REVIEW: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is a story of kindness and love from one of the foremost practitioners of hopeful SF.
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?
Despite their number and close proximity, none of the treetops were touching each other. It was as though someone had taken an eraser and run it cleanly through the canopy, transforming each tree into its own small island contained within a definitive border of blue sky. The effect reminded Dex of puzzle pieces laid out on the table, each in their own place yet still unconnected. It wasn’t that the trees were unhealthy or their foliage sparse. On the contrary, every tree was lush and full, bursting with green life. Yet somehow, in the absence of contact, they knew exactly where to stop growing outward so that they might give their neighbors space to thrive.
“How . . .” Dex began to ask.
“No one knows,” Mosscap said. “At least, not to my knowledge. Some say it’s to minimize competition. Others think it’s to prevent the spread of disease. But as to how the trees know when to hold themselves back, I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”
Dear Ms. Chambers,
Sigh. I needed this. In so many ways I needed this. It’s such a lovely, thoughtful, introspective story of seeking answers but being okay with not finding them yet. Of friendship and quiet companionship and just … being. It’s more than a little bit of a repeat of last year’s “A Psalm for the Wild Built” but it digs a little deeper as this time Mosscap asks its question “What do people need?” to people other than Sibling Dex and Dex finds themself seeking the answer for themself.
When Sibling Dex headed into the wild and was found by a robot named Mosscap, it was a meeting of human and robot-kind that hadn’t taken place in centuries. Once robots somehow gained consciousness, they left humans to relearn how to live without all the robots that had been invented to make life easier for humans. It also allowed the moon to be reclaimed from the cesspit that humanity had turned it into. It’s anti-dystopian. Is that a word? Anyway, things are better now.
After three hundred years of humans and robots not interacting at all, the news that one has deliberately come out of the wilds to talk to humans is Big News. Sibling Dex is happy to take Mosscap with them along the roads where they’ve made their living serving tea and deal with the inundation of requests for Mosscap’s presence but Dex is leery of being so much in the limelight, too. The two travel to many settlements which delights Mosscap.
“Mosscap’s lucky,” Leroy said, “to find someone as kind as you to look after it.”
Dex warmed under the compliment but squinted at the phrasing that came after. “Mmm, I’m not its keeper. Our arrangement isn’t like that.”
“What is it like?”
Dex thought. “You ever had a friend come visit from somewhere else? Somewhere far away, where they do everything different? You have to show them around, teach them what the food is, how the tech around your house works, what counts as good manners?”
“Sure,” Leroy said.
“That’s what it’s like,” Dex said. “Mosscap’s my friend, and I’m just showing it around. It did the same for me, out in the wilds.
There are so many things to see and do and people to ask its question to. Dex finds themselves explaining things that they’ve known their whole life but which fascinate Mosscap. Sometimes Dex struggles. Sometimes the reason for Mosscap’s glee at everyday things escapes Dex but it leads to wonderful conversations between them. “I see the world this way but you see it another way because your eyes are different. Your experience is different. And what would it be like to see it your way?” sort of conversations. Or “If you only move from one place to another, there’s no chance of having the happy accidents that come from wandering.”
I found myself bookmarking page after page and highlighting passage after passage until I realized that I would come close to quoting a third of the book that way. And no one wants to read a review that long. But it’s just so wonderful and gently makes points that are important, but not always easy, to think about. Not everyone is the same or views ideas the same way but that doesn’t mean that one is right while the other is wrong. What causes evolution – of thought and of being – and does venturing out from your group change you? How much can you change and still be part of that group?
The robot sat for a moment, considering. “I don’t want to separate myself from other robots any more than I already have,” it said. “I am having the most incredible experience out here. I’ve seen species of trees that don’t live in my part of the world. I’ve been on a boat. I’ve played with domesticated cats. I have a *satchel*!” It gestured at the bag hanging at its side for emphasis. “A satchel for my belongings! I am doing things no robot has ever done, and while that’s marvelous, I . . . I don’t want to become removed from them. The aggregate differences I have are only going to increase as we continue along, Sibling Dex. It’s very nice to be famous, but I don’t know how I feel about it yet, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a trait I’ll have among my own kind as well. So, you see, it’s enough that I’m experientially different; I don’t want to be physically different, too.” It paused. “Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Dex said with a fond smile. “Yeah, it does.”
While I read this novella, I had a gentle smile on my face for most of it. I wanted to hug it and pet it and gently scritch it under its chin. I wanted to sit quietly with it and watch it experience the world and muse about its questions. It makes me feel hopeful. It’s comfort reading but more. I don’t know if there will be more “Monk and Robot” stories. But I would happily read them. A