Saturday, 13 June 2020

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers is a novella that I read because it's on the Hugo shortlist. I considered picking it up a few times before (most notably when tempted with a hard cover at Dublin Worldcon) but held back because I didn't enjoy Record of a Spaceborn Few and I thought this novella was set in the same universe. It is not, but if it were, then it would be set much earlier than the Wayfarer books (aside from the one event that distinguishes it as a separate universe).

In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.

Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.

The premie of To Be Taught, If Fortunate is quite straightforward: a small group of scientist-astronauts are on a multi-year mission to investigate four habitable planets and catalogue whatever lifeforms and other interesting things they find. The novella is basically a chronicle of their journey and the main interest in the book is the explanations of science and discovery. The background science did get a little tedious at times — especially at the start when the scene was being set — but overall there was a reasonable balance between duller background and exciting discoveries of weird things.

In coming to write this review I realised what, to me, set it apart from Record of a Spaceborn Few. Both books lack a fast-paced plot but To Be Taught, If Fortunate quickly establishes itself as an exploration log, whereas Record of a Spaceborn Few felt like things were about to happen, but then didn't. My favourite aspect of To Be Taught, If Fortunate is that just as I assumed nothing especially exciting would happen, something unexpected did happen. I wouldn't call it fast-paced, by any stretch of the imagination, but it worked for me. Because of this novella, I will consider reading more books from this author, which was not my stance before reading it.

Overall I enjoyed To Be Taught, If Fortunate, despite a bit of a slow start. I recommend it to readers who enjoy exploration narratives, and slower-paced stories. I think fans of Long Way To a Small Angry Planet will also enjoy To Be Taught, If Fortunate, although they are quite different books when it comes to the depth of characters (since there is less time in a novella to develop and evolve an ensemble of characters). I have not finished reading the Hugo novellas, but I expect this one will rate well.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2019, Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager
Series: No (not yet?)
Format read: PDF
Source: Hugo voter packet

No comments:

Post a comment