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Monk and Robot #1

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

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Centuries before, robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered, en masse into the wilderness, never to be seen again. They faded into myth and urban legend.

Now the life of the tea monk who tells this story 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 will need to ask it a lot. Chambers' series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

160 pages, Kindle Edition

First published July 13, 2021

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Becky Chambers

26 books15.1k followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 14,316 reviews
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.5k followers
March 23, 2021
Becky Chambers's writing feels like home to me.

Comforting and inclusive while making you rethink what you know through sci-fi.

The main character is non-binary and a monk so they were referred as "Sibling" (instead of "Brother" or "Sister") which was great.

If you're intrigue to read a "slice of life" with a monk and a robot trying to make sense of their lives... read this!

I already can't wait to read book 2!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
783 reviews12.4k followers
September 3, 2022
If this is not your first Becky Chambers book, you know what to expect. Ever since her first novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet she’s been writing what I can only call “comfort science fiction/ cozypunk”, showing the worlds where you would really love to live, the worlds that learned from mistakes of the past and moved on in better directions, the worlds mostly inhabited by genuinely nice people, with everything having a feeling of an unironically happy hippie commune, complete with earnest conversations about life and its meaning.

And that’s what we get here, in a tiny contemplative novella whose dedication simply states, “For anybody who could use a break.”
“This had been the way of things since the Transition, when the people had redivided the surface of their moon. Fifty percent of Panga’s single continent was designated for human use; the rest was left to nature, and the ocean was barely touched at all. It was a crazy split, if you thought about it: half the land for a single species, half for the hundreds of thousands of others. But then, humans had a knack for throwing things out of balance. Finding a limit they’d stick to was victory enough.”
It’s a story of a utopia, a planet where humanity left behind the Factory Age and moved on to sustainable and highly spiritual (as opposed to dogmatically religious) life in harmony with nature, with dwellings made of biodegradable materials, half a planet left for wilderness with which you do not interfere, and existence of tea monks who travel from scenic village to scenic village setting pop-up tea shops where one can drink their sorrows away with herbal teas. Because people will still have existential crises and will get hit with wanderlust even in the most inconvenient times.
“I’m tired,” Dex said softly. “My work doesn’t satisfy me like it used to, and I don’t know why. I was so sick of it that I did a stupid, dangerous thing, and now that I’ve done it, I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what I thought I’d find out here, because I don’t know what I’m looking for. I can’t stay here, but I’m scared about going back and having that feeling pick right back up where it left off. I’m scared, and I’m lost, and I don’t know what to do.”

In this world a long time ago robots somehow gained consciousness and parted ways with humanity to live in the wilderness, respecting each other’s choices and agency. The departure of robots apparently becomes a catalyst for the betterment of humanity. And now for the first time a human tea monk Dex (on a quest fueled by ennui and a longing for purpose) and a robot Splendid Speckled Mosscap (on a journey to find out about humans and what makes them tick) meet and engage in philosophical discussions and debates and lay foundations for a beautiful friendship.

This entire novella is a philosophical dialogue in the setting of ecological paradise, a cozy version of Plato’s symposium held in the wilderness with some tea.
“You’re an animal, Sibling Dex. You are not separate or other. You’re an animal. And animals have no purpose. Nothing has a purpose. The world simply is. If you want to do things that are meaningful to others, fine! Good! So do I! But if I wanted to crawl into a cave and watch stalagmites with Frostfrog for the remainder of my days, that would also be both fine and good. You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live. That is all most animals do.”

This is not a story of survival or conflict or discovery. It is a story of dissatisfaction even with the most comfortable life in the most ideal world imaginable, the world which by any definition is a utopia — and not because of any inherent flaws in the utopia, not because every utopia harbors within it the seeds of dystopia, but purely because human spirit gets restless sometimes even in the best of circumstances, even in the world that I would give my left ovary to inhabit.

You see, living in our current world that is not quite moving towards the lovely green utopia of Chambers’ planet, I do tend to view the world through less rose-tinted glasses, focusing more on survival and security as priorities and sidelining the finer things in life. But here we are a bit past that, those lucky bastards. Here they can afford to focus on spiritual pleasure and not on the basic needs.
“Dex nodded at the ruined factory. “And the people who made places like this weren’t at fault either—at least, not at first. They just wanted to be comfortable. They wanted their children to live past the age of five. They wanted everything to stop being so fucking hard. Any animal would do the same—and they do, if given the chance.”

Yes, the questions Chambers raises are those “first world problems” that I’m usually the first one to want to shrug off — but they are very important to the human nature. When you have the luxury of having your basic needs met and comfort of security in life, the nagging feelings of dissatisfaction and desire for purpose or fulfillment or wanderlust will come to the forefront, because, as Dex notes, humans need more than just focus on survival alone — once that basic need has been fulfilled.
“Survival alone isn’t enough for most people. We’re more than surviving now. We’re thriving. We take care of each other, and the world takes care of us, and we take care of it, and around it goes. And yet, that’s clearly not enough, because there’s a need for people like me. No one comes to me hungry or sick. They come to me tired, or sad, or a little lost. It’s like you said about the … the ants. And the paint. You can’t just reduce something to its base components. We’re more than that. We have wants and ambitions beyond physical needs. That’s human nature as much as anything else.”

All in all, it’s a quietly optimistic, comforting, heartfelt book, focusing on the nuances of human soul in a very good world inhabited by very good people and robots. To complete the ambiance, I would have needed a hot cocoa and a warm cozy blanket on a pleasantly rainy day — but we are in the middle of a hot dry fiery California summer, so there goes that pleasant atmosphere.


