“Extraordinary . . . A future sci-fi masterwork in a new and welcome tradition.” -- Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat
A stand-alone science fiction novella from the award-winning, bestselling, critically-acclaimed author of the Wayfarer series.
At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in subzero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to journey to neighboring exoplanets long known to harbor life.
A team of these explorers, Ariadne O’Neill and her three crewmates, are hard at work in a planetary system fifteen light-years from Sol, on a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds. But as Ariadne shifts through both form and time, the culture back on Earth has also been transformed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the story of the wonders and dangers of her mission, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.
With technical prowess and outstanding visceral imagery, Chambers (the Wayfarer Series) packs an immense amount of story into a novella worthy of full-length praise. Humans have begun to perfect the process of space exploration at the turn of the 22nd century with the use of somaforming, a technology allowing astronauts to survive under any conditions in the galaxy. With human fragility no longer a concern, astronaut Ariadne O'Neill and her explorer companions are sent to four distant planets. As the voyagers traverse time and change physical forms, the Earth undergoes its own transformation, and Ariadne and her colleagues are forced to confront the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten them. As Ariadne chronicles her missions, her stories raise questions about the ethics of research and beg the reader to empathize with being alone. Using precise language to paint awe-inspiring pictures of the unknown, Chambers offers a troubling, beckoning glimpse into the future of humankind.
Exoplanet Exploration Novella
“To Be Taught, If Fortunate” is the first work by Becky Chambers that I have read that is not part of her Wayfarers Series. It is a shorter work, a novella in length. It is interesting and quite different from her Galactic Commons setting where the Wayfarers series takes place.
The story concerns four future astronauts who comprise the sixth interstellar expedition to explore exoplanets that may harbor alien life. In addition to technological means of protecting themselves from the conditions they may encounter on these worlds, they use a advanced form of synthetic biology called “somaforming” to adapt their own bodies to the conditions they will face on these worlds. The long journey between worlds is spent in a a biological torpor, to pass the time, and to allow the next round of somaforming to be completed. Their mission plant is to visit four worlds then return to the Earth.
This is a story not only about a voyage of discovery, but about the crew and their relationships with each other. Becky Chambers is known for her emphasis on personal interactions in her stories, and this is no exception. While the settings and alien worlds are interesting, they serve as a backdrop for a story about the individuals, and how they interpret and react to their findings.
While they are on their mission, something unexpected happens on the Earth. Messages stop being received from the planet they left behind. The crew must decide what to do about this development, and the resolution of this dilemma left me somewhat unsatisfied. The outcome is understandable, but I personally wanted more. Maybe you will feel differently about the ending...
A great read, and a thoughtful ending.
Although I love the Wayfarer series, I find myself thinking about this book the most out of Chambers’ works. I honestly loved the ending, though I understand why it can be divisive. For me, it really had me think a lot about space colonialism, and if satisfying our natural curiosities is worth the price of destroying another planet’s potential. I also thought of it connecting to a moment in Record of a Spaceborn Few, where a Harmagian character talks about a similar quandary.
Brilliant and sweet and full of science
I had put off reading this; I don’t know why. Four astronauts go exploring exoplanets, and we find out about their personal relationships, how much they love science, how they handle being alone but together, and how they handle being very very alone. I can see why some people didn’t love the ending, but it’s the only ending there is, the only ending there could be. I dropped my phone and burst into tears.
If you like James SA Corey’s The Expanse or This Is How We Lose The Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, or, like a sensible person, both, read this now.