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To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Narrated by: Brittany Pressley
Length: 4 hrs and 30 mins
Categories: Fiction, Gay & Lesbian
4.5 out of 5 stars (129 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"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, best-selling, critically acclaimed author of the Wayfarer series.

At the turn of the 22nd 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 15 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.

©2019 Becky Chambers (P)2019 HarperAudio

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

"Gay & Lesbian"?!? This is solid Sci-Fi

This feels like a blatant attempt by Audible to keep potential listeners away from this title by keeping it out of its primary category, which is definitely science fiction. It's a slow-paced novella about a team of astronauts sent on a mission that goes awry -- classic sci-fi fare. As with the rest of the Wayfarers books by Chambers, the focus is on the people and how they cope.

In case you're wondering: the main character mentions that she shares a bed with two of the other characters at different points during the journey. That's it. You can see how I might find that category a little misleading when this is basically 4 hours discussing weather patterns, biological analyses, futuristic body modifications, and space ships.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Brooke
  • Pittsburgh, PA, United States
  • 09-18-19

A Contemplative Story, Worth the Listen

This novella is full of poignant moments on what it means to be an explorer and a scientist. It gets into the gritty details of the work while still fleshing out and maintaining the humanity of a small, diverse group of characters – all framed with an insightful inquiry to the imagined reader.

This was a reflective, hopeful read that is probably – if I'm being honest – not for everyone. Much of the narrative is philosophic in nature, and while there is action, it is often punctuated with long stretches of curious narrative and interpersonal development. The fact that there doesn't seem to be an unnecessary component in the entire narrative, which does offset the contemplative components. The plot is tight and well developed and the whole thing is self-contained, making this a brilliant but quick read.

Fans of Becky Chambers' Wayfarer novels will enjoy this, generally, but it is not related to that work. I also think 'To be Taught, If Fortunate' is on the whole a demonstration of the author's amazing progression since the first entry of that series, which set a high bar to start. the narrator did justice to the story as well, setting the tone the whole way through.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant

This was very different from Ms. Chambers’ prior works. Far more reflective on what science means, what it is for, and why it should be done, and how a few probing explorers would feel and act in exploring new worlds, rather than how entire societies would feel and act and develop in space. Still thoughtful as to social patterns, but doing so through a solitary group isolated together, rather than as part of a larger whole. Very well written, as always with Ms. Chambers. The narrator, Ms. Pressley, does not seem to naturally take to male voices, but this is a minor limitation, particularly given how well she expresses the wonder and thoughtfulness that are the core of this book.

This is not an action book. But I found it gripping and finished it in a go and listened at 1x speed so as to miss nothing. A lot of things happen, and it does remind me a lot of The Martian with less humor but wider intent and scope. The narrator and the rest of her small crew journey to several distant worlds to explore for science’s sake, and discover life. And that discovery and how they react (on several different worlds) provoke analysis of what science is and should be for. That analysis is fascinating and unusual.

This is overlayed with the fact that communication with Earth takes 14 years so their news is always that far behind, plus the crew were in hibernation for twice that along, so even the out-of-date updates are jarring, as times have changed. A lot. This, also, was well-envisioned.

Ultimately, the brief shining moment that led to space exploration for its own sake worked to get our crew into space, but what about since then? What is Earth like so many decades after they left? I did not see the conclusion coming, and afterward, could not have envisioned a better one.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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This is categorized as gay and lesbian fiction????

Another miscategorized book. It drives me nuts when they categorize books in such a wildly inaccurate way because the reader doesn't get what s/he's looking for. There are only a couple of references to the main character's relationship with another woman. And I think she also has a relationship with a man. This is sci-fi--not great, but enough to hold my attention. The fact that it's a novella helps. Chambers' Wayfarer series is more interesting.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

A wonderful sleep aid

Starts off with a strong set up but quickly falls off. Each succeeding world they visit, and the minor problems they encounter on them, are more forgettable than the last. Chambers tries to get you to empathize with the plight of her characters, but they come off as whiny and uninteresting. Do yourself a favor and skip this one and check out her Wayfarer series instead.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Both heartbreaking and hopeful

I think this is Becky Chambers' best book yet. Here, she used her character-driven, slice-of-life style to probe truly big questions: the nature, purpose and importance of scientific discovery, what happens when human frailties collide with noble goals, and whether a long-term space mission has any relevance when cataclysms continue to transform our home on Earth.