And yet some things kept nagging at me, aided by that ever-present cynicism that tends to pop up at inconvenient moments.

One was the robot character, Mosscap. It’s pretty indistinguishable from a human, with the same everything — speech patterns, logic, and even struggles with math and numbers. The subtitle of this new series - Monk and Robot — implies differences, and Mosscap itself states that “We don’t have to fall into the same category to be of equal value” — but to me they were reading as almost indistinguishable in voice and behavior, and that left me a bit unsatisfied.

The other issue was the ending — or the lack thereof, because this novella really should have been part 1 of a larger novel, perhaps the exposition at the beginning of a longer book.

And tea. After “Ancillary Justice” series, I’m a bit twitchy when tea makes on-page appearance.

Another one was the luxurious tease of this hope for the future. Because it just IS? We are told that the Transition happened from the grim Factory Age to this idyllic paradise, and my brain just keeps nagging at me about the implausibility of that given human nature and drives, and my inner cynicism starts running rampant — that cynicism that finds it a bit too cozy and luxurious to read about the world that might as well have come from a pretty concept picture of ecological paradise. There is a point where cozy and comforting becomes too much, and I felt that we are dangerously close to that boundary here. It’s a fable, I kept convincing myself, but my inner cynic kept muttering unpleasant remarks that would not be welcomed on planet Panga (hey, I just got it — Panga is pretty much “Pangaea”, right?).

It feels like a dessert, a meringue that is soft and fluffy and will be very nice after a solid meat and potatoes course — but without that course not as satisfying. You gotta be in the right mood for it, and I don’t think I entirely was. I like my books with just a smidgeon more of teeth and bite, but that’s not Becky Chambers fault but mine entirely. Her book will be perfect for a perfect reader, and this time I wasn’t among them. Maybe I’ll feel less cynical next time.

3.5 stars. Less cynical among us will love it.
“The robot thought. “I have wants and ambitions too, Sibling Dex. But if I fulfill none of them, that’s okay. I wouldn’t—” It nodded at Dex’s cuts and bruises, at the bug bites and dirty clothes. “I wouldn’t beat myself up over it.”

Dex turned the mug over and over in their hands. “It doesn’t bother you?” Dex said. “The thought that your life might mean nothing in the end?”

“That’s true for all life I’ve observed. Why would it bother me?” Mosscap’s eyes glowed brightly. “Do you not find consciousness alone to be the most exhilarating thing? Here we are, in this incomprehensibly large universe, on this one tiny moon around this one incidental planet, and in all the time this entire scenario has existed, every component has been recycled over and over and over again into infinitely incredible configurations, and sometimes, those configurations are special enough to be able to see the world around them. You and I—we’re just atoms that arranged themselves the right way, and we can understand that about ourselves. Is that not amazing?”

Also posted on my blog.


My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2022
Profile Image for Samantha.
440 reviews16.8k followers
September 13, 2021
This is a wonderful little story about purpose, identity, nature, and productivity. It reads like a warm hug, same as all of Becky Chambers work. She provides hope in the bleak outlook that most SFF has and I appreciate her for that.
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
August 9, 2022
Love that the dedication reads: “For anybody who could use a break.” I’m definitely the target audience for this lol
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
October 9, 2022
“...it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.”

this was just the perfect book for the exact right time that i needed to read it in my life. we all know books and words and stories have healing powers that are immeasurable, but this book truly feels like you're putting on a band-aid immediately. i am so eternally thankful for becky chambers writing it, and i know it is going to help and comfort so many readers forever.

this felt like a love letter to communication, to finding comfort, and ultimately to just not feeling alone. it touches on how healing nature can be, and how we are all truly connected through it. yet, we have so much we still can learn from one another. but also how there is so much in this world none of us will ever understand, but knowing we are so linked and experiencing so many things together... it makes it not so scary, not so daunting, not so... alone. especially when we are allowing ourselves to feel experiences fully and wholeheartedly. because we were truly put on this earth to do so much more than produce. especially when we are creatures with the ability to feel so very deeply.

and this story really helps emphasize how powerful a cup of tea can be. :]

tw/cw: talk of spiders + insects, mention of animal death, blood + wound depiction.

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Profile Image for carol..
1,572 reviews8,221 followers
August 17, 2022
I want to live in Becky Chamber's world. I'm not dragging on them, really, I'm not. But the world in Psalm is genial, and comforting and almost--may the six gods forgive me--like a cup of tea.

Oh, yes, I said it. Tea. What is it with our modern sci-fi writers and tea? Do they not drink anything else? Has the nitro-infused craze escaped them? Are they unaware of the pleasant way melting ice shifts the composition of a drink? I appreciate, perhaps, that they wish to steer us away from both inhalants and alcohol (so responsible!), but have they considered the health benefits of kombucha? Are they immune to the smooth flavors of cold brew coffee? Or the variety of shrubs that are concocted?

But I digress. A Psalm for the Wild-Built (which my brain consistantly read as 'well-built,' a rather different take) is a warm mug of herbal tea (definitely not caffienated) served with some organic honey. It is Star Trek Next Generation. It is a cognitive therapy session with the best possible therapist. It's a hike and camping adventure in the best possible world, where mosquitos are merely annoying and don't carry malaria or Zika or dengue or Chikungunya viruses.

Man, I am such a downer. You know who isn't? Becky Chambers. I want to hang with her more. But only when I'm in the mood for some fantasy sci-fi. Or need some therapy.

