Hello book lovers! Apologies on the delay in getting this out to you all! With a big name like Becky Chambers as our September book it took a little bit longer for the author interview to come back. But it now has and I am so excited to share it with you!
On Saturday the 14th of September The Cosy Reading Book Club once again met to discuss their book of the month. The book for September was To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
This was our first time doing a science fiction novel for book club and I for one loved it! I know I wasn’t the only one but I also think there were a few people who were pleasantly surprised by this one and the interesting questions it posed.
But honestly I think it was good for some us to read outside of our comfort zone and with only 136 pages this was a good one to start with!
Thanks to the amazing people over at Hachette Australia we were able to interview the author, Becky Chambers, and ask her some questions about the book and her inspiration behind it.
with Becky Chambers
Where did you get the idea for To Be Taught, If Fortunate?
There were two big components that fused together. The first is about a decade or so of personal existential angst about where the future of human spaceflight is headed (if I could sum that up easily, I wouldn’t have written a book!). The other was a chance meeting with biochemist Dr. Lisa Nip, who introduced me to the idea of genetically engineered adaptations for survival in space. Her blowing my mind wide open was the catalyst I needed to weave all the rest of it together.
How much of the science in this book was accurate? How much (if any) was invented for the book?
I tried to keep this story as accurate as possible. Somaforming is obviously not a technology that exists, but it’s something real scientists are thinking about. Dr. Nip was kind enough to consult with me during the early stages of the book, so that I could keep all the genetic supplementations within the realm of what’s hypothetically possible. Torpor is something that’s entirely science-fictional at the moment, but there is real-world interest in that as well. It could work, but we’re just not there yet. Otherwise, everything in the book is cribbed straight from reality. The question about amino acid chirality is real, as is the asteroid hypothesis. The dangers of solar flares are real. The physiological effects of living in space are real.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
I’m lucky in that I have awesome people whose brains I could pick for this project. For everything related to astrobiology, I could talk to my mom, who is an educator within that field (her colleagues helped me stock the Merian’s lab with the right equipment). My brother is a chemistry tutor, which is not my area of expertise at all, so I bugged him about a few details. Beyond that, it was a matter of brushing up on spacecraft and astronauts. I’m an enormous amateur enthusiast when it comes to space science, and I do volunteer outreach in my local community on space exploration, so a lot of it was just a matter of remembering tidbits on this and that, then hitting the internet to make sure I got them right.
The way new creatures are named when discovered was fascinating. Is this fact or something you made up for the book?
If you’re talking about OCA’s classification system for alien lifeforms, that’s one-hundred-percent made up. We’ll have to find some real aliens before we come up with something like that! It just made sense to me that our terminology would fall short when you’re looking at a creature that maybe seems fish-like in its features or shape, but obviously can’t be a fish, because fish are an Earth thing.
Now, if you’re asking about whether scientists smash their own names into bad Latin in order to come up with scientific names: oh yeah, all the time.
Was the intention of this novel to use science fiction to highlight the damage we are doing to our earth?
Not at all. The intention was to make the reader ask questions about the nature of exploration and about whether human spaceflight is something we should continue to pursue (and if so, why).
How long did it take you to write To Be Taught, If Fortunate?
About five months, while juggling other projects.
Everyone in our book club loved this book and we were desperate to know where the story went next! If you were to write an epilogue what would it include?
This is a difficult question for me to answer, because I very deliberately didn’t want to share my opinion of where the crew of the Merian should go next. If I answer the question for you, then the book becomes a statement about my personal feelings on human spaceflight, rather than asking the reader what they think. So, I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave this one shrouded in mystery.
If you had the opportunity to travel to unknown worlds and change your body to adapt, would you?
So long as the spacecraft was spacious and well-designed, yes. I’m claustrophobic and also very attached to my creature comforts. I’d be an absolutely terrible astronaut if things were too spartan.
Where does your inspiration for other planets come from?
From the real thing. I looked at what we know about exoplanetary systems, and I picked the types of planets that I thought would be most fun to explore. I’m all about icy moons, so that was an obvious choice. “Superearths” like Mirabilis are far more common in our galaxy than terrestrial planets like our own. I just grabbed ideas from various NASA websites and ran with them.
How did writing To Be Taught, If Fortunate differ from writing your other novels?
The most challenging thing was the word count. My novels are all a hundred thousand words or more; as a novella, To Be Taught had a cap of forty thousand words. That is an enormous difference in pacing and structure, especially since I had to establish an entirely new setting. Keeping things that tight was tough for me. I like having room to spread out and get wordy. Unsurprisingly, I ended up writing a lot more than I could actually use. I had to be ruthless about making cuts.
What made you want to be a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve been writing ever since I was a little kid, and if you’d asked me in elementary school, I would’ve told you that I wanted to write books. But I took a detour in my teens and early twenties, and studied theater. I loved the collaborative creativity of it, and for a good chunk of my life, that’s all I wanted to do. But once I started working in theater, I noticed that after the work day was over, my colleagues would all go to one-act festivals or to rehearsals for artsy pet projects, whereas I would go home to watch Star Trek and play video games and read sci-fi. The stories I was most interested in weren’t happening on stage. Eventually, I decided to listen to that, and pivoted back to the thing I’d been drawn to from the start.
What is your writing process? Do you need to stick to a strict schedule, or do you write when inspiration strikes?
As I’m both a full-time author and the sole income earner in my household, keeping a schedule is the only way to go. All my current work is on contract, not on spec, so I have to hit those deadlines! That said, I do give myself a comfy amount of flexibility within that. I don’t outline, and I don’t write in linear order, so I’m typically not strict about what I’m writing on any given day, so long as writing gets done. Similarly, if I wake up one morning and am more in the mood to get my chores done first thing, or if it’s a gorgeous day and I’d rather go for a hike than be at my desk, that’s fine, but that means I have to get that day’s work done at night instead. I’m very good about sticking to that. I wouldn’t eat, otherwise.
What are your top five favourite books you’ve read this year?
Here’s a dirty secret about many full-time authors: we don’t have a ton of time to read, and if we’re on a tight work schedule (as I’ve been this whole year), often the last thing we want to do at the end of a jam-packed day of writing is pick up a book. I wish I’d read enough books this year to be able to have five stand-out favorites, but as I haven’t, I hope you’ll accept just one: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders.
Do you have any future projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I can’t go too much into detail right now, but I will say that I’ve got another Wayfarers novel incoming, plus a pair of standalone solarpunk novellas.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
First of all, thank you so much for reading the book. I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoyed it.
Second: There are six human beings living and working in space right now aboard the International Space Station. I encourage you to learn about who they are, what they’re up to, and the real-world questions pertaining to the future of astronauts.
BOOKS WE ARE LOVING
Each month at book club we talk about and share with the group what books we have read in the last month and loved!
Here are the books the Cosy Reading Book Club attendees have been enjoying in the lead up to our September book club:
- Memoirs of a Book Thief by Alessandro Tota and Pierre Van Hove
- Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
- Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- The Yield by Tara June Winch
- The Rip by Mark Brandi
- Scrublands by Chris Hammer
- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
- Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Keep tuned for the next wrap up and author interview with Amanda Niehaus author of The Breeding Season.