To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
To be Taught if Fortunate takes us to the 22nd century. In this future, space exploration is citizen-funded, ‘exploration for exploration’s sake. Apolitical, international, non-profit.’ Reflecting the Prime Directive of the Star Trek universe, astronauts are forever careful to minimise their impact on the planets they explore: ‘We try to be mindful tenants and ethical observers.’ To this end, astronauts use ‘somaforming’, synthetic biological supplementations that enable them to visit other planets, survive their environments and leave nothing behind that could damage the planet’s own delicate balance. As our narrator, Ariadne explains, ‘I’m an observer, not a conqueror. I have no interest in changing other worlds to suit me. I choose the lighter touch: changing myself to suit them.’
Ariadne and her fellow crew members have travelled 15 light years (in stasis) to explore 4 planets.
As they perform their tasks, the crew discuss the ethics of space exploration and what they miss most about home. Chambers explains complex science well and explores the ethics of space travel with insight and without hyperbole. This is a surprising gentle book: it’s characters are not interested in glory and honours, but rather in doing what is right and honourable. Highly recommended.