It's been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.
One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered. But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how. They're going to need to ask it *a lot.* Becky Chambers's new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?
Series2 primary books
Monk & Robot is a 2-book series with 2 primary works first released in 2021 with contributions by Becky Chambers.
Reviews with the most likes.
Lovely but I found the language almost too distracting.
Only right at the end of the book did I consider that maybe I really wasn't the right audience for the story - as it seemed to smack of “millennium type problems”. Using air quotes in my description because I'm fairly sure this is a patronising statement I'm making!
The Dex character feels discontent with their achievements and is struggling to find fulfilling meaning. Their work has meaning to others but they're left feeling empty. Obviously it's an impossible measure as life trondles forward and achievements change with time.
For me it was only really when Dex meets the Robot (whose name I've already forgotten) when the book became more engaging. It was like the Dex character could be challenged and some real depth was offered (for better or worse for Dex's personality).
But what I did struggle with was the language and the odd shoehorning of gender pronouns. Dex is neither “he” or “she”, so Chamber's settles with using the “they” pronoun. This led to my own confusion regularly thinking the lines I was reading was referring to Dex and another character that was in the scene.
The sore-thumb moment is when Dex asks, interestingly, what pronoun the Robot uses, and the Robot responds with “it” and it refers to itself as an object. Dex replies with (something like) they are the same, and their pronoun is “they”. This seemed like a potentially interesting exchange between the Robot and Dex about the subject of how one refers to oneself and how they identify, but it doesn't happen. It just has that exchange, and then the story returns to what they were doing and carries on. It felt jarring and like Chamber's wanted to discuss this topic, but instead shoe horned it in.
I do also suspect that my trouble with the language is a me-thing and probably with practice it won't cause me as much (or any) confusion, but for now, and this book, it definitely affected how I enjoyed the story.
Simple but profound, this book is a pleasure. Whimsy and sci-fi seem rather at odds with each other, but here they are not. This is also the first book I've ready with two un-gendered main characters. Overall a distinctly lovely read, and maybe the best title ever.