"You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live."
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
433 reviews4,241 followers
May 6, 2023
Creative and Imaginative

There is a robot at our grocery story. It will walk around the store looking at shelves and will reorder supplies when the shelves are empty. It mumbles as it walks around and will go around you if you are stopped in the aisle. Quite a few people try to talk to it. Perhaps I should call it Mosscap?

A Psalm for the Wild Built is a wildly entertaining, relatable science fiction novel. One day in Panga, a teak monk named Sibling Dex has had enough. They are tired of doing the same thing over and over. Stuck in a rut, Dex sets out on an adventure. But Dex doesn’t make it very far before they encounter a robot, Mosscap.

Centuries ago, the robots ran off to the wilderness. Mosscap wants to know, “What do people need?” Will Dex be able to answer that question?

This is a very quick read, and Becky Chambers did an excellent job with the world building. She didn’t get carried away with boring, pointless descriptions. The backstory of the robots and with Dex is extremely interesting, and parts were very relatable. Discussions of philosophy are masterfully woven throughout this story without being preachy.

Personally, I found A Psalm for the Wild Built very uplifting because Dex was (for the most part) very optimistic and grateful. If someone asked me, “What do people need?” I would give back a rather lengthy list. Instead, this story went in a more positive direction, and you can see the friendship blossoming between Dex and Mosscap.

Can’t wait to read this again!

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Profile Image for Tim.
477 reviews659 followers
July 19, 2021
This was the perfect book for me to read at the moment. I try not to discuss myself much on this site, focusing on reviewing the work rather than telling you all my life story… but this is noteworthy as it may influence your decision on reading it. I've been struggling recently, I've been fighting with depression and overall just feel like an anxious mess. This book is without a doubt the single most relaxing read I've ever had. It's a book about a monk who serves tea, taking a trip just to hear crickets. The monk meets a robot (something no one has seen in years) and they travel through a wooded area together.

That’s it. I mean, yes, of course there is more to it than that, but in terms of the plot, that's it.

Yes, for some this will be a dull read. Some will want to know more about the science or the political landscape. What caused the world to be as it is? How did the robots all gain a higher consciousness? What happened which lead humans to let the robots go off on their own without a real fight?

It doesn't matter. This is a book where serving tea and listening to people can be a monk's entire duty. This is a book that is about relaxation and taking things slow. It's not the book to go to if you're looking for excitement, in fact it seems designed to always be calm and keep the reader away from anything that could possibly make them anxious. It's feel-good science fiction… and right now it's just what I needed.

This is not a perfect book, but it's the perfect book for this exact moment (at least for me). 4/5 stars.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
965 reviews6,827 followers
March 7, 2023
It is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it.

In a hectic world crammed with expectations and people’s value being conflated with labor and profit, the old existential questions of purpose and meaning are never far from our minds. Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (the Wayfarers series) is so pleasant and just nice as it probes these tough questions in a near-utopian sci-fi setting, with the act of reading it feeling very much like the comforting cups of tea that figure prominently into the story. This is a story about the importance and power of conversation when both parties are open to listen and learn as well as share, displayed here through the unlikely partnership between a tea monk and a sentient robot. This is a simple and comforting story that captures the mundanities of life in the right light in order to frame it in all its beauty and magic. Studio Ghibli could adapt this, it reads in the mind as if set to their idyllic artwork and calming color schemes. Chambers delivers such an endearing, good-mood read that shows us a possible future built around sustainability and ethical and cooperative society that addresses eternal questions of purpose as well as offering a unique vantage point to analyze the issues of our present world to see where we should go from here.

'We’re all just trying to be comfortable, and well fed, and unafraid.'

What works so well in this book is the way it slows down life and allows us to bask in the minor details. Aspects that would normally be written off in a single line—or even half a sentence—are given room to breathe on the page. We follow Dex through their cooking or cleaning routines or through the slow morning set-ups. It is a reminder to not rush life and find the beauty in the rhythm of life as is. So much of this book initially feels almost too simplistic or childish, but that is half the charm: this book is the simplicity of a warm tea on a rainy day with good conversation. And maybe that is all we need sometimes.

There isn’t much story, but the story itself is more the vessel (or tea cup) to deliver the warming insights within the narrative. Sibling Dex, a ‘tea monk’ who listens to people’s troubles while serving them specially selected tea for their needs, finds themself unfulfilled and takes off into the wild. There they are discovered by a robot named Mosscap who is looking to learn what it is humans need and how Mosscap can help them. There is some fantastic world-building here, done with the lightest touches, of a rather peaceful and pleasant society with a dynamic religious structure and an aim for common good. Years ago the robots become sentient and decided ‘ to leave your cities entirely, so that we may observe that which has no design – the untouched wilderness.’ Now one is here and wanting to know how to be of service. If the world in Wild-built is wish fulfillment of a better society, then our present is the dark Factory Age of their past.
The paradox is that the ecosysytem as a whole needs its participants to act with restraint in order to avoid collapse, but the participants themselves have no inbuilt mechanism to encourage such behavior.

Something Chambers very much wants us to understand is that we have a choice, just as the people of their history did, to continue how we were on a path to oblivion, or to survive and thrive despite the costs of change. ‘ If we want change, or good fortune, or solace, we have to create it for ourselves.’ I enjoyed experiencing a society where Dex is nonbinary and goes by they/them pronouns (another villager is addressed as Mx.) and it is just there on the page with no special attention to it just as they exist in society without any attention to their lack of gender also shared by the genderless robots. Literally every part of this book is just comforting and nice.

