A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

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.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Space.  The corporate-dominated rim is populated by humans, augmented humans, computer systems and constructs.  All of which can communicate via the feed.

A team of scientists exploring a ringed planet has hired a security unit for protection.  SecUnits are armed security constructs with some organic parts.  Armor.  Helmet plate.  Energy weapons built into their forearms.

Humans control the constructs.  They tell them where to go and what to do.  A governor programmed within their code ensures that they follow instructions.

At least that is the plan.  But one SecUnit has managed to hack its governor, making it a rogue.  It does as instructed, because it doesn’t want the humans to discovered that it has free will.  Given the opportunity it will hang out in the cargo hold and pick from the almost 35,000 of hours entertainment it has downloaded.  It just wants to be left alone.

Sure, it will perform its job.  It’s been leased by the Company to the scientists.  It will respond to emergency situations and keep its clients safe.  But it doesn’t really care.  No one really takes its good advice anyway.  Heck, it’s not like it is the one who has the experience protecting people.

“SecUnit” is how the humans refer to it.  But it knows its true name.

Murderbot.

All Systems Red is Book 1 in the Murderbot Diaries series written by Martha Wells.  It received the 2018 Hugo Award.  So far five titles chronicle the escapades of Murderbot.  The sixth is due out in spring 2021.

This title is also available as:

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon

killjoysIn The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, Better Living Industries, a megacorporation with a ruthless and tyrannical leader, is working to take over more of the world and to cut off the freedoms and emotions of everyone living on the planet. This has been going on for years with revolutionaries and groups popping up every now and then trying to save what they can of the life they used to live and the people that they used to know. A group of four said revolutionaries became THE group of revolutionaries in this world with their likenesses splattered all over the news. Sadly over ten years ago, they were all killed while trying to save the life of a mysterious young girl that Better Living Industries, aka BLI, was trying to kill. This young girl becomes one of the main subject lines of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Follow along as the Girl works to figure out why BLI tried to kill her, what BLI is doing to all the defunct robots around the world, how these rogue groups are surviving and getting their news, and how the system BLI has set up is really affecting the civilized people in the world and how BLI is able to control the world and its employees.

The writers, Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, along with artist Becky Cloonan, have crafted a very strange, mysterious, and science fiction heavy graphic novel that is rich in details and colors that pop into your subconscious as you follow along with the characters. This graphic novel does not have a traditional linear structure, in the sense that readers will have to pay attention to context and art clues to figure out the difference between the past and the present, but the ideas presented are so intriguing and seemingly plausible that the quick transitions between past and present and also between different characters’ storylines only serve to add to the complex and supremely creative nature of this graphic novel. I highly recommend reading through this graphic novel more than once.