Publisher: Harper Voyager
Page Count: 144
Release Date: September 3rd, 2019
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It
Note: I was given a free ARC by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
Ariadne is one of four people on the exploratory spaceship MERIAN, which departed from Earth in the 22nd Century. Their mission is to travel to four new planets, to study and catalog the new life they find there, and eventually return home 80 years from the date of departure. The crew is put into hibernation between planets, awaking each time to find their bodies chemically altered to better survive in the new ecosystems they’ll encounter. Waking also means getting news bulletins from Earth – ones that are 14 years out of date by the time they travel to MERIAN. As Ariadne and her crew mates deal with the joys and trials of exploring new planets, they’ll also be faced with the changing landscape of their home planet as they begin contemplating the voyage home.
TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE is a lovely little adventure that ultimately asks the question, “Why do we explore? Why are we hellbent on venturing off our planet and into the stars?” Becky Chambers, already known for her creative world-building in the WAYFARERS series, puts together an array of destinations for her characters to visit, each an inventive snapshot of ways other planets and creatures could exist without humans. As always, Chambers is at her best with her character work, painting the moods of the four crew members as they experience various ups and downs. The sensory overload and the resulting emotional turmoil the characters experience on one planet was described so well that the eventual departure from that planet was a palpable relief.
TO BE TAUGHT is a story that doesn’t so much come to a conclusion as drift to a halt. In a way, the plot is a series of connected vignettes as they visit each of the four planets, and the tale somewhat abruptly shifts gears in the final pages to wax more philosophical. That’s not to say the theme and the question aren’t present throughout the novella, but the manner in which they was brought to the forefront was a bit jarring. (To be fair, my eARC had a substantial amount of backmatter I hadn’t been aware of, so I maybe unfairly expected more story due to extenuating circumstances. On the other hand, I hadn’t gotten the sense the plot was coming to an end until literally the last few pages, so perhaps it was as abrupt as I felt!) That’s not to say that I felt this should have been longer, on the contrary, it felt like the perfect length!
If you’re looking to get away from the world for a short bit, TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE is a diverting excursion, a chance to see a small band of humans working together as they explore strange lands. It hits that novella sweet spot, just enough depth to keep you engaged for the length of the book, so that you can walk away utterly satisfied with the time spent reading. In short, a delightful way to spend a weekend afternoon!