To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Publication date: 08 August 2019
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 176 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
You all know how passionately I love Becky Chambers’ books — she’s one of my favourite authors and consistently puts out incredible stories. When her next release was announced, I was initially a little disappointed that To Be Taught, If Fortunate wasn’t going to be a continuation of her Wayfarers books. However I completely trust Becky to give me the gorgeous, quiet stories I crave. My faith in Becky Chambers remains — To Be Taught, If Fortunate is the beautiful, gentle tale of human exploration that I never knew I needed.
In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of galaxy transform themselves.
At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.
Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.
To me, Becky Chambers’s books have always represented what humankind could be if we stopped being awful and had more consideration for each other and the universe around us. To Be Taught, If Fortunate is the best example of this, particularly with the idea of somaforming — the way in which astronauts adapt their bodies to their environments rather than terraform a planet to adapt to them. This is the most beautifully human idea in science fictional space travel I’ve read. I absolutely love anything that deals with space exploration, hence my passionate love of Star Trek, but To Be Taught blows all other works out of the water with its displays of unselfish compassion.
This novella is a little like a combination of A Closed and Common Orbit‘s plot-y structure and her slice of life masterpiece Record of a Spaceborn Few. However, To Be Taught is unlike her other books, which are probably best known for their deep character insights. You don’t get to know the characters in To Be Taught as well as you do in her full length novels. However, I didn’t mind this as the story drew out enough of the characters traits, particularly Ariadne, to make them compelling and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the subtleties that Chambers includes to help draw a picture of the way they live and interact, as well as how their mission so perfectly suits them.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate is like a warm hug. It’s a shorter story than we are used to from Chambers, however it features the heart and humanity that I’ve come to associate with her work. I couldn’t recommend this book more highly to fans of her Wayfarers series, as well as newcomers to her work that love science fiction that deals with space travel and exploration.
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Have you read To Be Taught, If Fortunate yet? Are you a big fan of Becky’s previous books? Is this already in your TBR? Let me know!