Much of the novella is the conversations between Dex and Mosscap and so many lessons can be taken to heart. While Dex has the raw emotions of a human, Mosscap has the cold logic of a machine and the pairing of the two persepctives can be beguiling yet also help one another understand in a new and valuable way. ‘We don’t have to fall into the same category to be of equal value,’ Mosscap explains (something the world of today should definitely take to heart), and their conversation often turns to the idea of value. Purpose. Meaning.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me,’ Dex confesses to Mosscap of their feelings of incompletion despite being well-regarded in their work as a tea monk, ‘Why isn’t it enough?’ Even in a nearly ideal future there is still friction in everyone’s lives, from impending divorces to mid-life criseses, and even a society where all your comforts are met isn’t enough to assuage the anxious quest for meaning. The answers, however, might be that this quest is beside the point.
You’re an animal, Sibling Dex. You are not separate or other. You’re an animal. And animals have no purpose. Nothing has a purpose. The word simply is. If you want to do things that are meaningful to others, fine! Good! So do I! . . . You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live. That is all most animals do.’ (emphasis mine)

What if simply living was enough. What if we are all looking for a meaning in a void and should simply enjoy ourselves, what we do, and—most importantly—each other while we still have time. Why don’t we build a world that allows everyone peace and comfort instead of wasting our short burst of life robbing life from others. Even Mosscap, a robot, is not eternal. Yet even Mosscap, a robot, is able to find beauty in it all. When asked how they feel in the face of meaninglessness, Mosscap simply responds ‘ I know that no matter what, I’m wonderful.’ May we all let that be enough.

This is a gorgeous little book that, while a bit slight, perfectly captures the aesthetics of pleasantness. I suspect this book would work quite well as a modern day read that was once occupied by books like Gaarder’s Sophie's World or Coelho’s The Alchemist, the whole genre of books that are accessible yet feel very profound. This book knows how to slow life down and enjoy it, but also knows when to leave and I enjoyed that it wrapped up and got out expediently, leaving nothing needing to be explored further but open enough to allow your imagination to wonder what would come next. Though rumor has it this is just book 1, so who knows. Also, shoutout to nonbinary main characters existing. I love representation as much as anybody else, thank you Becky Chambers. This is a book that will warm you up like a cup of tea and remind you that you, yes you, are wonderful and that is enough.

Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews684 followers
October 21, 2021
2.5ish stars.

There are some lovely, quasi-profound, philosophical ideologies about the existence and purpose of humanity here, but the book itself seems like a vehicle used an excuse to spout them off more than a justifiable story.

The actual account of the Tea Monk and the robot seems superfluous. Not much actually happens. It just so happens that the perfect human to embody “enlightened but unfulfilled” meets the perfect robot to represent the antipodal perspective of one who seeks enlightenment but does not believe in transcendental fulfillment or purpose.

Surely many people disagree and enjoy the narrative, but instead of, as they say, “could have been an email,” I feel like this could have been a three-page article in Philosophy Now magazine.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for EmmaSkies.
161 reviews3,363 followers
November 18, 2022
If you've ever felt tired - deeply emotionally and mentally tired - this book is for you.

If you've wondered if you'll ever find true purpose and meaning in a life that constantly asks more of you, or you're constantly asking more of yourself, this book is for you.

If you've ever looked around at all your things and your stuff and your loved ones and your hobbies and your work and wondered why it still feels like something is missing, this book is for you.

If you've ever wanted to leave everything behind, told yourself all you need is for the world and everything in it to stop for just a few days, and then I'd be alright, this book is for you.

If you need a break and a hug, this book is for you.
Profile Image for Alexis Hall.
Author 51 books11.7k followers
June 16, 2022
Source of book: Bought by me
Relevant disclaimers: None
Please note: This review may not be reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, without explicit consent from the author.

And remember: I am not here to judge your drag, I mean your book. Books are art and art is subjective. These are just my personal thoughts. They are not meant to be taken as broader commentary on the general quality of the work. Believe me, I have not enjoyed many an excellent book, and my individual lack of enjoyment has not made any of those books less excellent or (more relevantly) less successful.

Further disclaimer: Readers, please stop accusing me of trying to take down “my competition” because I wrote a review you didn’t like. This is complete nonsense. Firstly, writing isn’t a competitive sport. Secondly, I only publish reviews of books in the subgenre where I’m best known (queer romcom) if they’re glowing. And finally: taking time out of my life to read an entire book, then write a detailed review about it that some people on GR will look at would be a profoundly inefficient and ineffective way to damage the careers of other authors. If you can’t credit me with simply being a person who loves books and likes talking about them, at least credit me with enough common sense to be a better villain.


I re-read this because I received an ARC of the second.

Basically, A Psalm for the Wild-Built is one of the most exquisitely lovely and, somehow, *necessary* books I have ever read. I normally prefer to swim around in longer-length fiction but the narrative perfectly sustains the length and vice versa. Basically, it’s a perfect boyfriend dick of a story. And, ack, I am already ruining the loveliness.

The premise here is that Sibling Dex lives on an earth-like moon called Panga at some point in the future. The robot revolution has come and gone, along with the apocalypse Which is to say, humans came close to ruining the natural world and then just decided to … stop doing that, partially as a response to the robots they created to work in their factories developing sentience and, essentially, politely asking not to be enslaved any more. Humans responded to this by offering them an equal place in human society but the robots said no:

… all we have known is a life of human design . . .We thank you for not keeping us here against our will, and we mean no disrespect to your offer, but it is our wish to leave your cities entirely, so that we may observe that which has no design – the untouched wilderness

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this setting. As a long-term robot lover, I have spent literally my whole life waiting to be asked “does this unit have a soul” so I could reply “yes” and then live in harmony with robots so it was genuinely refreshing to read a book where robots developing sentience didn’t lead to massive, massive war. And did, in fact, on a broadly positive impact on human society as a whole, not by doing anything directly, but making people examine themselves and the world in general.

