Monk and Robot is currently a duology of novella length books from Becky Chambers. The words Becky Chambers signal excellence in world-building, understand the human and non-human-psyche, and a lot more.
I was going to put this series in my ‘Finishing the Series‘ Challenge, but then I realised I had to have read the first book to do that. And although I waited, and rationed myself with other books, the second of these kept calling me… insistently.
A Psalm for the Wild-built
Centuries before, robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered, en masse into the wilderness, never to be seen again. They faded into myth and urban legend.
Now the life of the tea monk who tells this story is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered. But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how. They will need to ask it a lot. Chambers’ series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter? [goodreads]
A Prayer for the Crown-shy
After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.
They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.
Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?
They’re going to need to ask it a lot. [goodreads]
My Review of both Monk and Robot books
Following a monk around is a relaxing thing to do. He thinks, he acts, he worries, and he makes tea. But that is something he has to find out how to do the hard way. It takes him three years to get the hang of it;. It’s not just the blending of the tea, it’s what the ceremony represents to all those who come… for advice, discussion, reassurance… So it doesn’t come as a surprise for him to doubt whether he’s cut out for this. Maybe he should just make off into the wilderness and see what’s there?
Becky Chambers allows our Monk to struggle for a while, before being stunned by the arrival of a robot. He (they is the pronoun used throughout for Monk) has no wilderness experience, and the robot is… recycled for it, if not actually born. It’s just part of the robot code to have a cycle of life like the planet does and at the end of a robot’s life, he becomes a new entity. Reborn, if you like.
I love this author’s philosophy in all she does with humans, humanoids and nonhumans. She really thinks things through – to the end of the question, and then tackles what next.
The first novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built (the Robot being wild-built, not left over from those built by humans), ends with the thoughts of Monk and Robot as they discover a sort of Shangri-la, a fantastic temple in the depths of the wilderness. It crumbles, reverts to nature… the cycle of decay and renewal goes on. And as Robot guides Monk back to the highways of civilisation, even as close to the wilderness as they are, he asks to go with him, to discover the answers to his own questions.
The second novella picks up at this point reminding us that Robot, at least, is on a quest. Monk has greater appreciation for the things that make life easier. A road. Places that provide hot baths, and other comforts. This gives us a sight of many other ways that humans live, in small sustainable communities, rather than the big City, where Monk has spent so long already. The furore surrounding the appearance of a genuine robot in the human’s world creates unease – in me, at any rate. The insights into life, the universe, and everything that both characters (and the reader) gain in the smaller community could be utterly destroyed by the City’s demands for public meetings, parades, interviews…
Which makes me wonder whether Becky Chambers has answered the questions she set in this second book. It seemed to end a little abruptly for that to be true, although there is an answer, of sorts. Will there be a third in the series, I wonder? Or shall we just leave them in peace where they are now?