A few years back, when Becky Chambers was a guest of honor at FOGcon, I checked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet out from the library and promptly got hooked. We ended up with a complete set of the Wayfarers books.
So despite the teetering piles of unread books cluttering every flat surface in our place, I got a copy of her new novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which is the first in a new series of Monk and Robot stories.
The dedication page reads:
For anybody who could use a break.
And while I knew I needed a break, I don’t think I realized just how important that was until I read this book.
There are two good reasons why this book provides just the kind of refreshing break that we all need these days.
First of all, it’s the story of the monk Sibling Dex meeting the robot Mosscap while looking for the purpose of their life. Mosscap, descended from the robots who became conscious and left human places on Panga quite a long time back, has come into human territory to find out what humans need.
That is, it is a philosophical book in which two beings get to know each other and discuss the meaning of life while having gentle adventures. In a relaxed, but thoughtful, way, it makes the reader think about what’s really important while it tells some of the history as well as some of the current life on the moon where the characters live.
Secondly, it’s a book by Becky Chambers, who is capable of writing a story in which even terrible things can happen in a gentle way that allows one to reflect deeply without being reduced to anger and fear.
I cannot tell you how much I need to read books that manage to be gentle without being simplistic right now. They give me hope in these troubled times that human beings might someday become civilized.
I don’t want to summarize the story, but I will include one bit about it: The double-decker ox-bike wagon that Sibling Dex lives and travels in while doing their work as a tea service monk is exactly the vehicle I want for road trips.
Also, at one point in the book Mosscap observes, “You understand how resource-heavy consciousness is, yes?” Those who are interested in AI might want to give that point some deep thought.
No more spoilers. Just go read the book. It’s not long and I know you need a break.