The story builds slowly, immersing the reader in the reality of the characters' lives light-years from home, and then unleashing a series of circumstances and challenges that leave them with an impossible choice to make. How they respond is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A weak production by a great author

Some sections of this were great, like most of the author’s other work, but it had some serious problems. First, the narration explains, thoroughly and in great detail, existing scientific concepts that are part of a standard science curriculum (think high school chemistry in some cases, college chemistry in others). This is extremely dull to slog through. Possibly it’s aimed at YA readers? That’s the only acceptable explanation I can think of.

Second, the narrator is a very, very bad fit for this character. Our protagonist as written seems to me to be a starry-eyed optimist: not naive, but fundamentally enthusiastic about everything, especially scientific discovery and the nature of the universe. In order for the breathy tone of the writing to even come close to working, we need this charming sense of awe to make us want to come along for the ride. But the narrator for this recording delivers everything in a flat, rueful tone, the kind you would use if you were telling the “this is how it happened” lead-up to an inevitable disaster. While there are some nail-biting sections where this works, it renders every other section both weirdly tense and unbearably boring. It’s a really strange way to deliver a book; at times it’s a flatness bordering on sarcasm, although the text is not sarcastic.

Some episodes of the story will really stick with me in a pleasant way, but I think this needed a lot more workshopping by both the author and the narrator.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Superb

This is a 4th win for Becky Chambers, and for her readers. I'm so glad I came across A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet not long after it was published.

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  • 4thace
  • Northern California
  • 10-17-19

A lot packed into a novella length piece

The story is entertaining enough, with the various exoplanets depicted in as individual a fashion as you might want, but the characters don't get to work on the problem hinted at in the first paragraph much at all until well through the tale. The two male characters are more boy-like than your typical heroic space traveller, the two female ones fit that model more closely. It is pretty obvious from the beginning that the crisis is going to involve the loss of contact with the home planet and the main question the reader has in mind is how that's going to manifest itself in their lives. As science fiction crews go, the four of them make a relatively low-conflict team even despite the way their hormonal patches reshape them more or less radically as the circumstances of each landing mission dictate. It seems like the changes in the bodies don't impose such large changes in the disposition of their minds which tolerate the tinkering rather well.

None of the somatic modifications that are delivered to the crew by patch makes a big impact on the story. A little extra muscle fiber, enhanced radiation resistance, those kinds of things are forgotten within a few minutes after setting forth on a new planet's surface.

It is ambitious for a novella to feature five quite different environments to set the action (four exoplanets plus microgravity) and the author does a pretty good job at making them easy for the reader to keep separate. The technology of the 22nd century is enough to do some pretty good remote observation of planets fifteen light years away from the Solar System, so they have some idea of what kind of what to expect, even down to the specifics of individual surface features, but they still manage to get surprised badly on one of their landings, the one which serves as the one major source of frustration for the crew. The biochemical reveal at the very end was interesting but from what I now about proteins I don't understand exactly how this would work in practice and the topic is only sketched out to a slight degree. If this were a full-length novel it would seem strange to be left hanging by this and at other similar points, but the novella length makes it seem natural that the narrator would have to move on without dwelling on the worldbuilding. Instead, the author makes the revelation part of the theme where she puts forward a forceful concept of why deep space exploration of the kind depicted ultimately has value to humanity. It is not at all a story of conquest of unnown worlds or economic advantages enabled through scientific exploration, but something with its roots firmly in philosophy.

The narration of this audiobook was good, with a reasonable amount of attention paid to conveying diverse character voices. It took some time for me to get used to but it turned out not to get in the way in the end.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

pure "science" fiction

the author packs a lot of science into this riveting journey to new worlds and leaves you with the big questions about the fundamental mysteries about who we are and this strange stage of the universe that we play out our lives on