It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth 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.
Big thank you to Macmillan/Tor for the review copy, I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I will fully admit that all it took was for me to see Becky Chambers on the cover of this book and it was instantly added to my TBR. I have been a fan of her work for a while so when this popped up for request on Netgalley I hit that button so fast. I will say this is a really hard book to describe, it is heavily character focused and though it does lack a traditional plot, I still found myself completely engrossed in the story and a little in love with our two main characters.
A Psalm for the Wild Built follows Sibling Dex an agender Monk who is struggling to find their place in life. They decide to try the life of a Tea Monk, someone who travels all of Panga dispensing tea and a shoulder to cry on, talk to or simply someone to sit in silence with. No matter how far they travel, or how many people they meet, Dex feels there is something missing from their life, so they decide to do something crazy, something very few humans have returned from, they travel into the wild. They expect to find many things there, but what they don’t expect to find is Splendid Speckled Mosscap, a Robot who has ventured back into the land of humans to ask the question ‘What do people need?’ What follows is a journey of self-discovery and how friendships can be formed in the unlikeliest of places with the unlikeliest of people, and before long Dex will have to answer the question of what exactly it is they need.
Well… it seems that all I’ve been missing from my life is a Tea Monk and his Robot companion. Sibling Dex and Splendid Speckled Mosscap absolutely made this story for me, their interactions were hilarious, heartfelt, educational and sometimes emotional. Dex is initially wary of Mosscap, especially since Robots haven’t been seen in centuries, not since the Transition when they became sentient and Humans divided up the land to give them a place away from humanity. But the more time they spend together, the more Mosscap’s enthusiasm, their willingness to learn rub off on the slightly jaded Dex, and the two realise that they may have more things in common than those that separate them.
Splendid Speckled Mosscap (named after the first thing they saw when they were ‘created’) have taken it upon themselves to travel to the human lands and ‘check in.’ Being ‘Wild Built’ they have never experienced humans before, and their only reference is ‘remnants’ left over from the Robot’s whose parts they were made from. They are eager to learn, watch and experience everything they can. But spending time with sibling Dex makes them realise that their original task of asking ‘what humanity needs’ may not be as simple as it once seemed.
A Psalm for the Wild Built reads as more of a ‘prequel’ than a novella. For only 160 pages we get a near full introduction to Panga, its religious beliefs, as well as it’s history and what exactly caused the Robots to leave human lands for so long. Chambers’ descriptions and writing style absolutely bring Panga and the beings that inhabit it to life, and I could have stayed in that world following Dex and Mosscap for a lot longer. I have mentioned that this is a character driven novella, so those expecting an easy to follow and laid out plot might be in for a bit of a shock, but if Chambers’ writes anything well it is characters that you would follow to the ends of the earth, plot or no.
This is a Novella about loosing your purpose, and the journey you take to find it again. But it’s also about humanity and how we see ourselves as ‘different’ and in some ways superior to the other species that inhabit our planet. Reading A Psalm for the Wild Built is like getting a gentle hug, and I can’t wait to return to Panga and continue on the journey with Sibling Dex and Splendid Speckled Mosscap.