Philosophy, Tea, and Robots

Sometimes, you need a story that feels like a big hug. Sometimes, you need a story that feels both like a big hug and perhaps a perfect hot cup of tea, and that’s precisely how reading Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers feels. In the book dedication it even states: “For anybody who could use a break.”  

Psalm follows “Sibling” Dex, a non-binary monk with a potty mouth in a futuristic world very similar to our own called Panga. Panga has one large city, where Sibling Dex lives, but most of the land is small villages or total wilderness. Monks in this world follow different philosophical perspectives and spiritual affiliations rather than the organized religious rules we may be familiar with.  

It is a fascinating exploration of how we find meaning and purpose, but despite the religious language, this book is deeply human and existential and holds so much reverence for the natural world.  

Panga is a utopia in many ways: there are city comforts, but most of this world is purely wild. There are 3D printers, monorails, and also robots. There used to be robots for everything, until they gained self-awareness, and moved to the woods, becoming nothing more than legends to humans.   

Dex is suffocating in the city, and after much deliberation, one day decides to change their specialization to travel in the villages to be a tea monk. Tea monks travel all over providing pop-up – often roadside – tea service to anyone who needs it, lending them both an ear and a perfect cup of tea.  

Dex denies an apprenticeship or any training, feeling strongly that they must go out in the world and learn by doing. Once they go out on their own with their ox-bike wagon, they quickly realize they’re in way over their head when a grieving woman comes to seek their support.  

After that first encounter, they dedicate years to their craft until they run into a very unexpected character – a robot, happily living in the wilderness, who is trying to understand humans as much as Dex was trying to escape the bustle of the city. The robot appoints Dex to be their guide and they learn and travel and talk. It is such a gentle and charming little novel that ended far too soon. 

Dex is such a relatable character – they are constantly searching for something to bring them purpose, and the robot named after a mushroom, (Splendid Speckled Mosscap) is charming and curious. Their conversations are funny, enlightening, and hopeful.  

Chambers clearly has a love for the natural world and an introvert’s pleasures: the sound of crickets at night, good tea, cooking beautiful meals, and walking in the woods (often philosophizing with a robot). I highly recommend this book for a short and sweet little fantastical reprieve from the world, which we could all use! 

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