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To Be Taught, If Fortunate (edition 2019)
by Becky Chambers (Author)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
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Lovely novella about four astronauts on a mission to explore exoplanets. Like [b:The Martian|18007564|The Martian|Andy Weir|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1413706054l/18007564._SY75_.jpg|21825181] and Magic Mike XXL, there are no bad guys, no malevolent forces, just competent people trying to do their jobs. It all makes sense in the end.
It is not set in the Wayfarers universe.
An intriguing take on space exploration as a purely scientific endeavor and the mental and emotional toll of signing up for a journey that guarantees you won't recognize your home on your return.
Ariadne is one of four explores on her ship that go in and out of hibernation as they explore new worlds. They cope with the long journey and different plants with a combo of hibernation and tech that modifies them to work better in their new environment. But what they don’t handle as well is the changes back home, so they agree as a crew to stop watching the news/history updates while they are exploring amazing worlds each with something wonderful to see. Each world gives them new challenges and they don’t notice in the beginning that the updates have stopped coming. Now the crew must decide what do next.
To Be Taught if Fortunate - Chambers
This novella proposed some interesting speculative twists to fictional deep space exploration. Chambers imagines a space exploration effort that is crowd funded by citizen scientists, a non-profit, non-governmental, exploration effort. Flight Engineer Ariadne is part of a four person crew sent to space on such a mission.
Deep sleep/hibernation is not a new gimmick in fictional space travel, but Chambers adds a new element. While they sleep,her astronauts are genetically altered to aid their function and survival on the moons and planets that they are sent to explore. Thickened skin to withstand radiation at one location; strengthened bones and muscles to withstand increased gravitation at another. Adapt the scientist to the environment they will study. The space agency of this book is not interested in terraforming other worlds. The mission goal is exploration and observation only. Take only pictures, leave few footprints.
This is Ariadne’s mission report to a possibly extinct mission control on Earth. It’s a letter to an unknown audience. It’s a personal journal. It’s philosophical. She asks difficult questions starting with ‘Why ? ”. I enjoyed reading her thoughts. I enjoyed her close supportive relationships with her crewmates. I like what Becky Chambers says about humanity with her speculative fiction.
The Kindle version of this book included author notes that were as interesting as the novella. Becky Chambers has the help of a science consultant who is also her mother. The question and answer addendum to the book was well worth reading.
I thought the book’s title was unusual. It wasn’t until the end of the book that Chambers includes the quote the explains the reason for the title. So this is a bit of a spoiler.
There’s a quiet beauty to Chambers’ writing that envelops you in her story and holds you tight until the very end. Proof that a novel doesn’t have to have hundreds of pages to be impressive.
With technical prowess and outstanding visceral imagery, Chambers (the Wayfarer Series) packs an immense amount of story into a novella worthy of full-length praise.
Is contained in
A stand-alone science fiction novella from the award-winning, bestselling, critically-acclaimed author of the Wayfarer series. 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 subzero 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 journey to neighboring exoplanets long known to harbor life.A team of these explorers, Ariadne O'Neill and her three crewmates, are hard at work in a planetary system fifteen light-years from Sol, on a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds. But as Ariadne shifts through both form and time, the culture back on Earth has also been transformed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the story of the wonders and dangers of her mission, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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Well, it was not. And, the synopsis definitely oversold thing. So, I’ll describe the tedium that is this novella. But I’ll give those in a hurry or who are impatient, a TLDR: this book is superficial and passive, nothing is deeply explored, the characters have almost no agency, and none of the characters or anything about them is ever seriously endangered.
The first half of the book is a regurgitation of various scientific facts and principles, nearly all of which I would guess most people who read sci-fi are aware of. As an example, that by 'fit' Charles Darwin did not mean 'strongest and most powerful,' but, of course, fit for their environment. Chambers then goes on to list various not-strong and not-powerful creatures that are evolutionarily successful. We're also treated to various banal observations about human life. Much of the work of a scientist is quite pedestrian and not very exciting. Apparently, we're supposed to find this insightful, despite the fact that this is true of nearly all occupations as well as the lives of those who don’t work.
So, 80 pages of this (or 2 hours if you are listening to the audiobook). Just to be clear, nothing happens in the first half. They do get some bad news from earth, but it’s just passively received, not acted upon.
I'm sorry, synopsis writer, this is neither "brilliant writing" nor "fantastic world-building." It's a boring listing of none too interesting facts presented none-too-interestingly.
Things do happen in the second half, and you might manage to feel a bit worried that something bad might happen. They are stranded, alien critters adhere to the hull of their lander, but mostly this is boring for them, and thus, boring for the reader. But, by this point it’s pretty clear that not much happens to anyone and certainly nothing bad. It’s all very nice and friendly. And dull.
By ‘anyone’ I mean the main characters. Some bad stuff happens elsewhere, and they do find out about it, but they are merely passive recipients. They forgo agency right up until the very end when they leave their fates up to the inhabitants of Earth rather than making a decision themselves, despite having clear feelings about what they want. Basically, they don’t want to presume, let alone take much responsibility.
It's all explained, of course, and in the context of this warped utopian universe, it makes a sort of sense. It's just dreadfully unsatisfying as a story, no matter how noble the sentiments behind it might be. The characters have opinions, feel strongly about things, but as they almost never act on these, at least not in a way that creates any conflict or adversity, the opinions are, like the facts listed in the first half of the book, mere curiosities at best. The few times they do do something, again, there’s no real tension or danger. No risk that someone might die, that a relationship might be on the line.
The superficiality is pervasive. There’s no plumbing of the experience of having one’s body remade world after world. Sure, the changes and reasons for them are described, but nothing about the experience of it for the narrator (the book uses first person).
This book is more like a mediocre documentary than storytelling.