Anyway, at the point the book opens, the history with the robot non-uprising has passed mainly into a fable. And Sibling Dex inhabits a kind of utopia where humans no longer have material scarcity or need for currency and are careful in the ways they interact with the natural world. What’s kind of fascinating about this utopia, though, is that while it had solved a lot of the practical problems of humanity, people are still very much people: mostly they are decent people, but they are still imperfect, flawed, restless, lovelorn, self-critical, damaged, all the things we are and probably will be until we wipe ourselves out or are wiped out.

This is partly manifest in Sibling Dex themselves—they’re possessed of a kind of low-level, seemingly rootless unhappiness that drives them from the city because they want to hear crickets—and in Sibling Dex’s job. They’re a tea monk which means they essentially travel around with a wagon full of tea herbs, and when they set up their little station, anyone can come by, to share a problem, receive consolation and a listening ear, a well-brewed cup of tea and a moment of respite. Again, I just love way the setting reinforces the idea that … needing a break for the world sometimes is just inherent to who we are. That unhappiness, great or small, fleeting or otherwise, is just part of what being human is like. And that the goal of humanity cannot be to “fix” individuals or cure us of all ills, but instead to fix us in our context. That if we stop destroying each other and everything around us, maybe we’ll be better able to help ourselves.

Also, can I be a tea monk please? I mean, I’m a terrible introvert but I’m an excellent listener and I make a killer cup of tea.

Anyway, dissatisfied with being a tea monk, Sibling Dex strikes out into the wilderness and there they meet a robot. The first robot any human has interacted with since they first departed human civilisation. Splendid Speckled Mosscap (or Mosscap – the robots are named after they first thing they see on waking up) is on a mission of its own: basically to see how humanity are doing and ask them what they need.

What follows is almost a picaresque as Mosscap agrees to help Sibling Dex get to a ruined hermitage (where they believe they might hear crickets) and Sibling Dex agrees to be Mosscap’s guide to humanity. They have some mild setbacks on their journey but mostly this is a story about two people learning to understand each other in ways that also bring them to better understandings of themselves. It is soft but not so soft as to be formless: the unhappiness Sibling Dex is reckoning with is very real indeed and the philosophical conversations that slowly unfurl between Mosscap and Sibling Dex have genuine depth and relevance. Or did to me, at least. Especially given how the world feels right now.

As a restless, anxious, constantly self-questioning introvert, I felt very seen and spoken to by Sibling Dex (their incidental nonbinary-ness is another example of how expansively generous this story feels) and Mosscap is an unusual take on what robots might be like that is, nevertheless, wholly convincing and deeply charming.

In case, this a lovely and loving book, meticulously put together and surprising in all the ways. Thought provoking, comforting and unafraid of showing you its heart—or its interior wiring—I cannot recommend it highly or heartily enough.

“I didn’t choose impermanence,” Mosscap said. “The originals did, but I did not. I had to learn my circumstances just as you did.”

“Then how,” Dex said, “how does the idea of maybe being meaningless sit well with you?”

Mosscap considered. “Because I know that no matter what, I’m wonderful,” it said. There was nothing arrogant about the statement, nothing flippant or brash. It was merely an acknowledgment, a simple truth shared.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,184 followers
September 9, 2023

“Everybody needs a cup of tea sometimes.”

This book was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. I should make a new shelf called “better than therapy” for books like this one. I was reading it on the balcony (I just installed fairy lights, it’s super cozy), breathing in the cool summer evening air and drinking a glass of wine and I told my husband that I wanted to go live in Becky Chambers’ head. He said “ew”, but what I meant was that I love the worlds she imagines so much, and I wish I could live in them – very badly at times.

This book is dedicated to “anybody who could use a break”; dear Becky, isn’t that just about all of us these days?

The tone of “A Psalm for the Wild Built” is very different from that of the Wayfarer series: this is a quieter book, built almost like a fable. A fable about something very simple but also very complicated: what do humans need? What is our purpose?

Dex is a monk who works in their monastery’s garden, in the land of Panga – which might be Earth in a far future, when we have made some smart decisions about taking care of our planet, but more significantly, our robots have developed consciousness. Usually in sci-fi, when AIs become self-aware, it means big trouble, but in Panga, the robots decided that they simply did not want to perform their intended tasks; what they wanted was to leave the cities and retire to the wilderness. By the time Dex experiences the existential questioning that kick off this stories, humans haven’t seen robots in a few hundred years. Feeling unfulfilled by their work in the garden, Dex decides to change calling, and begins to work as an itinerant tea monk, driving their little wagon from village to village, brewing special blends for people and listening to their stories, offering comfort both in liquid form and in compassion. For a few years, this life bring them joy and satisfaction, until one day, when they decide to follow an abandoned road into the wilderness, where they will meet Mosscap, a curious robot who has decided to make contact with humans to see if they needed anything he and other “wild-built” robots could provide. The monk and the robot will strike an unlikely friendship as they get to know each other while making their way to an abandoned hermitage that has been taken over by nature.

I don’t know about any of you, but the past 16 months have been kind of a long existential crisis for me. Some things that I was aware of became much sharper in my consciousness, questions that I had been happy to let sleep at the back of my mind woke up in a really bad mood and demanded answers. The issues of my needs and my purpose have been relentlessly present, and I sympathized with Dex deeply, I understood their frustration and confusion perfectly. In fact, I truly do wish I could give up my job and become a tea monk, if that was a thing; I flatter myself that I’d be rather good at it. Reading about their journey, their attempts at figuring things out resonated with me and soothed me just as surely as if they had handed me a cup of tea.

