Journal-Advocate (Sterling)

Sci-fi novella a soothing, short read

- By Edna Newey Edna Newey is a Library Associate at Sterling Public Library.

I like short books. I like the singular focus they offer, the same cerebral energy in a smaller package. If a writer were to write the same plot in 100, 500, and 1,000 pages, the 100page work would likely be my favorite iteration. Further, I like books that make me think, and books that feel like a mug of warm tea. “A Psalm for the Wildbuilt” by Becky Chambers fulfills my craving for a warm, thoughtful bit of reading.

Long ago, robots gained sentience and chose to separate from humanity, disappeari­ng to live in the wilds, with a promise to return. Sibling Dex, a tea monk in service to Allalae — the god of small comforts — travels the moon of Panga, giving tea and listening to those in need of sharing their burden. Despite knowing how important their work is, Dex is restless and feels something is absent. Leaving the well-maintained roads of humanity, Dex sets out for the wilderness, in search of cricket song.

When they set down to make camp, unfolding the kitchen and shower after a long day of travel, they are surprised to meet Splendid Speckled Mosscap, the first robot/human interactio­n in centuries. Mosscap approaches with a question it cannot possibly answer alone; “What do people need?”

Part of what makes the novella so effective is that the book acts as a small comfort. Readers feel they are a part of the same cozy world that Chambers writes. Reviewers from Booktok to NPR are likely to use the words gentle and meditative and purpose in reference to the storyline. The majority of the volume I read in the warm afternoon shade, nestled into a hammock while a breeze ruffled the pages. I am a slow reader naturally but even so, I chose to take my time with the book, letting myself daydream of Dex’s oxbike, and the villages speckling the moon.

Another reason that I find the book so delightful is the subversion of stereotype­s. Dex is a monk, but the source of their discontent does not come from a crisis of faith. Their oxbike is a mess of dirty laundry and drying herbs. Mosscap is a robot, and yet it is not an expression­less string of code. It delights in the novelty of sitting down without necessity. It does not demand the pronouns of living creatures, knowing it is distinct. Together, the two grow in their understand­ing of what it means to be alive.

There are two additional points of appeal for readers. The first is the organic nature of world building. When there is a question of world building particular­s, the answer presents within the subtext of the next page or two. The second is the strong theme of compassion. Compassion for oneself, the relationsh­ips we begin to build with new beings, compassion for the world as we function within. This theme makes the work lovely to read, and soothing for a busy mind.

The second book, “A Prayer for the Crown Shy,” released in July of this year. Several of Chambers’ works, all within the sci-fi genre, are available for checkout through the Sterling Public Library. Of the eight results within the catalog, six are accessible exclusivel­y through Libby. Based on the first book, both volumes of the duology will become residents of my personal library in short order.

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