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To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers #BookReview

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 be taught, if fortunate by Becky Chambers book cover

Title: To Be Taught, If Fortunate | Author: Becky Chambers | Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton | Pub. Date: 8 August 2019 | Pages: 160 | ISBN: 9781473697164| Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 5 out of 5 | Source: NetGalley

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To Be Taught, If Fortunate Review

‘To Be Taught, If Fortunate’ falls into the same “hopeful sci fi” bucket as author Becky Chambers’ excellent ‘Wayfarers’ series. Unlike those books, with their multitude of alien races and cultures, this is a far more believable tale of deep space exploration. That’s not meant to be in any way a criticism of Chambers’ other books, which I love dearly (if you haven’t read them, you really should). It’s just that ‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ and its sequels are so far removed from modern day life on Earth as to seem quite fantastic (wonderfully so). This latest standalone novella from Chambers feels far closer to our current reality. Yes, the scientific advances the book details are some way away from current technology, but it’s not impossible to join the dots between now and then.

The book describes the voyage of a research ship travelling to various alien worlds to investigate the primitive life that exists on them and report back. It’s told in the form of an extended message from one of the crew members, Ariadne, to the people of Earth. It’s a linear tale of their journey and explorations, packed with detail about their mission.

As with her other books, Chambers’ focusses as much on the emotional impacts of the science as she does the raw, technical detail. I was particularly taken with the practicalities of space travel. It involves long periods in suspended animation (“torpor”) which means nail clippers close to hand are essential on awakening. The duration of the voyages also necessitates saying goodbye to loved ones before departure. The voyagers take off knowing that if they do see their families again, they will have missed decades of their lives. In a similar vein, when they first receive a video communication from Earth after waking from their sleep, the clothing and hairstyle of the technician contacting them are completely alien.

I’m not sure anyone combines science, emotion and imagination quite as well as Chambers does. The result here is a book that is different from her others in many ways, but just as gripping, enjoyable and thought-provoking. It’s a love letter to space travel that is heartfelt, convincing and a pleasure to read. It’s out this week and I can’t recommend it highly enough, whether you’ve read the ‘Wayfarers’ books or not.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inScience Fiction Book Reviews


  1. That’s a thoughtful, telling point: that styles and fashions on Earth will change while the crew is in deep sleep.

    • Olly_C

      Yeah, it’s a great example of the kind of intelligent nuance Chambers includes in her books

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