change. Nicole was a much more active and interesting narrator to me than Elma was, who I always thought was too passive. This book also has a different feel to it as the main plot is a mystery, and involves ferreting out a saboteur on the moon. I love mysteries. I love that this is a mystery set on the moon. And even if I thought it was a little too long, I did like this book. Again, didn't love because the style didn't let me sink into it the way I wanted to, but I don't really have an complaints with the book itself.

One thing that isn't really a complaint but more of a wish: Even though this book features the terrorist organization Earth First as a main plot point, I wasn't satisfied by the resolution here, and hope we can find some in future books. This is probably the most (sadly) realistic aspects of these books, how people are resisting doing the right and smart thing because of their own concerns, but as the book itself points out, they do have valid concerns. I want those concerns to be addressed. Not sure how, but that is what I want.
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