Published by Tor.com Tom Doherty Assoc. on July 13th 2021
Centuries before, robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered, en masse into the wilderness, never to be seen again. They faded into myth and urban legend.
Now the life of the tea monk who tells this story 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 will need to ask it a lot. Chambers' series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers was recommended to me by Moon and Aurelie (and many more who loved it and said it in passing). Moon said it was ‘so me’, and she was right.
The book follows Sibling Dex as they leave the city to become a tea monk. But even after they’ve become a good tea monk, with several blends, happy customers, and a solid routine, something is missing. Crickets. An extinct species, last seen near the remnants of a sanctuary for the Six gods. When Dex leaves the path to go into the wilderness, he meets Splendid Speckled Mosscap, a sentient robot who wants to learn more about humans. It’s the first interaction between a human and a robot in centuries.
The human and robot relationship has interested me since I first saw The Matrix. I didn’t quite understand it but after having watched it dozens of times, and learning more about the world through the Animatrix, I think I understand better. Philosophy, ethics, and morality are all part of understanding that relationship. The conversations between Dex and Mosscap touch on these various topics in addition to figuring out how each other’s world works. The robots are still around, although not in the original builds. They invented death to still be part of the cycle of nature.
All of this is wrapped in a neatly written novella with a world full of wonder, characters that are interesting, and a religion I want to know more about. Not all of my questions were answered by the end of the book but that’s fine. I don’t mind being left with a sense of wonder, not just about the world, but what’s going to happen next.
I give A Psalm for the Wild-Built 5 stars. I loved the tranquillity, the questions, and the topics Dex and Mosscap discussed. Becky Chambers is excellent and serves the story well. Even in the short format, she knows how to convey just enough to make the world seem alive. I can’t wait for the next one.