To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (novella)

I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise Chambers had written anything new until I was in Waterstones clutching my Christmas money and desperate for actual physical books after months on my kinde. Bonus! It was a signed hardback of the novella!

My summary is: Adriane is an explorer, one of four, tasked with exploring the solar system to study and report back to Earth. Light years from Earth, the crew will return to a world that has changed drastically in their absence. Between planets they sleep. Time moves differently for them, and their bodies adapt to each planet they visit. Her experiences are of changing features and a static mission objective and a unique perspective on the passage of time. Earth has little bearing when they are exploring new worlds, finding new species and learning new things.

I adore the Wayfarers series. This novella is set long before, when space exploration is purely ecological survey groups. It is written in the style of a personal report by the engineer on board the crew of an exploration ship, narrating their progress on the four planets, how the crew have adapted and changed, and a message sent back to Earth. When the crew set off, it’s like 2100 or something, which feels futuristic but not that futuristic. Chambers uses current technological theories to inform her space travel and it’s incredible. The crew are thousands of light years from Earth and history has been moving on as they adapt to each new planet they were tasked to chart.

This book explores the idea that humans should change to adapt to new environments, and should aim not to leave damage to whichever world they are exploring. And these are physiological adaptations to environment and radiation. On a planet with low light levels, they sparkle to make the most of the light. I love that the science in Chamber’s novels feels so bizarre but so real because it is based off real things or theories. The point of the exploration is ecological surveys of other planets – it’s slow science and different environments and new species.

One of the things I like is how Chambers imagines a future where sexuality and race is not important and it’s just dropped in casually because to them it is just fact, not something considered unusual or worth remarking on. I can’t wait to meet this world.

If you like fast-paced science fiction, the entirety of Becky Chambers speculative fiction is not for you, but this novella feels a lot slower than the other full length novels. Unlike others, it is first person narrative, and doesn’t skip between different characters or crew members. The best way I can describe this novella is that it’s good in a quiet sort of way.

Happy Reading!