By: Becky Chambers
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.
I always appreciate how Chambers ends her stories as they are all unique but simultaniously similar in one specific aspect. If you had someone write a story about you while you are still alive, you would expect the conclusion to imply that you had life left. That this story is not the end of your journey but mearly part of it. Chambers implies this continuation with her fictional characters as well. Many of her creations, including Dex, struggle with the same complex and paralyzing life choices that us readers. That’s why her characters are so relatable, and often the story ends with them still grappling with their issues.
That might sound unsatisfying but, to me, it’s brilliant. She shows her readers that it’s okay to lack the answers to life’s toughest questions and to need to take the time to find them. Existence is about trial and error, and sometimes we must pick a path and see where the journey takes us. Rather than feeling hopeless, it reminds me that struggles are normal and that it’s okay to figure out the solution that’s right me. A different solution may be right for you. We are both correct and that’s a beautiful thing.
A Psalm For the Wild-Built feels too short because it’s the charming and tender medicine that a jaded heart needs every now and then. In life, we rarely get what we want but often times get what we need, so I’ll take what I can get. I recognize and appreciate this novella for the 147 pages that it is and that Chambers still took the time to build a world, religion, and culture as the foundation for her morals and clear messages. Were this a full-length novel, I may have been tempted to say that the conversations in this book were a little “on the nose,” but concessions must be made when we have less time with characters.
I always enjoy a good AI character, and Mosscap was no exception. I loved its frank kindness and the discussion of how humans anthrapamorphize objects. Mosscap views itself as an object and therefore does not have a gender, prefering the term it. Dex respects this identiy becuase Dex is nonbinary and goes by they/them. However, there is mild tension when Dex talks about Mosscap like its a person. The robot gets offended becuase it knows it’s not human, and that’s something I’ve never seen in a novel before.
The only thing that may make the story feel disjointed is the heavy time jumps that happen early on. However, I don’t believe this is much of a hinderance as the jumps are tastefully done and necessary for the length of the story. Again, I just wish the story had been longer so I could have gotten more time in this world with these characters. Dex and Mosscap are earnest and incredibly likable, so I’m sad we will not get their perspectives again in future books. Chambers is always consistent in that each book in a series has new characters and new issues to tackle even if they take place in the same universe. I look forward to seeing what awaits readers next in the summer of 2022 with the release of the next Monk and Robot book!
Overall rating: 5
PS. The main religion is slightly confusing but that’s becasue it will get explained further in future books with different monk characters.