Review – To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers - To Be Taught if Fortunate cropped for featured image
To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Book Title: To Be Taught, if Fortunate

Book Description: In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves. Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does. Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home. Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky's first audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.

Book Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher - Orgnization: Harper Voyager

Publisher Logo:

Date published: 2019-08-08

Number Of Pages: 153

  • Writing - 8/10
  • Plot Development - 8/10
  • Overall - 8/10
User Review
0 (0 votes)


To Be Taught, if Fortunate is an episodic novella in which four astronauts boldly go where no one has gone before and Do Science.


To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, if Fortunate is a science fiction novella by Becky Chambers. Becky Chambers is the author of the Hugo-winning Wayfarers trilogy, starting with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Those novels are fairly episodic, mostly following one character or group of characters through their lives until the book ends. Hugo finalist To Be Taught, if Fortunate, if anything, is more episodic, with less obvious character work. 

Becky Chambers - To Be Taught if Fortunate

In To Be Taught, if Fortunate, we follow Ariadne (the point-of-view character and engineer), and her colleagues Jack, Elena, and Chikondi as they boldly go where no human has gone before. The novella starts with Ariadne writing a message home, begging for a response. Then, Ariadne describes their journey to four different planets: Aecor, Mirabilis, Opera, and Votum. Each planet significantly differs from the other; the mission protocol modifies each astronaut so they can deal with each atmosphere without dying. When there, the astronauts study pretty much whatever they can get their hands on. Each planet is different, and the astronauts learn about them (and Earth through them) in turn.

The Joy of Scientific Discovery in To Be Taught, if Fortunate

Sometimes, it feels like our society forgot that science can be amazing, and not just because science brings us cool explosions. Science has brought us everything that we have ever loved. Meanwhile, people who don’t work in scientific fields deprioritize discovery, to our detriment. It’s nice to look at a fictional future unafraid to look forward.

Even though Ariadne is not the team biologist, she fully comprehends the beauty of the natural world(s), and it comes through in the narration. Since she’s not sure of her readership, she gladly explains what she and her team have found in the most basic terms. There is a lot of discussion of scientific concepts in this novella. However, Chambers’ writing makes even the most complicated of these concepts easily accessible to me, someone who came this close to failing Chemistry in high school. In the library edition that I read, Chambers talks to her mother (an astrobiologist) about her efforts in making sure the science was accurate. She also notes that she discussed some of the scientific aspects with Lisa Nip (as long as we’re giving Science Credit).

Conclusion – To Be Taught, if Fortunate Looks Fondly Forward

If you’re looking for a particularly plot-packed book, To Be Taught, if Fortunate is not the read for you at this time. That’s not a bad thing! Not all books are for all people at all times. Instead, this novella is a well-written quick but thoughtful exploration of exploration.

Don’t forget! Hugo Voting closes Wednesday 22 July 2020 at 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time (UTC-7)/Thursday, 23 July 2020 at 18:59 New Zealand Standard Time (UTC+12).

Hugo Catchup Series:

  • “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, Ted Chiang (from his collection Exhalation)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark 
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone 
  • In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire 
  • The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes


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About the author

Siobhan Dempsey

Siobhan needs books to function, and therefore can infodump quite a lot about them, particularly when they're either science fiction or fantasy.

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