Ayfkm with this Eat, Pray, Love but make it sci-fi bullshit?!
I saved the Becky Chambers novella for last on my Hugo nominations reading slate because I deeply love her full-length novels, even tho I was not a fan of her last novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I found that effort too serious, too earnest, but even that was better than this truly bizarre story about first world problems in space/the future/porque no los dos.
The worldbuilding was admittedly pretty great. On the planet Panga, humans worship six gods, and have evolved to the point where, when their robots achieved sentience, they simply let them go. The robots went into the wilds, asking not to be contacted unless they asked for contact first. Humanity carries on, embracing an enlightened view of existence which eradicates need and enacts a virtuous custodianship of the planet.
So far, so good. Sibling Dex wakes up one day and decides that, tho they enjoy their life at the monastery, they need to get the fuck out. As such, they take on the role of tea monk, eschewing training in favor of hitting the road as expeditiously as possible. Unsurprisingly given their utter lack of experience, they completely suck at their job when they first start out. It takes several months of research and several years of travel before they finally become good at it, even earning a reputation as being the best tea monk on Panga (because ofc they are.)
But still they’re not happy. So one day they decide to abandon even this nomadic life in order to strike out into the wilds, ostensibly to track down the sound of crickets. While in the wilderness, they run into an irrepressible robot named Mosscap. Mosscap wants to know all about them, but Dex is kind of a dick about the entire thing. Lengthy conversations ensue about agency, eating and ecology. Dex finally admits that they’re having an existential crisis. Mosscap takes on the role of Magical Neg– Robot to help them understand that they don’t need a purpose, they just need to accept that life is wonderful and that that should be enough.
I mean, really. I had to grit my teeth against Dex’s entire “I have everything I want so why am I not happy?” attitude. I get that it’s a genuine problem, but it’s a problem experienced by people who have never had real problems. And that’s the, er, problem with this story. How is everything so friction-free? How are all the troubles so low-stakes? Some people will claim that Ms Chambers’ brand of cozy sci-fi embraces a conflict-free world, but that’s utter bullshit. There’s war and crime and struggles for survival in all her other books: in this one, Dex can’t appreciate what they have because there’s never any chance of having it taken away. I’m sure Dex is supposed to represent all the people searching for meaning in a life of plenty, but they just come across as a whiny child who’s too spoiled to value the bounty they’ve been given.
And what really chaps my ass is the fact that everything else about this novella is actually pretty great. Mosscap is awesome! Panga is fascinating! But Dex’s incredibly self-centered perspective poisons the well so much that I’m finding it hard to muster any enthusiasm for the rest of the series.
I am 100% not the target audience for this book. To reiterate my constant refrain with this year’s novella slate, I think Doug liked it better than I did. Personally, I’m hella disappointed.
A Psalm For The Wild-Built by Becky Chambers was published July 13 2021 by tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including