Tag Archives: Robots

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover is a close-up painting of a covered wagon travelling through a forest. Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

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?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology and religion, but they share little in common with any theologies or religions of our world. I will discuss these topics in my review.

What could be more cozy or wholesome than a Tea Monk and a robot going on a road trip in a utopian world?

I am once again going to need to tread carefully in my review in order to avoid spoilers, but I did want to talk about the theological discussions and religious practices in this universe. Ms. Chambers created such a gentle framework for those beliefs that I was quickly able to relax and follow the characters’ thought processes as they compared beliefs and asked intelligent questions of those who disagreed with them. You should know that Sibling Dex loves and accepts everyone. Their beliefs are sacred to them, but they would never use them against those who have other beliefs or no beliefs at all. Don’t be nervous about reading this if you’re like me and generally avoid stories about religion or theology based on previous negative experiences with those topics in our world. It was important part of the plot for sure, but there wasn’t a single ounce of unkindness in Sibling Dex’s worldview.

My review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built gently criticized the loose plot structure of that book. I’m happy to report that the plot was thicker in this one. Yes, it retained it’s meandering philosophical and religious discussions that are so important to Sibling Dex and Mosscap’s character development, but they faced more conflicts and obstacles to their goals this time around as well. It was fascinating to me to see how they handled abrupt changes to their travelling plans and interactions with other living things that didn’t always go as predicted. This was exactly what they both needed to in order to show the audience how they’d changed as a result as their earlier adventures.

It was exciting to see how the world building was expanded. I finally learned more about how the villages and cities in this world are connected to each other and what their relationships with one another are like. Yes, I wanted to dive even deeper into this topic, but it made sense to stop where we did. I mean, it’s not like I welcome friends to Canada by going on a long monologue about my country’s history, culture, or social customs before asking if they want to try poutine. The important parts are shared as they come up in conversation, so it made total sense for the author to do the same here.

The character development was once again handled beautifully. Sibling Dex and Mosscap changed in all sorts of interesting ways as a result of their journey and their friendship. I chuckled as their assumptions about what humans or robots should be like occasionally bumped up against realities that bore little resemblance to what either of these individuals thought was going to happen. While I did find myself wishing the last scene had been given a little more time to flourish, I’m betting that it was written that way on purpose in order to set up whatever comes next.

This is the second instalment in the Monk & Robot series. I strongly recommend reading it all in order as there were several important scenes in A Psalm for the Wild-Built that are critical to understanding the character development.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy made me yearn for more.

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned! 

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a robot, a person pedaling their travelling home, many plants, and winding paths on it. Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1)

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

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?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology. It is nothing like the religions or theologies of our world, though, which I will explain in my review.

If peaceful science fiction is your thing, look no further.

Sibling Dex was one of the most unusual characters I’ve met in a long time. They were an agender tea monk who had already changed their occupation several times and were still not satisfied with it. The desire to learn more about the world was relentless in them even though humanity had created a utopian existence in which half of the land was reserved for wildlife sanctuaries and the other half was carefully managed to provide for everyone’s basic needs. I was intrigued by how this character reacted the changes they brought upon themselves as well as the ones they never could have predicted.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the plot itself in this review. I’m purposefully writing this very carefully in order to avoid any spoilers, but I also want potential readers to know that the plot wasn’t as well-formed as I would have liked it to be. Sibling Dex went on a journey into the wilderness to find answers to their existential questions, but that storyline never quite coalesced in the way I hoped it would. As this appears to be the beginning of a series, I’m hoping that the sequel or sequels will be more assertive in seeking out answers for this character and giving them more conflict to deal with. I loved meeting them and having such a gentle introduction to their unique world, but I was a bit disappointed by how everything suddenly ended for them in the final scene with so many questions still left unanswered.

This story includes numerous references to religion and philosophy, but they bear little if any resemblance to what people in our world think of when they use those terms. Yes, Sibling Dex was a monk as I mentioned earlier, but their religious beliefs and practices were almost wholly centred on their own behaviour as opposed to worrying about what others did. You will find no threats of eternal punishment, long lists of rules to follow, or harsh judgements of non-believers here. That wasn’t how Sibling Dex behaved about at all, and I found it incredibly refreshing. They simply wanted to be the best monk they could be, and their journey was in part related to how their faith and their understanding of philosophy might be able to help them figure out what to do next with their restless soul.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a breath of fresh air.

