Review: A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Once upon a time, a monk living on a solarpunk moon left the city on a quest to hear crickets. Sibling Dex leaves their post as a gardener and takes up the life of a tea monk, traveling through the small towns bringing comfort to all they meet. A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers, is a touching exploration of purpose, relationships, humanity, and the keening ache for something out of reach.

Dex is an amazingly relatable protagonist. I realize that is a cliche, but in this case, it’s absolutely true. Their yearning for something more, their moments of intense embarrassment, the way they freeze up when they don’t know what to do – I saw myself in them. I, too, have been dissatisfied despite living a life that looks good from the outside. Many people have experienced that sort of existential angst. Sibling Dex’s problems are my problems, set in a fantastical world.

And what a world it is! Sibling Dex lives on a moon, Panga. It’s been two hundred years since the Age of Factories, when the robots woke up and left humanity behind. Since then, humans have built a new, more sustainable society: a solarpunk near-utopia where the environment is respected, nobody goes hungry, and solar, wind, and water provide all the power they need.

The early part of the book focuses on Sibling Dex and their situation, but the story really comes alive when they are met by an unexpected visitor – a robot called Mosscap. Their conversations are at turns humorous and philosophical, a series of fumbling but well-intentioned attempts to bridge the gap between their experiences. Dex has a lot of preconceived notions about robots, which leads to some hilarious misunderstandings. Mosscap’s gentle corrections are always firm, without ever suggesting that Dex was speaking with bad intent. Dex, in turn, accepts Mosscap’s corrections with grace. This is the kind of healthy interaction I love to see modeled.

As you may have gathered, the stakes in this book are not high. There is no life or death conflict, no great evil to defeat or destiny to achieve. Personally, I cherished this philosophical, conversational journey into meaning, but if you are in the market for something more fast-paced, then I recommend that you look elsewhere.

The ending is as sweet and tender as the rest of the book, which won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the author’s other work. Your heart is always in good hands with Becky Chambers. There are no easy answers (I don’t think I would be recommending this book if there were!), but there is a lot of hope, not to mention plenty of plot threads for the upcoming sequel.

Nearly two years into a pandemic, with the holiday season in full swing, many of us need something grounding, something comforting that will tell us that we’re okay, that the world can be safe and good. This little book could be that something.