Book Review

Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner


Genre: Historical: American, Romance

Theme: Workplace

Archetype: STEM

STEM characters alert! Earth Bound is a historical romance set in the early 1960s, part of the Fly Me To The Moon series. Before I go any further, may I say that it is refreshing to see a historical that isn’t set in the Regency Era, the Victorian Era, or the 1920s. I love reading romance in those time periods, but I also think that setting a romance series in the 1960s during early days of the space race is a creative, interesting choice.

In this book, two engineers work together at the American Space Department (a fictional stand-in for NASA). From 1961 to 1963, they work together, have a no strings attached sexual relationship, and fall in love. They have a lot of hot sex and they do a lot of math, although, as I recall, not at the same time.

Charlie is a computer engineer. She works with analog computers and wages a campaign to switch to digital as computer science advances. She also works closely with human computers (think Hidden Figures). This means she has to be good with numbers, machines, and people. On top of that she is a woman in a high level position in the early 1960s so she has to be assertive yet diplomatic.

Eugene is the Director of Engineering and Development. Charlie reports to Hal, who is an idiot. Hal, and a lot of other people, report to Eugene. Because Hal is an idiot, Charlie and Eugene consult often. It helps that Charlie is the only person in the department who doesn’t think Eugene is scary. He has extremely high standards and he’s very abrupt, both of which are traits she can live with.

Eventually Charlie and Eugene begin an affair. They meet periodically, always at the same motel. They do not cuddle or sleep over. They do not talk about work at the motel and they do not talk about sex outside of the motel. The idea is that they won’t talk about anything personal at either the hotel or work (the only two places they ever see each other). They neither love nor like each other; they just seem to share an identical need for a release valve from stress and sexual frustration. Of course eventually their conversations do become more personal and lead to true love.

The chapter alternates between Charlie and Eugene’s point of view. This is important because it means that the reader can feel secure about Eugene’s motivations. An obvious red flag in the book is that Eugene is Charlie’s boss. Normally that would be a no-go for me, and I think the primary reason it works here is that while Charlie and Eugene have a lot of secrets from each other, they don’t have secrets from the reader. Sexual relationships between bosses and subordinates were regarded very differently in the early 1960s than they are today, but the fundamental power imbalance remains the same. We can see into Eugene’s head, so we know he’s not planning to coerce Charlie. Because they aren’t allowed to talk about work at the hotel, it’s as though they are different people at the hotel than they are at work.

Eugene and Charlie are opposites only in the ways that they manage their subordinates – Eugene is intimidating, whereas Charlie is warm and encouraging. Both are people in high stress jobs who spend almost all their time at work. Both present carefully developed facades to the outside world. Both cherish having a sense of control. Their sexual relationship allows them to have the opportunity of surrendering and maintaining control at the same time. They also have a deep respect for each other, even when they are at odds.

When Eugene and Charlie aren’t at the motel, they are at work, and the workplace stuff is written with as much care as the romance stuff. The engineers look down on the astronauts and the astronauts don’t trust the engineers. Even though the workplace is male-dominated and saturated with sexism, the rising number of determined women can’t be ignored. In addition to Charlie and the women who work as computers, the first group of women starts training to be astronauts by the end of the book. This group is analogous to the Mercury 13, a real-life group of women who underwent astronaut training in the 1960s.

The book doesn’t get too technical, but it does hammer home in the most vivid terms that everything needs a backup and that absolute precision is a must. At one point Eugene gives Charlie a hard time because she promises to have something done in twenty-two seconds and it actually takes thirty seconds. Charlie thinks to herself:

This was the problem with working with engineers. Scientists were precise, yes, but there was room for improvisation. An engineer took precision and turned it into torture.

Eugene’s insistence on precision, Charlie’s insistence on back-ups, and the astute observations of the human computers are crucial parts of a huge system of janitors and astronauts and engineers and loads of other people. This book doesn’t show the sweeping glory of space flight but it does show the excitement of being part of such a vast and monumental project.

Earth Bound is Book Three in the Fly Me To The Moon series. The one I’m most desperate to read (Star Crossed) seems to be off the market – but on the other hand Book One, Stardust, is free as of this writing.

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Earth Bound by Emma Barry

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  1. 1
    Heather T says:

    You seemed to like this a lot, so why the B grade?

  2. 2
    Lil says:

    I’m sitting here laughing. It’s really hard to think of my lifetime as historical.

