Sci-Fi Novellas

‘To Be Taught, If Fortunate’ Review: The Glory of Space Anthropology

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a masterwork of galactic anthropology fueled by the excitement of stepping foot on a new world and discovering life. It’s no secret that Chambers is a stellar writer, and every page of this novella carefully crafted to convey the wonder of space exploration. A shroud of difficulties from distant Earth permeate the outskirts of the narrative but never tarnish the thrills of cataloging new life. This is a love story to space and its many possibilities, expertly rendered.

And now on to a few of my favorite things!


This isn’t a gadgets and fancy spaceflight kind of book. It’s as close to our current experience as it gets, plus a few technological upgrades that make distant travel possible. We see the very real effects of space travel on the body and mind, whether it’s the claustrophobia of being trapped in a small space for months or the unmitigated joy of walking on foreign soil amidst living things. We get to experience everything through the eyes of a protagonist who didn’t grow up dreaming of the stars. That shift in perspective lends a greater sense of fascination when she excitedly partakes in new discoveries.


This is the most exciting part of To Be Taught, If Fortunate. With life on all four of the planets, we get a wide variety of experiences. On three of the planets, life varies given the extreme conditions found on the worlds. One has a few fish varieties, another his minor organisms, and yet another has pesky creatures that tarnish that excursion. The real sense of wonder lies on the second planet they visit. It’s a relative utopia of almost unimaginable lifeforms, brimming with creatures straight out of an abstract painting. They catalog thousands of species and never get over the sheer joy of the job. You get a real sense of the anthropological part of space exploration. 

This is a big spoiler, so be warned!


The big conflict lies in Earth’s status. They’re separated from the daily news cycle by fourteen years, creating an enormous information gap. As the news gradually worsens, it becomes evident there might not be a home to go back to. It turns the typical space exploration narrative on its head. Instead of the astronauts being stranded in space, on the verge of death due to catastrophic engine failure or some horrifying monster, they’re floating along just fine with enough fuel to travel home. Earth disappears from their communications, leaving them in constant question of what happened. We’re left with a precarious ending and no answers on the fate of everyone back home. Surprisingly, it’s not frustrating. Chambers leaves a bit of hope for the future, banking on the fact that somebody has survived and will contact them soon. It’s equal parts hopefulness and fear, leaving you with the inkling that another adventure in this universe might be on the horizon.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate
By Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

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