Machinery: because, duh, robots, but could also be They She He since Dex is nonbinary (a fact never really commented on!)
Man oh man does Chambers have a style: she’s going to sneakily set up a world, and then just WALLOP you with utterly charming characters whom you cannot help but get invested in.
The worst part of this book? That it’s so short–more of a long-ish novella than a real, fulsome standalone book. I don’t know if this is the first in a series of longer novellas, or the first foray before a series of longer books, but I can say that I don’t quite see what larger story there is in this world AND I fully expect to be proven entirely wrong.
The world building in this one is all in the blurb: a number of years ago on a not-Earth place (they talk about it being a moon orbiting a sun, so I think that’s either a red herring or genuinely meant to set it elsewhere) robots gained sentience. We’re not sure why, and sort of like Battlestar Galactica’s “networked computer” conceit it happened to all of them, everywhere, making our reliance on them re: industrialization sort of unconscionable. So, as a species, humanity and robotkind decided on a truce of sorts: robots would go off into the wilderness that covers a majority/50% (can’t remember) of the surface and would always be welcome back into society. It’s been a while, though, and no one has seen a robot (although everyone continues to be low-tech). And then…one appears.
There’s no robot apocalypse, there’s no giant dramatic denouement. This is classic Chambers, where issues are contained and no less important. Our main character, Dex, is a monk (yet another unexplained but utterly understandable professional) who decides to become a tea monk one day. A tea monk basically goes from village to village on an electric-bike-powered-RV, setting up pop-ups where people can drink blends of tea and kvetch about their issues. Dex is not clear why they wanted to make such a change, but they know they need to do it and are supported in doing so.
I don’t really know what else to say without just straight up reciting more of the plot, as thin as it is at times (Dex and the robot journey together. The road gets tricky and they have to stop. They continue on foot). That’s not the point, though, as you might expect–it’s really about that journey, whether by mechanical foot or bike or human foot or whatever. I wasn’t quite sure what this book would be like when I saw it was next on Chambers’ list (and, to be honest, I was sad that the Wayfarers series was over). I’m so very glad I nabbed it when it came out!