A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

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.

*****

Review:

This is my first Becky Chambers book and wow was I blown away. I’ve heard for years how feel-good optimistic they are and how I definitely need to read them, Well, with the announcement of this new solarpunk series, I have now seen the wonder of Becky Chambers. Though, I don’t know if I’d describe this book as feel-good sci-fi so much as I would quarter-life crisis sci-fi that hits just a liiiiiittle too close to home.

Our main character, Sibling Dex, works as a traveling tea-monk, setting up temporary tea stands in remote villages, prepared to offer comfort to your day’s troubles and a warm cup of tea to warm the spirits. Their eventual robot companion, Mosscap, becomes the first robot to come into contact with humans in centuries, brimming full of questions with a desire to understand how humans now function, what they still need now that robots have been disappeared for so long. These questions, to the extent possible, are explored throughout the novella after an unlikely encounter between the two.

At times, A Psalm for the Wild-Built is light-hearted and whimsical, which the solarpunk, post-industrial setting really seems to aid. In a society where humanity has decided never to build a machine too close to a robot in fear it will gain sentience, thus violating a deal with the existing robots, the world feels to run on more simpler technology. Add Dex’s rural setting in their attempt to get away from The City, and the overall vibe of this book has one of friendliness, comfort among close friends, and warmth. There’s a closeness and a comfort I’ve rarely felt while reading a book, like drinking from a soothing hot mug of tea on a chilly day.

At other times, reading this book felt like the biggest attack on my personal life decisions. Dex, a young 20-something, makes a dramatic decision to leave the city and become a traveling tea monk in a quarter-life crisis searching for a life’s purpose. As a recent college grad myself doubting every life decision I’ve made in the past year, Dex’s mindset, anxieties, and worries hit much harder than I ever would have expected. One particular quote early on had me putting my Kindle down because damn, what an attack. (precise wording of the quote may change in the final version)

“… the ego-crushing experience of having to explain to their entire sharp-eyed family that this plan they’d laboriously pitched as the right thing to do actually had them feeling quite intimidated after a grand total of one try, and that they now, at the age of twenty-nine, would like very much to return to the safe shelter of their childhood for an indefinite amount of time until they’d figured out just what they hell they were doing”

Was I expecting to face the sudden realization of the source of my anxieties from the past year? No, of course not. Was a rudely confronted with them all the same? Yes. Absolutely. Throughout this novella are heavy themes of the values of one’s efforts, and the confrontation of treating goals as a metric for personal worth. The topics dig deep and truly force both Dex, and the reader, to really confront these ideas head on. I fully admit to crying several times as I’d read, as a “feel-good” fiction novella forced me to confront ideas I’d tried to bury under work and goals. It hurt. It hurt a lot. But I am so damn thankful I read this.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I was expecting a cute feel-good novella with a non-binary tea monk and a robot learning about humanity and themes of eco-friendly-ness. Unexpectedly, I was simultaneously forced to confront my quarter-life crisis head-on and cried aggressively as I read. Would highly recommend to any reader in their early 20s facing major life decisions (or regretting them) and also those who like robots and tea.


r/Fantasy Bingo Squares:

  • Optimistic SFF
  • Novel Featuring Exploration (hard mode)
  • Climate Fiction (hard mode)

Publication Date: 13 July 2021
Publisher: Tor.com
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 160
Word Count: ~34,000
ISBN: B08H831J18
Buy It Here: Amazon Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

2 thoughts on “A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

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