A Psalm for the Wild-Built: Tea and empathy

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambersfirst novella in the MONK AND ROBOT series, A Psalm for the Wild-Built (2021), is a lovely and optimistic tale of a tea monk who, while seeking an answer to the question of “What am I looking for?” meets a robot looking for an answer to the question of “What do you need, and how can I help?” More generally, the robot is trying to answer the question of what all people need, but upon the moon of Panga (or anywhere you might find humans, truthfully), that’s not exactly a simple question to answer.

Sibling Dex, the tea monk, is an acolyte of Allalae (God of Small Comforts, represented as a bear), one of the six gods of Panga. Dex has been a tea monk for only a few years, having left Panga’s only City in search of cricket song and a useful purpose, but is well-loved and warmly received by the people whose remote settlements Dex visits on a regular basis. Still, their duties and ministrations aren’t fulfilling their own needs — needs Dex has trouble articulating until the end of the novella — and when Dex’s campsite is visited by Splendid Speckled Mosscap, who eagerly proposes traveling together, Dex’s travels in their marvelous ox-bike wagon take a most unexpected detour. Mosscap is an emissary of the robots descended from artificial constructs who, long ago, “left the factories and departed for the wilderness,” and who have lately taken an interest in how humans have been doing since then. Together, they might not do anything so grand as reshape the course of human civilization, but they might do a whole lot of good as they wander.

Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers

Chambers’ story is beautifully written, with a contemplative tone that encourages readers to relax and let the narrative flow. Humans on Panga have done their best to live within their environment rather than dominate it, the theology of the Sacred Six is well-constructed (and extremely appealing), and the quickly-growing camaraderie between Dex and Mosscap is delightful. Dex’s winding journey of self-discovery is one that’s sure to resonate with readers, especially as more and more people are beginning to ask themselves what really matters in their lives post-2020; Mosscap’s search for answers and matter-of-fact approach to philosophical matters are counterbalanced by its sheer wonderment over the animals, artifacts, and overall experiences it encounters. The two make for a fascinating and well-suited pair.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built ends in such a way that could be considered self-contained, but I truly hope Chambers has many more MONK AND ROBOT stories in mind. As soon as I finished the last sentence, I started re-reading from the beginning so that I could soak my brain in the warmth and comfort all over again. I can’t recommend this one highly enough, folks.

Published in July 2021. In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk & Robot series gives us hope for the future. It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend. One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered. But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how. They’re going to need to ask it a lot. Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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2 comments

  1. Zina /

    I’m interested. =) Sounds visionary.

    • Jana Nyman /

      I can’t say enough nice things about this novella, haha. I hope you get a chance to read it, Zina!

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