Wednesday, October 30, 2019

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (2019)

My excitement when I learned that Becky Chambers had a new book out quickly turned to disappointment when I saw that it was a novella. After reading the three thick books that make up the Wayfarers series I was hoping for another big story, and as someone who tends to enjoy short books I don't know why I was afraid it wouldn't be good. Spoiler alert: it was very good.

It opens with a plea to read it to the end. It's from an astronaut, Ariadne O'Neill, who left Earth fifty years ago with her crew. The other three are Elena Quesada-Cruz, Jack Vo, and Chikondi Daka. Their mission was to visit four habitable worlds called Aecor, Mirabilis, Opera, and Votum, and their communique is coming from the last one. What follows is the story of their flight and their experiences on all of those planets, and then at the end you get the explanation for why they are sending this missive, which of course I won't spoil for you but it is not disappointing. It is kind of open-ended, if you care about that kind of thing, and I am already sorta dying to know if there will be a sequel but mostly I just care that Becky Chambers writes more books about something.

I love reading books that contain alien life because it's so fascinating to see what comes of writers' imaginations. There was life of some sort on all the planets they visited, as they suspected, and I loved seeing them described. (Oh, if only there were illustrations!) The characters were great too, which is one of this author's strengths. They are pretty diverse in terms of sexual orientation and race, though it's not actually spelled out and is kind of irrelevant to the plot. Which I like because diversity should just be a thing that exists and not there for the sake of being diverse, if you know what I mean. If you want specifics, there was bi/poly/ace representation, and the racial diversity is obvious from (and only identified by) their names.

Throughout the book I kept wondering what the crisis would be. Like, they were just visiting these planets and making amazing discoveries and as much as I loved reading about this, it's not a story. I kept wondering when the actual plot would start. The conflict comes very late, and it's great!

I hope we don't have to wait very long for another book by Becky Chambers because her books are so imaginative and fun to read. Anyone who likes science fiction in the style of The Martian would probably enjoy Becky Chambers. If you haven't read anything by her, please consider it!

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