Cover Book review to be taught if fortunate by Becky Chambers
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Book review: To be taught if fortunate

Book review of To be taught if fortunate

To be taught if fortunate is a short sci-fi novel by Becky Chambers. I found it via looking through my friends reads on Goodreads, and it looked enticing. Technically, it is categorized as a space opera. Whatever that means.

(A quick online search tells me; “a novel, film, or television programme set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature” – which doesn’t really say anything)

To be taught if fortunate by Becky Chambers

“In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the galaxy transform themselves.

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. With the fragile body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore extroplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home is still listening.”

The text above is kindly borrowed from the back of the book.

What’s scarier?

Is it that we are not alone in the universe? Or is it that we are in fact, alone.

This is such a difficult quesiton to grasp. I can hardly wrap my head around the fact that our universe is still young. So young in fact, that it is entirely possible for there to develop other lifeforms out there, long after I’m gone. The way “To be taught if fortunate” poses this question is so simple. So so so simple. Yet subtly put between the lines of every page in the book.

We follow Ariadne through her thoughts and musings on life as an astronaut-scientist with her 3 crewmates, exploring exoplanets. In between explaining how these scientists with different nerdy specialties examine without damaging each planet, we learn more of their mission. And their lives together.

Four people in outer space – how will that go?

Just the four of them, it’s imperative that they work well together. And for once, in a ‘space opera’ I was reading a story where the main plot wasn’t about the crew turning on each other, or there being some big intergalactic war. I mean, most episodes of Doctor Who with humans on a spaceship entails murder or someone dying, right? (No spoilers but, if you know, you know).

The central theme in this book is life. I want to write it with capital letters because that’s how it felt. The writing and the characters made me feel like I had been a part of discovering new life forms, the amazement, the wonder of seeing new worlds. I absolutely love it when books are like that. I really enjoyed the book. It’s well written, the characters are fleshed out, diverse and believable. The scientific language is not too sci-fi or clever, the plot felt original and the worlds felt fresh. Even though you slowly feel Earth melting away and slipping through your hands. What then, is left?

Yet it poses a scary question well-known to humanity – are we scared of being alone?

I will recommend this book to everyone, be warned. Just like This is how you lose the time war, this book was a beautiful little read. It held an entire universe in 135 pages. I have to read it again, that’s for sure.

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