By: Becky Chambers
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Series: Monk and Robot #1
Becky Chambers is known for works set in futuristic fictional worlds that often drift more towards the slice-of-life than something heavily plotted. A Psalm for the Wild-Built is no different, the story following a tea monk and a wild-built robot they meet one day on the fringes of civilization.
Sibling Dex is a nonbinary monk, one who is searching for something—something more, something different, something their fellow monks, family, and friends don’t seem to understand. They quickly become a tea monk, an individual who travels from town to town, listens to people’s troubles, and gives them the perfect cup of tea to suit their emotional needs and current circumstances. They bring peace to people and provide a kind, listening ear to any and all who need it. Despite the change, Dex still feels something is amiss and goes off in search of a long-abandoned monastery buried deep within the wilds that lay outside of human civilization.
On the edge of the wilderness, Dex meets a robot, beings spoken of largely in legends and history books but never seen. This robot has a single question, one they’ve been tasked with asking humanity, “What do people need?”
This is a slow-paced, slice-of-life journey that follows Dex as they search for something they cannot name and cannot wholly explain, but something that utterly necessary for them. Likewise, it is about a nigh unanswerable question—what is it that humanity needs, especially when life is as idyllic as it is possible to be? These questions are grappled with—sometimes answered, sometimes not—but always explored with deep care.
The human and robot don’t quite understand one another at first, and Dex’s trepidation at meeting one of the sentient beings no longer seen in their world is only topped by the robot’s curiosity at what the modern world and modern humans are like. The unlikely pair are simply a joy to read about, whether they are musing on various concepts or learning about themselves and the history of their world through discussing their cultures and experiences.
They also must face the dangers of the untamed wild, forcing what are often introspective ramblings to become tangible action. It is one thing to wax poetic around a campfire on the dangers a long-abandoned road may prove and quite another to be forced to deal with the reality of wild animals and the simples ravages time has wreaked upon what had once been a well-traversed landscape.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built paints a slow picture of a post-industrial world, one far removed from our own. Unlike similar fare, this is an incredibly uplifting, hopeful story, one in which the world didn’t succumb to any number of ever-looming modern dangers, but where people live in harmony with nature and one another. It is the sort of story that is a joy to read, one that lingers, one that begs to be read.
It is strangely comforting that even in a world that may seem idyllic, people still search for their true purpose. Finding fulfillment both in your work and your personal life is difficult, even for Dex. Even so, it can be found, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places and with the unlikeliest of people.