Book: Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
Age/Genre: Historical Fiction
Preferred Reading Environment: Under the Stars 😉
Reading Accoutrements: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches!
Content Notes: Racism, Sexism
Today we are celebrating Sally Ride, the first American woman in space! In honor of her awesome achievement, I thought I’d review a book about another woman in science and engineering (although this one is fictional). Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner is inspired by the women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and their contributions to the space race – with romance thrown in for good measure.
Set in Houston, TX, in 1961, the book follows Dr. Charlotte (Charlie) Eason, a very accomplished mathematician and coder with an impressive resume. She has decided that she wants to make a lasting contribution to the world through her research, so she applies to be Deputy Director of Computing at the American Space Department (ASD – basically, fake NASA). Her interview with Eugene Parsons, Director of Engineering at ASD, goes surprisingly well considering the hostility she usually receives as a woman in a STEM field. Parsons knows that they need the best minds to achieve their goal of reaching the moon and he doesn’t care about the gender of the person as long as they are willing to do their best work.
Both Parsons and Eason tend to care more about the quality of their work than the quality of their managerial abilities. They collaborate almost constantly on the needs of each mission to ensure the success of the program. Meanwhile, the Director of Computing manages by glad-handing the VIPs and generally getting in the way of both Parsons and Eason, even if it is unintentionally. The two bond over long hours at work, discussing space and the best way to get there. Until one day they decide to explore their physical attraction to each other. They agree in advance: no talking about their affair at work and no talking about work at the hotel where their affair is conducted. But that doesn’t leave room for their relationship to grow, and the stress of working together could be too much for their budding romance to handle.
If you follow our blog, you probably know that I reviewed Hidden Figures a while ago. Earth Bound is what I was expecting from the book version – and what I got from the movie version – of Hidden Figures. In other words, it gives me science-lite (aka science that my English Lit brain can understand), backstory with real personification of characters, and a realistic view of the struggle women in STEM fields faced in the 1960s. The primary difference between Hidden Figures and Earth Bound is that Charlie Eason, Eugene Parsons, and the American Space Department are all fictional – none of this actually happened, although it’s inspired by true events (NASA did launch several men into orbit and they did practice docking two capsules in orbit to prepare for the trip to the moon in the ’60s).
The characterization of the main characters is a little bit stereotypical of STEM researchers. Parsons readily calls himself an asshole and admits that he doesn’t much care for the managerial aspect of his job – he just wants to be sure that everyone does their best so they can send men to the moon without casualties. Eason comes from a family of physicists who think that her study of practical applications is beneath them; she works hard to prove that she is better and smarter than everyone else because that’s what she has to do to succeed in her goal of contributing to society in a meaningful way. Both Parsons and Eason have a single-minded focus that tends to neglect socialization in favor of work. The portrayal of the two main characters is definitely not how you should characterize every scientist you meet (some of them are really nice people), but it might remind you of that one anti-social science-major you sorta knew in college.
Now, for the juicy part! The romance is this book is AH. MAZE. ING! The characters are adorable (and adorably obtuse) and the sex scenes are surprisingly steamy. Maybe I was just surprised because I thought this book was going to be more about the science and less about the romance, but this book was quite the opposite. The characters obviously have some issues to work through to make their relationship a success, but I think that’s what makes this book so satisfying. It’s no fun if you don’t have to work for the result you want! And I think that Charlie and Eugene would both agree with that sentiment.
What is your favorite book about characters in a STEM field? Let us know in the comments!