Matt and Kate come of age as a pilot/astralnaut and suffragette/scientist respectively, and must overcome societal barriers if they want to marry, but first they must use their wits and courage to survive a space disaster on the maiden voyage of the Starclimber into the Earth's orbit. In Starclimber we return for a final time to Matt and Kate. But this time we see a more mature, young adult Matt and Kate, now grown-up and working in the roles they have been trained for. This might be steampunk but it's still set in the early/mid twentieth century, and space travel is becoming a new obsession and a race - between Canada and France. Canada builds a space "elevator" called the Starclimber, a cabin which rides out into space on a thick cable. Both Kate (as a scientist) and Matt (as a pilot/astralnaut) are invited to join the crew, much to Matt's delight - he has endured very hard training in the hopes that he might be selected for this expedition. It is an exciting adventure, but Matt and Kate are uncertain about their on-again, off-again relationship.
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Matt already blew off a summer holiday in France with Kate for his astralnaut training program. By the time his training is over, Matt has survived an encounter with the terrorist Babelites, a group who are ideologically opposed to space travel. Kate, meanwhile, downplays her relationship with Matt as she joins the suffragettes and campaigns for women's rights, all the while chafing against her parents' control. She knows they want her to marry an equally wealthy young man, not Matt. And she is right. By the time Matt and Kate end up on the Starclimber, she has an engagement ring on her finger - but it is promise to marry a wealthy heir named James. This is a source of great pain and anger for Matt, and Kate feels the pain too and apologizes, saying she is only biding her time and will break off the engagement after their voyage, though Matt is still furious that Kate won't publicly acknowledge their relationship.
The Starclimber starts to run into technical problems with its cable apparatus, which the crew manages to fix, and the discover new flying creatures orbiting the planet. Matt attempts to propose to Kate, but she evades the subject, causing the tension the mount between them. But Matt is distracted from his brooding when the Starclimber's technical problems resurface, this time due to space debris that snap the cable that connects the Starclimber to Earth, which leaves one crew member dead and the Starclimber adrift in space. Matt figures out a way to use the Starclimber's oxygen tank and the flushing mechanism of the the toilets to put together a makeshift engine. They attempt to propel themselves back into Earth's atmosphere, a dangerous moment that incapacitates all the crew members save for the two astralnauts and Kate. As the Starclimber begins a thinly controlled fall towards the Mediterranean, an emotional Kate apologizes to Matt for everything and tells him she loves him and will only marry him. The Starclimber successfully lands in Egypt, and an overjoyed Matt and Kate agree to marry, not caring for the social obstacles that they know they will face.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved the nuanced portrayal of the pressing social issues of the time period, even in a steampunk setting, especially women's empowerment.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene might have been when Kate tells Matt that the reason she accepted James' proposal was that it was the only way her parents would allow her to travel to outer space. It showed her beginning to have the courage to rebel but also how limited she still was by their influence and how guilty she felt for Matt.
Opinion about the main character:
I love how level-headed, calm and in-control Matt was throughout the crisis on the Starclimber.