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.
Title: To Be Taught, if Fortunate
Author: Becky Chambers
You always know what you’re getting with a Becky Chambers book: amazing new worlds and technologies and beautifully written people and emotions. It’s the best parts of hard Sci-fi and contemporary all rolled into one. She is forever on my list of auto-buy authors.
I was the tiniest bit apprehensive when starting this novella because I’d only ever read full novels from Becky Chambers before so couldn’t be sure if she was just as good writing in a shorter format. A lot of people assume short story writing and novel writing are basically the same, but that is definitely not the case, and I worried that the loss of time to develop the characters as amazingly as she usually does would really hinder the book.
Well I shouldn’t have been worried one bit!
To Be Taught, If Fortunate has slight ‘The Martian’ vibes, in that it describes all the complicated science in a way that I think makes it accessible to a lot of the general public, even if you aren’t that into science (though if you aren’t into science at all, then why are you reading Sci-Fi…?). It has just enough detail to be accurate, but enough general description and comparisons to be easily visualisable while reading. I especially loved the description of the spiral “grass” on the second planet.
It’s written in an interesting way: the book is supposed to be a report or message sent from the ship back to Earth, and you aren’t sure until the end of the book whether the message is an S.O.S, or research notes, or what. Even with the limitations this style can bring, she still manages to bring the emotion and effects of space travel and isolation to the foreground so we really care about the crew.
It’s very sad that this book is as short as it is, I think I could read 1000 pages of Becky Chambers’ writing and never get bored. The new concepts, the colourful worlds, the three-dimensional characters, there’s nothing that she does poorly in my opinion.
The ending is one of my favourite kinds in Sci-Fi: one that makes you think and decide what you think would happen next. This book asks the big questions and I love it for that. This is for sure a book I’ll recommend to any of my friends, especially my fellow sci-fi readers.