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Thursday, July 15, 2021

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers - Review

Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Becky Chambers is a science fiction author based in Northern California. She is best known for her Hugo Award-winning Wayfarers series. Her books have also been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Locus Award, and the Women's Prize for Fiction, among others. She has two new works coming out in 2021: The Galaxy, and The Ground Within (the fourth and final Wayfarers novel), and A Psalm for the Wild-Built (the first of her Monk and Robot novellas). Becky has a background in performing arts, and grew up in a family heavily involved in space science. She spends her free time playing video games, tabletop RPGs, and looking through her telescope. Having hopped around the world a bit, she’s now back in her home state, where she lives with her wife. She hopes to see Earth from orbit one day. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB:
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?

FORMAT: A Psalm for the Wild-Built was published on July 13th, 2021 by Tor.com. It is 160 pages split over 8 chapters. It is told in the third person from the POV of Dex. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.  

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sibling Dex is at a crossroads in their life. They’ve taken up the calling of a tea-service monk, a person who travels from village to village, offering comfort and tea to anyone who wants it. If you need a shoulder to cry on, a person to vent to, or a quiet corner to meditate, Dex is ready with tea and a willing ear. But Dex can’t help but feel that their life is still missing something. But when they make an impulsive decision to take a new route, they didn’t expect to come across a robot, something no one has seen in two centuries. One day the robots woke up and decided to leave humanity to figure out their own existence, and they’ve been gone ever since. But this robot has come in search of what they think is a straight-forward question: What does humanity need?

A Psalm for the Wild Built is one of those books where not a lot happens, yet you still feel utterly content after reading it. Becky Chambers, queen of “slice of life” sci-fi, manages to perfectly capture an emotional state that I think many can identify with: that sense that nothing is really “wrong” with your life, and yet you still feel like it is lacking something. You go through the motions with your job, wondering why there’s an emotional hole that never quite fills. Chambers is just excellent at somehow snaring an emotional essence and distilling it into her writing, and I identified with Dex in a way I haven’t with other characters for a while.

Chambers also excels at creating idyllic visions of the future, where on the whole people are decent and humanity has figured out some big picture questions like how to best live in balance with the environment. This aspect is part of what contributes to the cozy feel of A Psalm for the Wild-Built. The conflict doesn’t come from other people, it comes from the characters wrestling with existential questions that are plaguing them. Dex and their eventual robot acquaintance cover a lot of topics as they converse, always in a way that feels natural and not like a textbook analysis of a problem. This little novella offers food for thought about ecology, personhood, the importance of comfort, and more, all within a conversation between two characters.

CONCLUSION: A Psalm for the Wild-Built is an intimate story of one person’s journey through the wilderness seeking answers. It’s quiet but never dull, and easily flies by in an afternoon. It’s a perfect escape from our chaotic world and offers a hopeful glimpse of a world that doesn’t have all the answers, but gives you the space to try and find them on your own.

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