The idea and the world the author created are great. The novel takes place in a city called Rosewater in Nigeria. The events span between about 2040 to 2066. Basically, the life of the main character Kaaro. Rosewater comes into being because an alien entity emerges from the ground.
It’s kind of like a murder mystery in a creepy old house, but instead of normal people it’s necromancers and sword fighters. And the house is staffed entirely by skeletons and isn’t so much haunted as infested with arcane constructs and stuff like that.
So, the plot is that it’s 1000 years in the future, humanity has discovered how to make gates to far flung stars. There’s an inter-system beef between the planet that controls the gate and one that has to pay the tariff of using the gate. There’s a battle and a cold war. In the middle of it, is the rumour of a weapon that can destroy a planet. ALL FINE.
The novella follows four astronauts who travel to distant planets. They manage to adapt to the potential new environment while in transit in a ‘torpor’. Sometimes they just have more protection against UV, sometimes more muscle mass, sometimes, they glitter.
The main story is a forced together crew, through various circumstances, to hunt for a legendary ship, the Harrow. They’re being chased by a super powerful mage, for some mysterious reason, but connected to the legendary ship. As the story progresses, things become clearly and far more dangerous.
The Calculating Stars is an alternative history, where a meteor destroys Washington DC. But even more devastating, it looks to be an extinction event, leaving humanity not a huge amount of time to try and save themselves.
The story is pretty straight forward: a rather blob like alien race had decided the best way to introduce themselves to humanity was through a film agent.