By: Becky Chambers
After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.
They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.
Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?
Just like A Psalm for the Wild-Built, this novella is more of a philosophical meandering about human need and satisfaction than a story with a conflict. There are no high stakes, no one is going to die or lose anything they care about, and the characters are all kind and happy. Not happy in a creepy dystopian way either but a genuine happiness that comes with supportive communities and the indulgence in simple pleasures.
In this world, people don’t really want for anything and their needs tend to be divided into two categories: an immediate need for something to help themselves or their community (like a mended bike or a bridge repair) or something abstract and esoteric (like companionship or purpose). Mosscap begins to discover that, as a robot, it can assist with the first but has no idea how to help with the second. It begins to wonder if the question, “What do people need?” is an appropriate one when the answers are so complicated. How can such a seemingly straightforward and simple question not have a simple answer? Sibling Dex tries to assist Mosscap with its understanding of human culture but finds describing their emotions and perspective frustrating at times. Dex is still working to find their own way as well since they no longer feel the same satisfaction from performing their tea service as they used to and they aren’t sure why. Both characters have their own personal crisis about their purpose and begin to explore the acceptance of just existing rather than pursuing a goal.
The ambling and relaxed tone of this story will likely resonate with anyone looking for something more “fluffy” but deter anyone who doesn’t want to ponder philosophy. I would argue that the story is easily digestible and doesn’t get in the weeds too much but it’s still intended to make you think more than passively enjoy it. It’s made me wonder what I feel I need. What would I say? More money, a vacation, or more free time to pursue my passions? Are those really the things I feel like I need or is that born from a capitalistic society and a work culture that churns and burns people? If I lived in this book’s universe where all my basic needs were met and there was no use for traditional currency, what would I say then? The truth is, I don’t know and I think that’s the point.
The short length and lack of understanding of how the religion of the universe works are the only two detractors for me. I hope that will feel resolved when the series is done and I can read them back-to-back one day. Until then, I look forward to the next novella with a charming name.
Overall rating: 5