To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Reviewed by GGGinny
What I drank: I had a few seltzers. A show I’ve been dying to see was just released and I put on the first episode and next thing I knew I was a few drinks in and on episode 4. So, yeah, I had a good night.
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 audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.
Drunk Overview: First off, Beecky Chambers writes some awesome Sci-fi, but this book is different than her other series. Usually she focuses on sentient alien species and space travel. This was more along the lines of if NASA managed to advance a ton of technology and sent people out to far-distant planets, except its not NASA, it’s community-funded.
Drunk Thoughts: Man, this book had more quasi-legit tech than I’m used to and I loved it!
- Okay, the first cool as shit thing that this book blew me away with were patches that adjusted human DNA to the planets they were visiting.
- It was casually dropped that one of the characters was trans, and another had some illness that required a steady supply of drugs. I know that there are things like that that kind of already exist, but holy shit, it just made me happy for the world they lived in.
- I’m not even going to get into the space travel or the level of detail this book gave on things like genetic sequencing, but I loved how much this book felt like it was grounded in a reality that could be our future.
- The patches and the way food was handled and the way the different environments were treated was just super cool.
- And then this book handled the human element really well. It shouldn’t be surprising that some pretty serious shit happens in this book. Any book set in space is gonna have some kinda doomsday spectacular shit going on.
- But the way the different characters reacted to the bad situations felt so real. Our main character was the one trying to keep people together, which made her inevitable breakdown so much worse.
- There’s something horrifying about seeing someone reach their breaking point, and Chambers managed to capture that building of tension where you can see the train crash coming from far in advance but can do nothing to stop it.
- Finally, the world building, I’d argue that some parts of the world building were better than others. I really enjoyed the unique plnets (it’s not a spoiler that they go to a few), and some of the descriptions were straight up fantastic, but it didn’t change the fact that the planet that was supposed to be the lushest didn’t really hit me the way that I would hope.
- I’m not sure if anyone here read the Pendragon books, but the second book in the series was set on this water planet, and the way it was described hooked me so quickly to the point that I legitmately wished I could live there. I feel like this planet was supposed to give me the same feeling, but I was just missing it…
- Which brings me to the ending. I’m going to try not to spoil too much, but it felt a little bit cliche. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel like the events that pushed the final decision weren’t unique, even if they could be realistic.
- Which ultimately bring me to my final point. This book deals with time in a really interesting manner.
- The travel through space already messes with time, both that the astronauts experienced and the time that was squished (I know, look at me using super technica\l terms) due to the speed they were travelling at.
- But the story being told also deals with time skips both when they’re travelling between planets and when they were on the planets.
- This book is a novella, and visits multiple planets, which means that each planet gets a limited amount of page space.
- And this book is told from a future perspective (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say this is written kind of a like a diary/letter. Which brings me to time being interesting.
- It’s easy to forget that time can feel so long in the moment, but then when you look back, years feel so short.
- To quote a song everyone I know sings along to “the years start comin’ and they don’t stop comin’.”
- And in that case, the time jumps do make sense because everything is being told as a story from memory, rather than in the moment.
- And now that I’ve written it, I feel like I’ve missed profound by a mile.
What I’d Pair it With: Zinfandel, something full bodied that you can sit with and never lasts quite as long as you expect.
Rating: 3.5/5. While I really enjoyed the book, I feel like the ending was weaker than I would have hoped for.