  3. 3
    EC Spurlock says:

    Same here @Lil. I remember being let out of school to watch Alan Shepherd and John Glenn make the first Freedom flights. Otherwise it was a terrible decade.

  4. 4
    CelineB says:

    Star Crossed has been shelved indefinitely according to the authors’ newsletter. It was pulled within a day of being released due to sensitivity and plausibility issues. Here’s an excerpt of the letter:

    “The day after releasing Star Crossed, we pulled the book because reviewers pointed out we’d deracinated Bev, who is African American, and given more weight to harassment and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation than that based on race.

    That wasn’t our intent, but intent isn’t enough. We spent eight months talking about and trying to revise Star Crossed, and while we made some progress, we have decided this isn’t our story to tell. We can fix the craft issues, but we can’t shake the feeling that for us to tell this story is narrative appropriation. We therefore have no plans to rerelease the book.”

    I was disappointed since I love this series, but I’m glad that they listened and cared about getting it right.

  5. 5
    LML says:

    I’m with @Lil and @EC Spurlock. I soothe myself with the reminder that yesterday is now history.

  6. 6
    RaccoonLady says:

    I’m in my early 20s, and my mom was laughing when we learned about the 60s-80s in AP US history, because that was her childhood-early adulthood! I’m sure I’ll feel the same when my future offspring learn about the 90s and aughts!

    This book sounds great, I love reading about women in stem and a good well-handled workplace romance

  7. 7
    SusanE says:

    Joining the club. My first thought as I laughed at the description was “How can it be historical if I remember when it happened?”

  8. 8
    LauraL says:

    I have added Earth Bound to my Wish List. Ancient STEM lady here and I enjoy reading about the women who blazed the trail for me. Extra bonus, it’s a romance!

    I also find it funny that a historical is about something I lived through. One of our neighbors worked for the “American Space Department” back in the day, so July 1969 was a heady time for us.

    Burning question — was the book as filled with cigarette smoke as I remember the 60s?

  9. 9
    Lucy says:

    Lil, disturbingly, I can relate to your feelings of horrified amusement! I’m experiencing how that feels because people are already referring to my childhood years, ie. the 90s, as ‘historical’ and ‘retro’.
    A few years ago, the 90s themselves were still only ‘a few years ago’!! Now, people say “Well, you know, the 90s was a different time…”
    Time is weird. This must be how people like my sister who grew up in the 80s felt when I was young and referring to things as old-school. Sigh.

  10. 10
    Lucy says:

    Question for those saying they remember the 60s – if you watched the moon landings, do you remember how it felt to see it on the screen? Could you even comprehend it? It must be amazing to know the contrast between living in a time when humans had never set foot on the moon and a time when they have.

  11. 11
    SusanE says:

    When president Kennedy said we would have a man on the moon by the end of the decade I thought, “I’ll believe that when I see it.” I was probably echoing my parents’ attitudes but at the time it seemed so fantastical that it could never happen. So when I watched it on TV my first thought was “Well, I was wrong,” followed immediately by “Wow” and goose bumps.

  12. 12
    Lucy says:

    SusanE – I guess that’s sort of how I (and presumably many people) feel when they talk about colonising Mars.

  13. 13
    Kerry says:

    When Julie the 1970s American Girl doll was released it was released, it was my “Oh, I am historical now” moment.

  14. 14
    Frida says:

    I love this book, it’s one of my all time favorite romances, like top 5. A Goodreads review called the heroine cold, detached and unfeminine and yes that’s when I one-clicked. I have a type.

    The whole series is great – the two novellas are sweet, swoony comfort reads for me.

  15. 15
    Susan says:

    I already felt old today before reading this, but now I’m torn between laughing and crying. We’re doing some office cleanup in preparation for a move and my boss and a younger employee were going through a cabinet with old microfiche files. Turns out the younger employee had never heard of microfiche. Or library card catalogs. And probably tons of other stuff I don’t want to contemplate.

    That said, my vintage self definitely wants to read this story set in my childhood years. Click. (Aaaand, so much for my excitement over Amanda’s suggestion for reading books that are languishing in the TBR pile.)

