Hello out there in cyberspace. Slick Dungeon here and I just read a book about outer space that I want to share with you. I enjoyed this one a lot and I will be doing a little review. There will be some spoilers but I will not give away the whole plot here. You’ve been warned if you want everything in the book to be a surprise.
To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers is a hard science fiction novella that had me interested cover to cover. It follows the adventures of four astronauts in the far future who have been sent from Earth to explore a few planets and their ecosystems in the interests of science and humanity. Ariadne, Chikondi, Elena and Jack have all been tasked to take scientific recordings, samples, etc. and sent back to Earth for study.
The book is full of beautiful descriptions of new species, the harsh realities of space exploration and the breakdown of difficult scientific ideas into understandable concepts. The characters are very well developed for such a short book. I was pretty gripped throughout, whether it was the personal struggles of the space explorers or the underlying question of the book; should we seek knowledge just for the sake of curiosity?
Those of you out there who are space nerds will probably know that the title is taken from a small snippet of a quote on the golden record on the Voyager space craft. This book takes the idea that we ought to be curious, that we need to find more out about the universe around us seriously. That can be said for a lot of science fiction and especially hard science fiction books. Where I think this one is different is that it also asks if our curiosity does harm. Are we hurting foreign species we might encounter in space? Are we able to minimize that? And if we can minimize it, is that really enough? Should humanity care about space exploration if there are problems on the ground right here on Earth?
What I love about this book is that it does not provide hard and fast answers to those questions. We follow along as the astronauts go to different environments, with different challenges both for the astronauts and the species (or lack of species) on each planet they touch down on. It isn’t a silly novel where there are a ton of bipedal humanoid species. No, the species they encounter might be microscopic or look somewhat like rats but have truly nothing in common with the earthbound creatures we think of. And it’s very well described.
Maybe the one thing I would change about the book is the ending. I feel like it could have been more conclusive. On the other hand, that may have been the whole point. The book doesn’t give us answers to a lot of important questions, but it dares to ask them. So maybe the end is made that way too. So that we have to form our own opinions and ideas of not only what the right thing to do is when it comes to science, but also how our heroes end up in the long run.
If you’re looking for an entertaining, deep, yet short read, and you have any interest in space exploration at all, I highly recommend To Be Taught If Fortunate.
If you’ve read this, let me know what you thought about it in the comments.
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