a psalm for the wild-built

Thursday, December 30, 2021 |
One of the most soothing reads I picked up in recent months? Becky Chambers’ novella A Psalm for the Wild-Built, the first in the Monk and Robot series. I almost didn’t read it myself (I bought it to gift to my Dad for Christmas, as he liked the first Murderbot book, is a big gardener), but the siren song of knowing what a book is about before I gift it was too strong to resist. Plus Tor novellas are notoriously readable, and Psalm was no exception. It’s an affirming, emotional cup of tea, and may be just the balm you need in these chaotic times. 

a psalm for the wild-built by becky chambers book cover
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?

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the story of Dex, a non-binary devotee of the god of small comforts, who retrains as a tea monk (doesn’t that sound like a lovely vocation?). In doing so, they learn a lot about themselves (and humanity) – but still have a deep yearning to leave behind the expectations and responsibilities of society. They live in a post-apocalyptic utopia on Panga, where humans have mostly figured themselves out and live in harmony with the natural world. However, the echoes of a different era – a machine- and robot-centric era, where humans were NOT kind to the planet or each other, linger on in the margins. When Dex meets the first robot anyone has had contact with in hundreds of years, a different kind of communion begins. 

I hadn’t read Becky Chambers’ work before picking up this novella, but in truth, you don’t need to. It’s the start of a new series and an excellent introduction to her character-driven sci-fi sensibility and subtle emotion-filled writing style. I loved this novella quite a lot (for reasons I’ll get into in just a bit), and afterward I picked up The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, her sci-fi debut from several years ago, and finished it almost in one gulp. Chambers has a talent for writing heart-truths, and this novella is no exception. In Psalm Chambers also plays with and muses on ideas of climate collapse and climate justice, robot/AI intelligence, and the value and definitions of vocation and personhood. 

I don’t want to share too much of what happens in this book, because it IS so short, but just to give you a sense of the vibes: I was reading it, thinking to myself, “this is soothing, I feel like planning a camping trip and preparing a big thermos of tea.” I was enjoying a novel, optimistic world and an interesting new pantheon of gods. Then all of a sudden I was sobbing and I had to put the book DOWN immediately, and even now, writing this at a remove, thinking of the little bits of wonder and raw feeling it evoked, my eyes are wet and my heart is clenching and I’m thinking: “My god, yes, I needed that. I am undone.” 

PHEW. Yeah so it’s an unassuming emotion-bomb ready to go off (and I mean that in the best possible way). Beware, good luck, I think you’ll adore it. 

“It is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.” 

Recommended for: fans of quiet sci-fi and fantasy (think: All Systems Red and The House in the Cerulean Sea), anyone who likes their reading with a dose of empathy, and for gardeners, tinkerers, and tea drinkers.

1 comment:

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Yes, I liked this a lot! I was meant to write a review of it but forgot (blush emoji), and I'm hoping I can read and review the second one whenever it comes out. It's just very soft and gentle! I dug it!

Newer Posts Older Posts Home