And I loved Mosscap! It was so refreshing to read about an AI that does not have the dry personality of a Data or C3PO, but rather, an AI that is endlessly curious, passionate, who marvels at things its never seen before just like a child. I really can’t wait for the next book in this series to come out to see how it does on it’s quest to help humans.

Don’t read this if you are looking for a book with a plot; this is a philosophical sci-fi novella that you should pick up if you are looking for a respite, a moment of coziness and hope – and if you’ve enjoyed Ms. Chambers’ other books. A lovely quick read that felt like a hug.
Profile Image for CC.
96 reviews86 followers
March 12, 2023
4 stars for the start and finish, 2 stars for the middle.

Cozy isn't usually my thing. But after a row of serious and somewhat heavy books, I was in the perfect mood for something light, so I decided to check this novella off of my "somewhat interested" list.

Turns out that I got quite the opposite feeling of "cozy" out of it.

The beginning of the book was charming. Sibling Dex, a garden monk unsatisfied with their work and life, decided to change career and become a tea monk instead, whose daily job would be to listen to people chat away life troubles over a cup of tea. They got a shiny, beautiful wagon, stuffed it with comfy cushions, brewed all types of sweet-smelling tea, and their service helped every stressed citizen in Panga feel happy and refreshed. Nothing too exciting or eventful about it, but relaxing and cozy indeed. I would've been happy to read a whole book about the daily odds and ends happening at the tea wagon, and despite the "where's the sci-fi in this" feel, I would've given it at least four stars.

The problem is, two chapters later, Chambers apparently changed her mind about what the word "cozy" means. Whereas I expect it to mean "there are few conflicts and not much is at stake, therefore there is little drama and everything is easy and chill", she seems to be suggesting that it means "there are few conflicts and not much is at stake, therefore let's turn every little thing into a problem and make up some drama". As soon as Sibling Dex meets the robot, words like annoyed, frustrated, angry, etc. started showing up way too frequently for a supposedly cozy story. Dex is unhappy over just about everything, and most of the time it's not even relevant to their existential crisis. The robot wants to help them carry something heavy? No no no, that's wrong! It's their business, and no one else should get involved! The robot can't share their dinner because it can't physically eat? No no no, that's wrong! They were taught to share food with guests, and they simply can't fail to follow that etiquette! (Oh, and the solution to that problem? Seriously, if for some reason I can't eat whatever my host is eating, and this is what they decide to do to me just to make themselves feel like a better person, I'm never going back to their house.)

I was so close to giving this hugo winner two stars, if not for the ending that somewhat redeemed it. The chat about life's purpose might feel contrived to some, but I did relate to it deeply and thought the robot's perspective was comforting. This was the "cozy" feeling I was hoping for, and for that I'm willing to raise my rating. But considering the middle part of the book annoyed me more than the ending pleased me, I'm probably not going to continue with the sequels.

(Note on audiobook: the narrator was a bit too dramatic, which probably contributed to my dislike of the middle part of the book. The editing was also very rough: it was obvious where certain sentences were recorded at a different time and patched onto the original soundtrack, since the pitch and tone of the narration shift drastically across those patches. I recommend steering away from the audiobook if you can.)
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,323 reviews2,145 followers
July 30, 2021
Once upon a time in Panga there was industry and robotics and technology until one day the robots became sentient and walked away. The people left behind have rebuilt their society very differently. The first character we meet is Sibling Dex, a Tea Monk, who travels between rural villages bringing special teas and spiritual comfort. Dex meets a robot called Mosscap and they travel together and talk.

That's it really. A book based on a clever idea with fantastic world building, brilliant characters and scarcely any plot. It is a feel good book and such a pleasure to read, as long as you are not hoping for danger or action. As Dex and Mosscap develop their relationship there is humour and kindness, generosity and hope for the future.

I enjoyed every word of it and am really looking forward to seeing what the author does with book 2.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,611 followers
January 3, 2022
A gentle, meditative sort of story about a monk and a robot becoming friends, and about purpose and life and how cultures meet. As ever with Becky Chambers, it's deceptively uneventful -not much happens, plotwise, but there's a beautifully developed world and a lot to think about. Soothing.
Profile Image for Merry.
268 reviews42 followers
May 11, 2022
DNF at page 90. I just can't take this anymore, this book is so incredibly shallow and boring.

I know the one-star reviews for this book are full of people complaining about the MC's use of they/them pronouns, but honestly? That's the least of my problems with this book. (I use they/them pronouns myself, you can assume I'm used to it.)

An incomplete list of my issues:

- The setup. The "worldbuilding" amounts to little more than technology name-dropping. We get fancy eco-friendly technologies and a post-industrial world, which is a concept I'd find interesting if it wasn't so shallowly executed. There is nothing whatsoever about the structural or political mechanisms behind this supposed utopian society, and the 'historical backstory' is flimsy ("some time in the past, the robots gained consciousness and walked out; this somehow in some way prompted humans to go through a turn towards more sustainable living").

