Published by Hodder & Stoughton on August 8th 2019
Genres: Novella, Sci Fi, Science Fiction
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.
Adriane 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.
I kept hearing amazing things about Becky Chambers, but for whatever reason I just hadn’t got around to picking the books up. Then finally in June 2018 I picked up the first book, A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet, and it became my favourite book of the year – I flew through the two books that were out in a week, and loved both. It’s no surprise then that when I saw that To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Chambers’ newest book, was available for review, I absolutely jumped at the chance to read it.
The first thing to know about To Be Taught, If Fortunate, is that it’s unrelated to the Wayfarers series, so you can start with this one if you just want to get a taste for Chambers’ writing or prefer not to get sucked into a big sci-fi series. The second thing to bear in mind is that it’s a novella, not a full length novel. I’m not the biggest fan of novellas and short stories, because they just always leave me wanting more, but given how much I loved the Wayfarers trilogy, I was willing to give it a go.
Chambers’ writing style is something I fell in love with in her previous books, and I think it’s the strongest element of To Be Taught, If Fortunate. The book has an almost lyrical, poetic feel to it, with beautiful prose. The plot itself is quite minimal, almost more like a backdrop for the character stuff. The whole story is quite gentle; I found it very much something to savour rather than something to rush through, with quite a lot of focus on introspection and personal questions about duty vs ethics. It’s an enjoyable and pleasant read, perfect for a quiet evening with a hot chocolate, but the epic adventure and sprawling world of A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet are more my style.
Buy it? If you’re a big novella fan or have already read Becky Chambers I’d say yes, but if you’re new to her work I’d say go for A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet first.
In a nutshell: A pleasant quick read with beautiful writing.