Becky Chambers is an optimist. A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a lovely little novel (slightly less than 150 pages) that takes place in a world where humans have figured out that, in order to have a healthy world to live in, they have to restrict themselves to certain comfort levels and spaces in the world – you can’t just go everywhere and do everything. These restrictions are shown as a benevolent anarchism – there doesn’t seem to be any particular person in charge and people get to make their own decisions. Those decisions are respected.
The book is a quest: a monk, Sibling Dex, wants to hear crickets. That’s their overarching goal. But there aren’t any crickets where they are, so they head off into the hills, onto a road that isn’t maintained anymore. They run into a robot.
Robots, in this world, used to work in factories, but gained sentience. The humans let them decide what they wanted to do, and the robots chose to move out into the wilderness. Humans and robots are completely separate. Except that, in Sibling Dex’s trek through the wilderness, they meet one, named Mosscap.
And so Sibling Dex’s quest to hear crickets up in the mountains becomes so much more than that.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built is about love and understanding and acceptance and it is a much needed thing right now. Definitely recommended.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within is the fourth and final book in the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. I love this series; the books are creative, and warm without being treacly. I don’t find her optimism unrealistic, which is a neat trick in this day and age.
This book takes place at the Five-Hop One-Stop, the equivalent of a truck stop on a small planet at the meeting point of a few different wormholes. It’s a place to restock supplies, get more food, fuel up, stretch your limbs. There are three shuttles – one being per craft – docked when a satellite catastrophe happens: one satellite breaks, its parts break off and hit other satellites, causing them to break, and on and on until the sky is a mass of bits and pieces of metal and no one can talk to anyone and everyone is stuck.
Hence the meat of the book starts. Who are these folks? Where are they going? Where are they coming from? How will they band together or not when push comes to shove?
She has a great interview on Imaginary Worlds that I would recommend where she explores how different species would interact with each other, assuming that one isn’t simply trying to annihilate the other. Those are the questions she starts with; this locked-in-a-room plot is how she chooses to explore them.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within is the last of these books and I will miss this universe. She is moving on to write solarpunk; I am excited to read those stories. The world needs more practical optimism, and Becky Chambers strikes me as the perfect person to write it.
I always feel uncertain writing about classics like Voltaire’s Candide. I mean, this was a book that was cited during the French Revolution in the 1790’s, and its influence is vast. Lots of thought has gone into Candide and its philosophy.
But chances are good you probably haven’t read it. So a quick summary: this is a short adventure novel with a lot of action and a basic debate between optimism and pessimism. Should Candide be an optimist or a pessimist? But that makes it sound boring and it’s not. Like I said, there’s a lot of adventure and hi-jinks and you can read it as a straight adventure story that’s only about 100 pages long. You can choose to engage in it at your preferred level. And I liked that.
I read it mostly as an adventure story – Candide does travel all over the world after all – but with some light philosophizing. Is it better to be a pessimist and never be let down? Or does optimism drive you to be better and do more? It’s not proscriptive; you get to decide for yourself.
Recommended, because there’s not enough thinking about optimism in culture today.