Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
Man has always been fascinated with the idea of life outside of Earth. What if that life were real? What if humans had a way to get there without the effects of space travel and the conditions of other planets killing them in the process? To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers explores this potential future reality.
In a not-so-distant future (the late 2000s), Ariadne and three of her astronaut companions are on a mission to explore several different planets with promising life-forms. If this weren’t cool enough, the science has evolved enough to allow the astronauts to physically adapt to the new environments with something they call somaforming. Without somaforming, Ari and her companions would surely die on the other planets, but with it, they are able to safely conduct research and learn about the new planets. The novel details Ari and her crew’s story as they encounter several different planets, each completely different from the previous. Despite the planetary differences, the goal always remains the same and echoes that of Former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim: to do no harm, but rather to learn and “to be taught if [they] are fortunate.”
In every novel about space exploration, one of the most important themes is exploration, for good reason. We all want to know the answers that the universe holds. This novel is no exception, and it is probably one of the best at detailing this theme of exploration. The whole purpose of the novel is for the characters to explore and to learn about other planets that exist. There really is not much major conflict until the very end, and much of the book focuses on exploration. Even when conflict is introduced, the characters have to choose between their duty to explore and their ties to home on Earth.
This book brings to mind every space travel movie or book I’ve ever read. Most of them are much more focused on surviving in space, whereas To Be Taught, If Fortunate already has solved that problem and focuses more on the exploration. However, if you are interested in more space travel material, check out The Martian by Andy Weir. I have also heard good things about Solaris by Stanisław Lem. If you are feeling an alien Friday night movie instead, try Cosmos, available on Hulu or Amazon Prime.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate is written from the perspective of Ariadne. Basically, she writes an account of her crew’s time on their mission as if someone on Earth were receiving their story after the fact. This is a very effective writing style. It feels as if Ariadne is talking to the reader because, well, she is, and readers are pulled to her story. Character development is awesome; each of the four crew members were incredibly unique and believable. Overall, I thought this was a well-written book. You can tell that the author poured her heart and soul into this novel.
I recommend adding this book to your reading list, especially if you are a sci-fi fanatic. It doesn’t necessarily have a ton of action, but the novel definitely makes you think about the possibilities that are out there. If you like sci-fi and a good thinker, this one is for you!
To Be Taught, If Fortunate is one of those books that I am glad that I read. At no point did I feel like I was wasting my time while reading it, and you won’t either! Take a chance on this space exploration novel.