A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
Publisher: Tor Dot Com
Publication date: 13 July 2021
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 160 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
Once again, Becky Chambers strikes gold with her wonderful and insightful science fiction novella, Psalm for the Wild-Built. The start of a new series, this book presents the reader with a philosophical and thoughtful tale of friendship and finding your purpose.
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 a quiet and lovely story, continuing Chambers’ streak as the queen of cosy science fiction. This book takes place on a world called Panga, a world that seems to have some similarities to our own, that is in a truly post-industrial age. We follow Sibling Dex as they take up a new vocation as a tea monk — a member of their religious order who travels around the human settlements, bringing hot tea and a shoulder to lean on. However, Dex feels like there is something missing from their life, prompting the main themes of the book. What do humans need? How do they achieve it within their limited lifespan? How do we find happiness and satisfaction within our world?
A major theme of the book is sustainability. Chambers uses the split of robots from humankind and the way people have adjusted their lives to be more sustainable as a launching point for her signature take on a better humankind. However, one of the reasons I love her writing so much is that she doesn’t create utopian societies. Despite living in a seemingly wonderful and beautiful place, Dex feels out of place and unfulfilled. In this way, her worlds and her characters always feel so incredibly relatable.
I really loved the use of tea and tea rituals to anchor us to this world and way of life. Tea, of course, has a long-standing culture of comfort and sharing and I loved the way that she wove this into the book. Dex is almost like your friendly neighbourhood bartender, always happy to provide you with the drink you need and a place to escape your problems for a little while. They take on the burdens of passers-by and provides a moment of peace, even if only for a short time. In fact, I would have happily read more about their journey across the countryside, serving up comfort to those who need it.
The cast of this book is a small one — we really only follow Mosscap and Dex. While Dex took me a moment to warm to, I immediately fell in love with the wandering robot Mosscap. I am a sucker for cheerful robots trying to understand the complexities of human nature, and Mosscap was no exception. Their chipper and upbeat nature, as well as their differing takes on Dex’s questions and problems, was just wonderful. I did come to appreciate Dex and their somewhat bumbling and chaotic nature and really enjoyed watching their character grow as they interacted with Mosscap and faced their problems head-on. The friendship at the core of this book is just so lovely.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a big hit for me. I really loved what Chambers was trying to do with this book and the ideas she presented, especially sustainability and satisfaction. Much like a hot cuppa after a stressful day, A Psalm for the Wild-Built wraps the reader in warmth and sense of calm, all while making you think.
Want to preorder A Psalm for the Wild-Built? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):
Book Depository | Blackwells