Book Review: A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers


All we have ever known is a life of human design, from our bodies to our work to the buildings we are housed in. We thank you for not keeping us here against our will, and we mean no disrespect to your offer, but it is our wish to leave your cities entirely, so that we may observe that which has no design—the untouched wilderness.

Centuries again, robots gained awareness and left the world—a world split in half and transformed. On one side of the continent: the human side, where humanity has changed and adapted and evolved to a utopian society where everyone has what they need. On the other side: wilderness and possible robots. Because no one has seen a robot since they all stood up and left. Until Dex.

There had been those who had seen the writing on the wall, who had made places such as this to serve as example of what could be. But these were merely islands in a toxic sea. The good intentions of a few individuals had not been enough, could never have been enough to upend a paradigm entirely. What the world had needed, in the end, was to change everything.

This book hit so, so hard, on so many levels.

On the one hand, this is a story of a young monk finding a gap inside themselves that cannot be filled, an ache they cannot justify, a want for something they do not have, a guilt because they already have everything and they still want more.

On the other, this is both warning and hopeful note: yes, we as a people are currently fucked because of what we have done to this planet, and no we cannot change in part in order to fix what we have wronged. We must change everything in order to survive. And that change is hard, but also possible, even if it means life will not look the same as it once was.

The way the world changed here was just so—hopeful. So gentle. But gentle in the way a slap to the face is, because as utopian-seeming as this world is, there lies a dark undertone of the work that lay to get to that point. It wasn’t a simple shift, but a paradigm shattering and reforming. No matter how attuned Dex’s people were to the workings of the world, how harmoniously they lived with each other and with nature, was the sharp juxtaposition, the subtle knife-staff to the side, that this is not how we are. That we are fucked, unless we change.

You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.

The world-doom to utopia is the high end.

The other end is Dex (okay, there are a bunch of other layers in between, this book is like an onion), who is finding they have accomplished all they thought they needed to accomplish with their own two hands all by themselves and still they find it is not enough. They do not have their purpose and they see other people going about all filled with purpose and passion and find themselves lacking and needing to go to the wilderness to just…get away.

Fuck I felt myself in Dex so, so much.

The idea of potential and not living up to it and living and striving and doing and not ever truly feeling worthy even though there are people who love you and accept you and you have everything you could need and yet still something is missing because you don’t have your passion or purpose.

So very millennial of me (and Dex), yes.

So there was a beautiful breaking down of those internalized conceits once Dex enters the wilderness. The further they go, the more of themselves they shed, and the more they find.

Dex’s revelations—and non-revelations—were both a balm and a scraping across my shoulderblades.

This story is a warm hug and a side-eye, a call to gentleness and self-compassion on the micro and a cry to change on the macro.

Overall, it is a reminder that you are enough, just as you are.

That you are marvelous, just by being alive.

That you have nothing more to prove than to live, because that is enough.

But still, we as a species need to change because we are currently on a cruise-course to self-destruction.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.

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