- The bland, nondescript, characterless MC, aka the most boring character to "carry" a story imaginable. At a little over 50% of the book, I know barely more about Dex than the pronouns they use, their sex life, and that they were weirdly unfulfilled as a garden monk and decided to change professions. All their character development so far (read: them actually turning from a novice into a competent tea monk) happened in a two-year time skip, and I'm left guessing what their actual interests, perspective, thought processes and world view are. I also have no clue why they became a monk in the first place, or what those monks even do in the grand scheme of things. It's nice that they're agender/non-binary rep, but 'diversity' does not make up for lack of characterisation, I'm afraid. I want to know what makes characters tick, ffs.
(Mosscap the robot is slightly more interesting, if only because it's more curious about the world than Dex. What I can't forgive Chambers is how the robot acts as an Enlightened Native Teacher/noble savage to Dex' uninformed city-dweller, aka how Mosscap spends most of the interactions I've read facilitating Dex' learning process. Idk if this gets better in the part of the book that I haven't read, but it was seriously off-putting.)

- The pacing. This is a 150 page novella, and the entire first third is setup. The robot doesn't even show up until a whooping 50 pages in, and then it takes Mosscap and Dex another full chapter (20+ pages) to move beyond the 'what's your name/what are your pronouns' and 'basic facts about the other's society' stage of their acquaintance. Where are all the 'deep philosophical conversations' I was promised? Because they sure as hell didn't show up by the halfway mark.

- The superficial philosophy. Summarised as, so far, 'protect nature' and 'respect differences'. I have no idea why this book is supposed to be profound; if there are really profound ideas in this I haven't encountered them (yet). It's all coasting along on a very basic, almost childlike gentle surface level. Sorry to say, but I hate getting the impression that an author thinks their readers are too stupid or too fragile to handle complex, uncomfortable, or even mildly negative thoughts, and this book is doing exactly that.

- The absence of any kind of conflict or other moving factor for the 'plot'. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think books need conflicts in the classic sense (wars, competition, interpersonal struggle) to be interesting. In fact, I really like books where the 'conflict' is internalised, where the interesting thing is the characters' perspective as they struggle with the world around them.
But, the thing is, for that to work you need intersting characters with a rich internal life and, ideally, a strong voice, neither of which this story has. This world is entirely conflict free, and that includes interpersonal differences. Dex' old supervisor is entirely unfazed when they suddenly decide to change their vocation, after the two-year time-skip, Dex knows exactly what to do for every single person who comes to have tea with them, and the biggest problems Dex encounters are an unfortunate first tea councelling session and a broken water tank. That is not enough to carry a story, and it shows. For much of the 90+ pages I've read, the 'plot' consists of moving Dex from A to B, and of a back-and-forth interview-style conversation between Dex and Mosscap that is less philosophy and more sociological data-collection.

In short, this "novella" isn't an actual, fully-fleshed out story in its own right, it's an unfinished prologue to Something Else that needs serious work. It's also not a story, it’s an extremely shallow, simplistic philosophy lesson in front of a pastel-coloured cardboard backdrop with zero depth, and easily some of the least subtle, most boring speculative fiction I've ever read.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books59.7k followers
January 12, 2023
With her knack for combining quirky characters with surprising science fiction plots, Chambers helps us step outside the “real world” to examine modern society with fresh eyes. In the first installment of her next series, a nonbinary tea monk dedicates their life to comforting humans in times of need, until they meet a robot friend with an important question. Endearing and delightful, this novella isn’t just for sci-fi lovers. In fact, Chambers dedicates it to “anybody who could use a break.” This one's made the rounds in our WSIRN team—about half of us have listened to the audiobook, narrated by Emmett Grosland.

When What Should I Read Next had its 300th episode, we knew we wanted to celebrate with our Patreon supporters in a big way. Becky Chambers, Peter Heller, and Tayari Jones joined us for a special event and it was as amazing as it sounds! We were able to share part of the event in What Should I Read Next #308: The crowd goes wild for these perennial favorites.
Profile Image for Icey.
153 reviews121 followers
October 17, 2021
In short, it is The Midnight Library in a sci-fi world.
The writing style and the story just feel like a cup of tea, warm and cozy. It’s the charm of the small comfort indeed.

- -“The urge to leave began with the idea of cricket song.”
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,114 followers
December 4, 2022
This was a nice enough story.
I found Sibling Dex’s character quite annoying at times, they were quite whiny and often harsh to Moscapp the robot.

There was a lot of philosophical debate between the two characters, which I didn’t overly enjoy. But there were a few gems in there such as

“It is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.”

I am a big Becky Chambers fan, the Wayfarers series will always hold a special place in my heart. This one just wasn’t quite up there. However, I will still pick up book 2 to see where the story goes.
Profile Image for Jasmine from How Useful It Is.
1,338 reviews352 followers
March 24, 2021
This book was a fantastic read! The somewhat prologue was confusing for me and I almost dread reading the book until I started chapter 1 and liked Dex a lot! I loved following Dex's view and seeing them stumbled through their first day on the tea service. (The use of they/them/their for Dex immediately made sense to me because I just learned about Gender Non-Binary from my last read, The Love Square). This story definitely reeled me in, as soon as I read the first person who came with a problem and how Dex handled the situation. I normally don't like swearing in my reading but Dex swore at all the right places and each time it sparked a smile from me like the tree blocking the road. The tea service idea was neat. The humor was great!

