To Be Taught, If Fortunate
by Becky Chambers
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.
Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky’s first book outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.
With this novella, Becky Chambers has proved that, whatever she writes, I’ll eat it up like candy.
I’ve been in love with Chambers’ science fiction since I read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet back in 2015, and ever since then I’ve been following her Wayfarers series and devouring each novel. As soon as I learned she was releasing a new novella outside of her Wayfarers series, I knew I’d be getting my hands on a copy as soon as it was released.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a difficult novella to review because so much of what it has to say, so much of the punch it packs, is down to its subtleties and its slowness. This isn’t an action-packed adventure on a spaceship, this is an exploration of learning and what it is to be a traveller; to go to a new place not to colonise it, as happens in so much sci-fi, but simply to learn for the sake of learning and to bring that knowledge back home to share with the rest of the world.
Considering we currently live in a world where some people on Twitter will lose their minds at the news that a bakery chain has created a vegan sausage roll that they don’t have to eat, not to mention the amount of close-minded, downright Fascist thinking currently on the rise around the world, I can’t express enough how much of a soothing balm Becky Chambers’ work is. I can’t say this novella feels like a warm hug because comfort isn’t really the point of it, but it is incredibly hopeful, and that’s what I love most about Chambers’ sci-fi. I always close her books feeling like there are indeed good people left in the world, that in fact the majority of people are inherently good, and that kind of feeling is priceless in the current political climate.
This is one that I’ll probably return to and re-read fairly soon because I’m sure there are other nuances I missed while I was busy gobbling it up, but it’s a wonderful debut novella and I can’t wait to see what Becky Chambers does next.