  16. 16
    Louise says:

    When Julie the 1970s American Girl doll was released it was released, it was my “Oh, I am historical now” moment.
    All those “that’s historical?!” posts made me, too, think of some of the titles I’ve come across in the children’s room at the library. (I mostly do picture books, they being closest to my intellectual level, but I can’t help notice the chapter books as well.) Historical series like Dear America or American Girl inevitably have one set in the ’60’s or ’70’s. The “I Survived!” series has books on both the eruption of Pompeii … and the Mt. St. Helen’s volcano. My favorite title, though, is “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets”, which to a modern child reader must be precisely as ancient and alien as “Tintin in the Land of the Pharaohs”.

  17. 17
    BellaInAus says:

    @ Kerry, I know the feeling.

    I saw a knitting book from the 70s listed somewhere as ‘vintage’. I thought, “Hang on a minute, I was born in 1970. Does that make ME vinatge too?”

    In the end, I decided that since I’m not even 50 yet, whoever listed it must have been a teenager, lol.

  18. 18
    chacha1 says:

    Well, for free I have immediately one-clicked Book One. I’m seeing Books 1-4 all available and Book 4 is only 99c. If I were not on a no-spend-on-e-books month, I’d buy ’em all right now even if imperfect just because I love the premise so much.

  19. 19
    Ms. M says:

    The US history high school exam in New York asks questions about the government’s response to 9/11, so yeah, I’ve been feeling old for a minute.

  20. 20
    EC Spurlock says:

    @BellaInAus better to be “Vintage”, like a fine wine, than a “relict”.

  21. 21
    LauraL says:

    @Lucy – I remember the excitement among the kids in the neighborhood in the days leading up to the telecast. Everyone was allowed to stay up late that night! Our houses were close together and the windows were open on a warm summer night, so we could hear everyone cheering and talking during and after the moon walk. My friends and I had a sleep-over in the neighbor’s screen porch a night or two later and we girls spent a lot of time with our little plastic binoculars looking at the moon to see if we could see the space capsule.

    While on a business trip, my husband had an opportunity to tour the Johnson Space Center and sit in a chair in the original Mission Control room. I mentioned Earth Bound this evening and heard about the Mission Control room visit (once again). Visiting me at work right after his business trip, my husband said our network operations monitoring room looked like Mission Control. Which all the older engineers were happy to agree to since we stared at screens all day. So, yes, it made a big impression on us.

  22. 22
    CarrieS says:

    I love this thread!

    @HeatherT: we have super strict standars for an A – I think this prob deserved an A- but at the same time I’m not sure I would read it over and over again.

    @CelineB: good for them!

  23. 23
    Shash says:

    Dear lord I’ve never one-clicked so fast

  24. 24
    Shash says:

    Charlie’s from my alma mater!!! I’m soo excited!!! Thought most people didn’t know it existed!!!

  25. 25
    Lucy says:

    Laura L – that’s exactly how I always imagine it! Well, in the US anyway. Here, I think there was still only one tv for every few streets, lol. So, there would have a been a lot of houses around the country full of people the owners had never seen before!
    I wish I could have been a kid in the 60s in the US just for that one week.

  26. 26
    LML says:

    @Lucy, my parents woke us up (12 & 8) to watch the moon landing. Bedtime was strictly enforced; the moon landing was a big deal to me not because it was an amazing event but because we were nudged from sleep to watch.

  27. 27
    Callalily says:

    My mom was a computer programmer for NASA in the late sixties, and then worked on designing computer systems for banks and Wall Street. I’m a mathematician. I’m definitely going to be reading this.

  28. 28
    Virginia says:

    Before I go any further, may I say that it is refreshing to see a historical that isn’t set in the Regency Era, the Victorian Era, or the 1920s.

    I’ve never read a historical romance in the 1920s! Sounds like there’s a backlog of awesome out there. Anybody have any recs to share?

  29. 29

    @Ms. M, when I realized that none of the kids in high school were not old enough to have memories of 9/11, I felt old.

    One of my cousins was born in 2004 and when he was about 8, he got really interested in terrorism. He kept talking about 9/11 as if it was something that happened in a movie and it was surreal trying to explain to him why he shouldn’t gleefully talk about it. I don’t think he quite understood it was a real thing that happened.

  30. 30
    Lisa F says:

    This is such a marvelous series; the research and the characters are top of the line all the way.

    I hope Star Crossed ends up being re-released with proper amendments soon.

  31. 31
    DeeDee says:

    Hello, I’m wondering if anyone has any suggestions based on this book? I bought it last week and I have now read it three times! It has a lot of things I just love, particularly the dynamic between the two protagonists. So I’m hoping someone can point me in the direction of similar stories!

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