Monk and Robot Series by Becky Chambers
Monk and Robot (Series Title, #1-2) – Becky Chambers
Book Reviews by Kamryn Kronschnabel, Patron Services Librarian
Sometimes, the world has me weary – and I suspect it has others weary, too. If you’d like a break from it all, might I recommend a nice cup of tea and Becky Chambers? Her currently-two-novella series called Monk and Robot – featuring a tea monk and a robot, of course – is practically guaranteed to help you wind down. I loved its soft pace and sweet approach so much that I decided immediately that the series is one of my favorites, and I suspect some other patrons would feel the same upon giving it a read.
Here's the premise for this series: 200 years before the books start, the planet Panga closely resembled a modern-day Earth – humanity overextended its resources and did a generally poor job taking care of the planet. Then, without prior warning, robots became sentient, refused to damage the planet further, and essentially ground life as it had been to a halt. Other sci-fi novels would have you guess that this led to conflict, but on Panga, humanity chose to amend its ways and restrict itself to living on only half of the planet. The other half, they decided together, would be given back to wildlife – and with that, robots chose to depart from civilization and vanished into the newly established wilderness.
In those 200 years since the robots awoke and left humanity, the world has reformed into more sustainable and healthy communities – so much so that our human protagonist, Dex, feels especially troubled that they don’t find themselves satisfied with the work they’re doing. We see Dex change their vocation to become a tea monk (essentially a traveling therapist, who listens to problems and provides an appropriate tea-based remedy), but when they still feel unhappy, they do something pretty drastic – they head into the wilderness to do some soul-searching. Unfortunately, the wilderness is a relatively dangerous place that Dex has no real hope of navigating nor lifelines to call if something goes wrong. Fortunately (and begrudgingly, at first), they quickly run into Mosscap, a cheerful robot whose mission is to contact humanity to find out how things have gone in the 200 years since the robots’ departure. We hear, echoed throughout the two novellas, Mosscap gleefully asking everyone around it, “What do you need? And how can I help?”, sometimes to Dex’s chagrin.
These dual issues – Dex’s dissatisfaction with their life but nothing concretely wrong, and Mosscap’s desire to help but no grand problems that need fixed – ultimately form the gentle conflict we see throughout the books and makes the series unlike any other that I’ve read. I wrote a review fairly recently on another favorite sci-fi series of mine (The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells), set in a futuristic world of space travel, planetary exploration, planetary exploitation, and corporate greed – I can’t deny that it’s kind of jarring that this, my other favorite sci-fi series, is so slow and sweet in comparison. Chambers’s books are imbued with hope for a better future in a distinct contrast to most other modern sci-fi, and her creative decisions to do so have made her name known throughout the book industry as she’s consistently published works that want her characters to achieve happiness. Make no mistake, though: I consider Monk and Robot to be her crowning achievement, and I encourage patrons in pursuit of something novel and comforting to give it a shot.
Charles City Public Library has the two currently-published books of Becky Chambers’s Monk and Robot in our physical collection (A Psalm for the Wild Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy), and the audiobooks and ebooks are available now on Bridges. Check out the series online via Libby or put our physical copies on reserve – call 641-257-6319 today!