I saw a picture once online—maybe on the Human’s of New York Facebook page—of a young person. The caption (and I paraphrase) said “I want to write stories about a future that isn’t dystopian where we were all fighting each other to survive.”
I think about that often, how so much writing is just that: about the ways we are horrible to each other, and how the world is ending or will end, how it’s all a hellscape.
After experiencing the pages of Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built I have read the opposite of the dystopian nightmares that require brutality and harshness.
Panga is a world in the future that is not much like earth as it is now, though certain objects like computers remain, and the simple pleasures of food, a good shower, and a cup of tea are still enjoyed. On Panga, humans have given half the world back to the wild, and adjusted their lives to do minimal damage to the world around them. Even their buildings are biodegradable, repairable, or ready to absorb back into the earth when they have surpassed their purpose.
People are kind. The main character, Dex (gender: none) is a monk. Sibling Dex, is their official title. They seem a bit out of pace with others, needing their own rhythm and flow, uncomfortable when it is disrupted. Others see this and respect it, realizing that there’s no one right way to be, and that they should respect the choices of others. That might be the moment I first felt hugged by this book, when Dex declines assistance and the offerer says, “You’ve got a flow. Totally” and smiles (pg. 29). It is the simplest of moments, yet it is subtleties like this that reveal the culture of Panga and the world Chambers created.
Without providing spoilers, one other moment stands out: the robot of Robot and Monk is the delightfully curious but also remarkably self-possessed Splendid Speckled Mosscap, or Mosscap for short. When Dex is reluctant to use “it” as a pronoun because robots aren’t “just” objects, Mosscap replies, “I would never call you just an animal, Sibling Dex. We don’t have to fall into the same category to be of equal value” (pg. 69).
I fear to detract from the sweet experience of this book if I write much more. The experience is a mix of child-like wonder and profound thought. It’s like standing in an old-growth forest, knowing that all that is perceptible to the eye is immense, but only a fraction of what exists. It is feeling the weight of that sacredness, while at the same time filling with wonder and a desire to laugh with delight.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the perfect cup of tea you didn’t know you needed until the first sip swirled over your tongue, and the tension relaxed from your shoulders.