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To Be Taught, If Fortunate

author: Becky Chambers (2019)
date read: 28 September 2019
rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

I enjoyed this (I’ve enjoyed all of Becky Chambers’ books), but for a short book it was surprisingly tricky to read.

It’s a less utopian view of human space exploration. Forget abundant crews or shiny tech or instant teleportation – this is a crew of four who have to face the harsh realities of space. They have bio-engineering to make themselves suitable to the planets they’re visiting, they have to leave Earth (and everybody they know and love) behind for decades, they have to be careful not to contaminate the world’s they’re visiting. I’m not a space expert, but it all rang true to me.

The focus is on the four human characters throughout, which is great. It keeps the scope tight and interesting – world-threatening or universe-ending apocalypses don’t appear, and it’s all the better for it. But I could have done with more character stuff (which is what I enjoy about the Wayfarers series). I know a lot about extraterrestrial flora and space protocols, but less about the crew.

A content warning: this book pushed my “animal harm” buttons several times. It’s not gratuitous or callous, but a logical reaction by the characters, and highlights the challenges of responsible space travel. Even so, the first instance made me very uncomfortable and I had to put down the book for a week.

It’s a different style to her other books, and I enjoyed it, and it works well as a standalone. I’d love to read more in this timeline.

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