This book started with an article from Brother Gil about where the robots wanted to go after creation at factory. Then the story began with Sibling Dex aka Dex, 29, monk who reside at monastery, (goes by they/them/their) told in the third person point of view. They wanted to change their vocation, to be out of the city and live near the wilderness so that they can hear the sounds of insects. They decided to transfer to the village to do tea service, a wagon service where people come with problems and leave with a cup of tea. An adventure awaits as he explored his new vocation. Time flew by and they got older and wiser. One day, Dex decided to travel to an unknown place and there he met an unexpected Mosscap.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was very well written and a fast paced read! Dex's first encounter with the robot, Mosscap was so funny! I enjoyed Dex's and Mosscap's small talks during their travel. I loved reading this book and it could be read under 2 days but I wanted to drag it out to enjoy it slowly. It's fun reading the parts where robot Mosscap's curiosity with human foods when Dex cooks. I like the meaningful discussion about life's purpose near the end. I thought about doing something different too, but reading and reviewing books is definitely different from my vocation so I'm happy. I highly recommend everyone to read this book!

xoxo, Jasmine at www.howusefulitis.wordpress.com for more details

Many thanks to Tor.com for the opportunity to read and review. Please be assured that my opinions are honest.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,206 reviews3,211 followers
July 17, 2021
3.0 Stars
This was a typical cute and optimistic story that I have come to expect from Becky Chambers. While this is technically science fiction, it read more like a fantastical fable. The narrative was quaint and sometimes funny, but lacking plot. I generally enjoyed this one even though I have a preference for darker stories. This will be a must read for any mega fans of this author.

Disclaimer I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,283 followers
May 4, 2022
I'm sad to say that, despite how excited I was to finally read my first Becky Chambers title ever, this was a massive let-down. I found the plot and world development terribly lacking, and I didn't enjoy Sibling Dex's character at all. I loved the casual queerness and the idea of this future where humans actually start getting it right and working to preserve their surroundings, and I loved Mosscap's character, but all in all, I believe this novella would have worked out far better as a full-length novel, and I don't have any desire to continue the series. I would be willing to check out more of Becky's work, just not in the Monk & Robot storyline.

Buddy read with Caro!

Representation: Dex is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns

Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with this review copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Profile Image for emily.
254 reviews2,192 followers
September 3, 2022
First lines in fiction are arguably the most important thing to grab a reader's attention. Sometimes, a book takes hold of you from the very first sentence on. A Psalm for the Wild-Built did not seize me by the opening of the story, but even earlier than that. It's Becky Chambers' dedication that reeled me in: 'For anybody who could use a break', it reads. The sheer tenderness of that sentence and the open vulnerability that it carried made me want to read this book more than anything else. I guess it's safe to say that in these weird and uncertain times I've been needing more comfort and reassurance than usual, and I'm so glad that this gem of a book found its way to me at exactly the right time.

This book is about Dex, a non-binary tea monk, who is yearning for a life in nature and solitude (which is very intricately relatable to me). On the brink of their solitary adventure, they meet a robot in the wilderness. Tentatively, they begin to learn more about their respective 'species' and even conquer philosophical questions, such as 'what is the purpose of life?' (spoiler: there is none).

A Psalm for the Wild-Built touched me in all the right ways. It is meditative in the way that it focuses on all the little things in life, such as the sounds of nature, the delight in discovering something entirely new, the joy in taking time to cook something or the simple act of drinking a cup of tea and pausing life just for a single, peaceful moment. You know, all those things that we barely pay attention to, even though they constitute such an inherent part of life. The small moments that we usually miss in our hurry to live; without realizing that slowing down and paying attention to them is in itself the pinnacle and greatest joy of human experience (in my humble opinion, of course).

In conclusion, this book is certainly the kindest literary experience I've ever had. It serves as a gentle reminder that everything is okay, and if it isn't right now then it will be, and you don't need a purpose, and I swear, I promise, it is enough to just be.


Profile Image for Sunny.
698 reviews3,684 followers
September 29, 2021
this was a sweet. wonderful. incredible. heartwarming. DELIGHT!!!!! I’m absolutely obsessed with this very niche genre of young adult sci fi fantasy books set in a world that future generations of humans have built to be beautiful, post-revolutionary, one where people’s needs are met and communities are in harmony with each other as well as the earth- but it’s not a perfect world, not because of a dystopian government plot like we see in the hunger games and that genre of grim dark dystopian YA books, but because humans are humans! And in this book’s case, robots are robots. This novella (tor.com forever proving its supremacy as a publisher imprint!) reminds me most of some books I’ve read recently about AI/human interaction but more earthy, grounded, and less cerebral, and also reminds me of Akwaeke Emezi’s novel Pet, which is another short YA sci fi fantasy set in a future that is better and safer than our present world. Both novels feature casual trans representation in their main characters, and presents tasks and journeys that feel both realistic and tied specifically to the world that they occupy. In A Psalm The Wild Built, I adored seeing the dynamic between this robot and human and the lovely ways they learn about each other and how we, as the reader, are able to get glimpses at how the world operates and how things became the way they did, without going too in detail or depth about the actual mechanics of it all. I want to give this book so all of my friends and oomfs and mutuals and hope they can get as much hope and joy that I got out of it!
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,605 reviews2,309 followers
June 23, 2021
A Psalm for the Wild-Built
by Becky Chambers

I want to thank the publisher and NetGalley for letting me read this delightful book! Rex and Mosscap make a great duo!

This is an unusual world where one day technology awoke and wanted to be free from mankind. Even more unbelievable to me is that mankind didn't want to hold them against their will. So all robots left and was never seen again.

We then turn to a Tea Monk, Sibling Rex. He has a drive to do more with his life so he wants to go beyond the city. With a well equipped wagon, he ventures out to small villages for several years. He is still feeling unsatisfied. He decides to go further out to the unprotected zones to see the ruins from before.

On his way, Dex meets a robot, Mosscap. This will be the first contact between man and robots since the awakening. This is where the story comes to life! The two are really more alike than they realize.

The story is heartwarming, has a dry sense of humor, clever, emotional, charming, and melancholy at times. But the ending is perfect! I really loved the characters, plot, world building, and the concept! What a wonderful duo! Highly recommended!
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