RogerBW's Blog

To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers 18 April 2022

2019 science fiction novella. Four interstellar explorers discover wonders.

And to say much more than that would be to spoil this rather fine character-driven short work: these are slower-than-light explorers, who hibernate not only for the long haul from Earth but between the planets in the system they're exploring, and have their bodies lightly remade to minimise the amount of life support equipment they'll need and impact they'll have on the worlds they visit.

This is not an adventure story, though there are some moments of peril and some fateful decisions; it's much more like watching a group of (real) scientists at work. But there's also a pervasive attitude that these are explorers, not colonists, that they're here for the knowledge not the exploitable resources; and, isolated from Earth by a 14-year signal lag, they must make their own microcommunity, and if that isn't exactly what Earth now wants, well, too bad.

It is thoroughly inconclusive, and I found that unfortunate; I like resolution in stories, even if as here posing the question may be considered rather more important than answering it. But in spite of that, something that usually puts me off a work, I very much enjoyed it. If you've read other Chambers, this is probably closest to Record of a Spaceborn Few in that not a whole lot actually happens, but the things that do happen are of great importance to the people they happen to.

What is space, to you? Is it a playground? A quarry? A flagpole? A classroom? A temple? Who do you believe should go, and for what purpose? Or should we go at all?

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