Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built is (Amazon informs me) the first of her “Robot & Monk” books. Or novellas, I guess, as that’s what this is.

And it sort of feels like a first book. Or more precisely, even, the first third of a book that’s all setup before the plot happens. Because while it can hardly be a surprise to note that the story features both a robot and a monk, one of those characters doesn’t show up until way, way late, and this entire story is essentially the faffing around that the other one does before meeting up with their counterpart and getting started.

But then, it’s a Becky Chambers story, so spending the entire thing faffing around isn’t actually that weird, so maybe this is how it would go if this were the only story in this series. Usually, she’s able to make that low-plot ambient niceness thing work for me, but here it just kinda felt like a big pile of nothing.

Part of that is that I’m really curious about this setting. It’s clearly not on Earth (it’s set on a moon), the people seem like humans, but also they had a period of using petroleum products before moving away from that, so like… are they descendants of people who rode oil-powered spaceships out to settle new colonies? Are they not really human and I missed a very subtle clue? Is this supposed to be somehow a post-apocalypse on a terraformed moon? Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I’m supposed to think about it at all; it feels like I’m supposed to treat it as just a kind of fantasy world, where this is just how it is because it’s how it was created.

So yeah, if you’re going to provide an interesting background for your characters to stand in front of, I’m going to want to spend more time looking at that. (The Galaxy and the Ground Within was cleverly set on a super-boring planet that didn’t overshadow the barely-there plot.) Still, the book is interesting enough that I’ll read the sequel; and while I hope the sequel delves more into the parts of the setting that interest me, I suspect it won’t, and will also just be amiably low-key pleasant.


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