Becky Chambers, you have done me dirty again with an incredible story, beautiful scenery, and the age old question of why we’re all here in the first place. How do I even distill what I’ve read into a book review?
Here’s more about A Psalm for the Wild-Built
Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new series gives us hope for the future.
It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth 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’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?
Thanks, Becky Chambers, for triggering my anxiety. It takes an incredible author to write a 150-page novella and bring me down to the level. But I’ll get to that particular part in a minute. Let’s first clear our heads and discuss the other components of the book.
This book reminded me a lot of her other novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. They’re not the same in any way, shape, or form, but the concepts of humanity, and of hope are so strong with both of these stories. It’s so undeniable that Becky Chambers is rooting 100% for humanity and our possibilities.
The writing here is so interesting. It moves quickly through the beginning while you’re getting to know Dex and the particular way they came about becoming a tea monk. Although it moved quickly, it didn’t skimp on actually explaining and not in an info-dump kind of way. Once you meet Mosscap, the robot, then it starts to slow down and the story of their adventures begins.
It feels like the tone changes from being fun to serious every few minutes. One minute you’re laughing that a robot can’t do math and then the next you’re wondering what it means to truly be happy. It’s a weird dichotomy, but at the same time it feels so accurate to how we all perceive the world. One minute we’re trying to figure out who we are and the next we’re laughing at some cat doing something stupid on the internet. It does such a good job at painting this picture, especially the relationship between Mosscap and Dex.
And these two characters were really ones you want to follow until the end of time. Mosscap is this sentient robot who likes watching trees mature and understanding how bugs work. Dex is this unhappy tea monk who gave up their former life to only feel empty in their new life. I see a lot of myself in both of these characters. I see myself as the precocious robot who’s always learning something new and different, but I also see a lot of Dex and trying to answer that tough life question that no one has an answer to.
I also really loved the descriptions of this world. It feels like ours except humanity has taken the steps to move away from the dangers our world is facing. They returned to the earth rather than continuing to modernize and materialize. And the earth returned to the lush environment it once was and in so many ways it felt idyllic and special. The further Dex moves away from the urban settings into the wilderness, the more they have the space to understand what they want and what is important to them. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have the distraction of modernity in their face that it allows them the space to think. The fact that the robots retreated into the woods and spend their lifetimes examining how the world works and how life lives is just an added reminder that there’s a cycle to all of this; to all of us.
Which brings me to the big question that comes up in this book. This book raises some of the biggest existential questions that I’ve avoided because every time I think about them, it gives me anxiety. What is the point of it all? What do you do when you have everything and somehow, it’s not enough?
I feel like many people will answer this differently and Becky Chambers provides no answers in her book. It’s the question philosophers have been trying to answer their entire lives and they all died before they found it. This is the part of the book that will make you think and it isn’t there to make you anxious or nervous or trigger my anxiety (despite me making some jokes). It’s there for you to examine your world, how you perceive it, what matters ultimately, and how are you fulfilling that.
Overall, an exciting new story from Becky Chambers. I’m enamored by its characters, their objective to ask if humans need anything, and the deeper conversations about what it means to be conscious. I cannot wait for book two and the rest of their journeys together.
Thanks to Tordotcom for the gifted copy of this book. My opinions haven’t been influenced by the author or the publisher.