First, Do No Harm: A Review of Restore

Book cover for Restore Stories of Singularity #1 by Susan Kay Quinn. Image on cover is of a white robot staring off into the distance. Title: Restore – Stories of Singularity #1

Author: Susan Kaye Quinn

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 2, 2015

Genre: Science Fiction 

Length: 42 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb:

Restorative Human Medical Care Unit 7435, sentience level fifty, is happiness level five out of ten to serve and heal the human master it loves. But Unit 7435 finds there is a price to be paid for love… and for failing in its primary mission. 

Restore  is a standalone short story that takes place in the world of the Singularity novels. 

Start the novel series with The Legacy Human (Singularity 1).

Review:

Content warning: Terminal illness. I will be not discussing this in my review.

A happy medical care unit is a productive medical care unit.

I liked the fact that Restorative Human Medicine Care Unit 7435 had such a distinct personality. This wasn’t something I was expecting to find, especially based on my first impression of this bot who originally came across as someone who followed strict protocols with no room from deviation. This changed once 7435 decided to identify as female for the day and began receiving commands that were in direct opposition to her programming. (Medical care units in this universe can alter their gender presentation and preferred pronoun based on what makes their patient most comfortable)

With that being said, I struggled with the thin plot. It was difficult to remain interested when so little was happening, especially since 7435 had such a limited understanding of anything other than the various types of psychological and physical medical care she was programmed to provide to her patients. She was an interesting protagonist for sure, but developing a well-rounded storyline from someone whose perspective is naturally so limited is tough.

The world building was otherwise well done. My curiosity was piqued by the differences between legacy and ascender humans in this universe. The narrator knew just enough about this topic to keep me wondering why humanity decided to branch off in these ways and what other ways the two groups might be distinct from each other that a medical bot wouldn’t necessarily be aware of.

I’d recommend Restore to anyone who is a big fan of stories about artificial intelligence. 

Hopeful Science Fiction: Monsters Come Howling in Their Season

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Recently, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the fourth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

Monsters Come Howling in Their Season

Like many of the other stories in my Hopeful Science Fiction series, this might not sound like a particularly hopeful place to begin. Keep reading.

The characters in this tale were ordinary, mostly working class people who pooled their resources together for the greater good. I love seeing this perspective in the science fiction genre. There’s something heartwarming about finding out how characters who aren’t wealthy or powerful protect their community from climate change.

Some of the most compelling scenes were the ones that described how the AI was designed to function, especially once it became too complex even for programmers to fully understand. It truly had everyone’s best intentions in mind.

Technology might have caused climate change, but it was also a force for a lot of good in this world. That is such a refreshing change for this genre.

I also appreciated the way the characters’ emotional reactions to hurricane season were portrayed. Violent storms like that are dangerous as Dr. Stevens and her community were far too aware of already. The act of finding hope for people whose lives had been turned upside down by hurricanes that happened before the AI was developed only made these changes in their lives more poignant.

As complete as it story felt in and of itself, I wished it could have been expanded into a full-length novel. There was so much more I wanted to know about the characters and the artificial intelligence they’d created to protect and provide for them during hurricane season.

Maybe someday we’ll get that sequel. In the meantime, this was such a soothing thing to read.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Model Dog

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Recently, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the third story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

A Model Dog

It was written in an unusual and creative way: pure dialogue. That is, the entire story is shared with the audience as we read various conversations between the IT manager and one of their employees.

(The genders of these two characters were never clarified, so I’m making no assumptions about how they identified).

The CEO had a specific vision for how the IT department should handle his request. Not only were they asked to create an android dog, they were supposed to create it to behave just like the living dog who lived with the CEO’s father currently behaved. It was supposed to be such a close replacement that it would be as if the dog would never need to die.

Some of the funniest scenes happened in the beginning when the programmer explained to their boss that they already had 11 action items on their to-do list for that day alone and couldn’t possibly take on another project, much less one as massive as this one. I’ll leave it up to all of you to explore the nuts and bolts of that conversation for yourselves, but it was something I think people from many different professions can relate to.

I loved the plot twists in this tale. While I can’t go into any detail about them without sharing massive spoilers, I can tell you all that they were as logical and internally consistent as they were plain fun to read. Building an android dog that can replace the real thing is incredibly complex. Honestly, this must have been set several decades from present day in order to give this plan or anything that happened after it even half a chance of success.

It was also cool to read about a future for humanity that involved such great improvements in people’s quality of life thanks to technology and science. The task the main characters were given was certainly difficult, but it was by no means impossible. Reading about their attempts to create the perfect android dog only made me more curious to know what else was possible in their world that we can still only dream of. What a joyful place that must be.

If this vision of the future is anything close to what will really happen, sign me up!

Vintage Science Fiction Month: Second Variety by Philip K. Dick

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:  – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier  – talk about it online sometime in January  – have fun If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month,… Read More