A Psalm for the Wild-Built
July 16, 2021 4:26 PM - by Chambers, Becky - Subscribe

It's been centuries since the robots of Panga 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.
posted by curious nu (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
YES new Becky Chambers I'm excited will report back after I read!
posted by latkes at 4:31 PM on July 16, 2021

I read this yesterday. i enjoyed it. My primary complaint about Becky Chambers is that she writes short books. I read them and then I have to wait another year for more.
posted by rdr at 9:52 PM on July 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

This sounds really interesting. Ordering now.
posted by Orlop at 12:23 PM on July 17, 2021

I read through it in a couple of hours and enjoyed it. There's been a novella bloom in the last few years and I love it, though this one feels more clearly part of a series. It's pretty on-the-nose as far as social commentary, but that also feels okay given the framing. I feel like Chambers is pretty explicitly evoking a kind of (Asian?) philosophical dialogue that I'm guessing has a specific term, but I'm only familiar enough with it to get that "I've read this before in other contexts" vibes.

It keeps to her usual cozy scope, and the characters are more relatable to me this time. I think her characterization is getting a lot stronger and I'm really interested to see where the rest of this goes.

Also, it combines a total millennial-vibe character with a focus on tea with a generalist robot that's comfortable with bugs crawling over it ('Yes. It's fine.'), which is pretty much 100% my psyche, so I'm predisposed to devour this.
posted by curious nu at 5:53 PM on July 17, 2021

I enjoyed it; as some of her other work, this seems to be more about evoking a mood than telling a story.
posted by Marticus at 4:48 PM on July 19, 2021

Whoa! Thanks for the reminder, ordering.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:25 AM on July 22, 2021

I passed by this multiple times because for some reason the title didn't appeal to me and I didn't know it was Becky Chambers. Once I realized who wrote it, I devoured it.
posted by Literaryhero at 7:04 AM on July 29, 2021

Hm. This one didn't grab me as much as her stuff usually does. I'm not a hundred percent sure why.
posted by kyrademon at 10:40 AM on October 3, 2021

My made-up story about this is that Chambers correctly identified the "coziness" of the Wayfarers books as the source of their great appeal and decided to double down and then triple down on that coziness. It's right on the edge of saccharine for me, perilously close to where cozy slides into cutesy. Like, the god she serves is basically Winnie the Pooh. And designing the comfiest pillow is a subject of deep monastic learning! That's, like, weaponized coziness.

I feel like it'd fit well on a shelf with the mostly gentle wanderlusty books of spiritual & ethical self-discovery foisted on me & my friends when we were awkward inward teens: The Little Prince, The Tao of Pooh, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Jonathan Effing Seagull, etc. All of which I pretty much hated then and now. (And I'm with Dorothy Parker on Pooh.) But: Psalm did not make me want to fwow up--somewhat surprisingly to me, I loved it, and I've already given it as a gift a few times. I found it hokey but also delightful, and I'm trying to figure out why.

I guess my favorite part of her Wayfarers books wasn't the coziness at all but the thoughtful, reflective, what-does-it-mean-to-be-human-anyway stuff, especially in Closed & Common Orbit. And the conversations here between the disaffected human and the enthusiastic robot feel of a piece with similar conversations about AI, genetic modifications, etc., in the Wayfarers books.

Also: to me, Dex sounds like a robot name and Mosscap sounds like a tea-master monk's name; was it smug or corny to invert those? Maybe! But it's still one of many small touches I enjoyed.
posted by miles per flower at 1:48 PM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

I just re-read this before reading A Prayer for the Crown-Shy and I'm glad I did. It stretched my time with Dex and Mosscap a couple more hours.

Many people think of Chambers's books as slight, but I think that's very mistaken. They evoke a state of mind and worthwhile contemplation; they're very humane.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:55 AM on July 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

It's a bit of a parable, beautifully told. All I knew was that there was a tea monk and a robot. Maine is snowy today, a wet snow that really coated everything; it was cloudy, but kind of bright because snow reflects the light. I had a nice fire in the wood stove, read it on the couch this afternoon. I really liked it and will read more of her work.
posted by theora55 at 7:46 PM on January 29

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