To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Becky Chambers

Book cover

I’m a big Becky Chambers fan, but I felt like this was relatively uninspiring compared to the excellent “Wayfarers” books. The “space odyssey” trope where the story consists of stops at several different planets is a classic and good structure, which has worked for everything from “Star Trek” to “Interstellar” to “Ad Astra,” and it’s fine here too. I liked the premise of crowdfunded space travel (which oddly seems even more far-fetched than most of the actual sci-fi!). Mainly I thought this book lacked the awesome hang-out vibe of the Wayfarers books. Although there were only four characters to focus on, I felt like the book (which is novella-length) didn’t develop them very much. Also, unlike Wayfarers, they are all human, which means we don’t get the sense of wonder Chambers is so great at developing with her alien species (and AIs).

Finally, I thought Chambers’ idea of “somaforming”–modifying the human body to adapt to different planets, in place of built technologies–was an excellent and innovative sci-fi concept with good room for storytelling, but that the book kind of whiffed on the execution. It ends up being a very minor part of the story, where I felt like it should have been a major focus or not introduced at all. Perhaps we’ll get a more complete novel-length treatment down the road!

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars