A tea monk and an intelligent robot search for meaning in this brief, optimistic read from the author of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Thoughtful and gently paced, it offers a sweet taste of what’s surely a longer journey to come in future books.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers imagines a world in which the type of life we know today has been relegated to the past, a quaint and quirky way of life now mercifully gone. Instead, humans have strictly confined their towns and cities, leaving half their planet as wilderness for nature to run free. Somewhere in that wilderness, however, are some originally man-made creatures: robots who long ago gained sentience and left humanity in order to live freely in nature. Their fate has been unknown, until now. Sibling Dex, a monk (who uses they/them pronouns) from the Meadow Den monastery in a bustling city, has begun craving wide-open spaces and cricket songs. So they leave the city to become a wandering tea monk. Eventually even small towns and villages become too much civilization, and Dex seeks out wilder places, only to come face to face with the robots’ emissary, Mosscap, sent to answer the question: What do humans need?
This may be the gentlest book I’ve ever read – tea wagons, herbs, lush forests, biking through the countryside, and much more combine to make a beautifully soothing backdrop for the story. The god Sibling Dex serves is even called the God of Small Comforts. Which is not to say that everything is happiness and sunshine: Dex struggles with feelings of dissatisfaction, and their customers at their tea wagon also have their share of hard problems to bear – issues which neither Dex nor new friend Mosscap can solve, only soothe with a carefully brewed cup of tea. But being soothed, by tea, by nature, or other small comforts, still helps even if the problem remains.
It’s part ecological thought experiment, part philosophical parable, and all-around-healing. If you’re in need of relief or retreat, try this beautiful, meditative book for a breath of fresh air. And then, if you’re like me, wait eagerly for the next installment.