Hugo Nominee: The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

lady-astronaut (1)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.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars Book Cover The Lady Astronaut of Mars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Science Fiction
Tor Books
May 27, 2014

A Finalist for the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. Thirty years ago, Elma York led the expedition that paved the way to life on Mars. For years she's been longing to go back up there, to once more explore the stars. But there are few opportunities for an aging astronaut, even the famous Lady Astronaut of Mars. When her chance finally comes, it may be too late. Elma must decide whether to stay with her sickening husband in what will surely be the final years of his life, or to have her final adventure and plunge deeper into the well of space.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.


  1. […] I, Robot. Looking at other Hugo winners, he would have enjoyed Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut of Mars, a tale about the first lady astronaut to go to Mars considering how to return to the stars, but […]