As refreshing as a cup of tea: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

" 'What is it you want?'

The robot returned to its chair, leaning forward and folding its hands together in a pose of pure earnestness.

'I am here,' it said, 'to see how humans have gotten along in our absence.' "

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

This little book is just gorgeous. It's refreshing and full of hope - just like a cup of tea.

It's the story of a monk going through an existential crisis.

Dex changes jobs to satisfy a feeling that life is not quite right, and becomes a tea monk, dispensing tea and sympathy. An essential community service, if you ask me.

When Dex meets a robot - a thing a human on Panga hasn't done for centuries - it doesn't budge their feeling of dissatisfaction with life.

Dex's Keatsian pip; the irritant in an otherwise highly successful life, appears to centre around an absence of crickets, almost extinct on Panga and rumoured only to be found in one place...

A forest floor, the Woodland villagers knew, is a living thing. Vast civilisations lay within the mosaic of dirt: hymenopteran labyrinths, rodential panic rooms, life-giving airways sculpted by the traffic of worms, hopeful spiders' hunting cabins crash pads for nomadic beetles, trees shyly locking toes with one another. It was here that you'd find the resourcefulness of rot, the wholeness of fungi. Disturbing these lives through digging was a violence.

At the point at which civilisation on Panga teetered on the brink of ecological disaster, something remarkable happened. All the robotic machines on Panga gained consciousness...and then disappeared into the wilderness.

" 'Robots are not people. We're machines, and machines are objects. Objects are its." 'I'd say you're much more than just an object,' Dex said.

The robot looked a touch offended. 'I would never call you just an animal, Sibling Dex.' It turned its gaze to the road, head held high. 'We don't have to fall into the same category to be of equal value.'

Dex had never thought about it like that."

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a blessed relief from all the post-apocalyptic novels out there. This planet has got it together, and saved themselves from disaster. 

What does it mean to be wild-built?

The Robots made a decision not to be immortal, but to be recycled when they break down. Dex's new companion, Mosscap, named for the first thing it saw when it woke, has been made from the parts of many individuals.

"Because nothing else in the world behaves that way. Everything else breaks down and is made into other things."

Becky Chambers is well-known in sci-fi circles. The author of The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet has been nominated for many awards. This charming wee novella has been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards this year.

Winners of the Nebulas will be announced on 21 May and the Hugos will be announced on 5 September,  Eastern Standard Time.

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