I had just finished A Closed and Common Orbit and was eager to read another book by Becky Chambers. Fortunately, my family gave me A Psalm for the Wild-Built for my birthday, so another one was on hand to be immediately dived into. In A Closed and Common Orbit, Chambers dwells on purpose. In a APftWB, she dives deeper into understanding what it means to have a purpose, why even have a purpose at all, and to not have a purpose, as well. I had been delightfully impressed with Chambers up to this point but A Psalm for the Wild-Built pushed her to the top of my new favorite author list.
In a distant future, on the moon Panga, robots woke up and left humanity, choosing to go off into the wilderness. Humans had wrecked the natural world to an alarming extent and the robot exodus woke humans up to the need for change. The land was divided, half to be untouched wilderness for the robots and the remainder for the humans. Generations have past, humanity has learned how to live in harmony with the natural world but the robots have remained remote, slowly sliding towards legendary status. In the wiki for this book, it is referred to as Solarpunk, based on the description, I agree. I’ve never heard of this genre before but now want to read more of it! Excerpt from the wiki:
Solarpunk is a genre and art movement that envisions how the future might look if humanity succeeded in solving major contemporary challenges with an emphasis on sustainability, climate change and pollution. It is a subgenre within science fiction, aligned with cyberpunk derivatives, and may borrow elements from utopian and fantasy genres. Contrasted to cyberpunk’s use of a dark aesthetic with characters marginalized or subsumed by technology in settings that illustrate artificial and domineering built environments, solarpunk uses settings where technology enables humanity to sustainably co-exist with its environment with Art Nouveau-influenced aesthetics that convey feelings of cleanliness, abundance and equability. Although solarpunk is concerned with technology, it also embraces low-tech ways of living sustainably such as gardening, positive psychology and do-it-yourself ethics. Its themes may reflect on environmental philosophy, such as bright green environmentalism, deep ecology, and ecomodernism, as well as punk ideologies such as anti-consumerism, anti-authoritarianism, and civil rights.
Sibling Dex is a monk of the Child God Allalae, God of Small Comforts. They chafe at their life in the City and begin to yearn for places unknown, a curiosity that was pricked by learning about crickets and their song. Crickets hadn’t recovered from the environmental damage but recordings were made before they went extinct. Dex decides to change vocation and become a traveling tea monk, bringing comfort and tea service to the outlying communities and to see the greater world. But they find they are still not content and one day decide to do something audacious, head off into the unknown in pursuit of crickets.
This is a slim novella, 147 pages but I put in 13 sticky tabs to mark passages that stood out. I rarely have that many, even for chonker novels. There is so much I want to quote and share but I don’t want to take away the joy that is reading these passages in context. But I do want to call out Chamber’s elegantly descriptive writing, “Dex hadn’t minded the forest chill, but the sudden bloom of warmth felt like the squeeze of a soothing hand against their bare arms.”
I really can’t recommend this book enough. One doesn’t need to have read any books by Chambers to appreciate this one. However, having read two of her other novels, I see that this is an extension of ideas she was working through previously. I did not expect for A Closed and Common Orbit to dove tail so nicely with A Psalm for the Wild-Built but it was a treat to read them back to back.
The first photo was taken as I set out to write the review. I jokingly posted online that Ponyo wasn’t going to let me go until the review was finished. Moments after finishing the final draft, she repositioned and was no longer trapping my leg!