A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, a novella by Becky Chambers, was published in 2022.
It’s the second book in the “Monk and Robot” series.
I downloaded it from the Sno-Isle Libraries.
The story takes place immediately after the end of A Psalm for the Wild-Built.
Sibling Dex and Mosscap have left the wilderness, the only place Mosscap had ever known, and have entered the half of Panga inhabited by humans.
Mosscap is still seeking the answer to its question: What do humans need?
Sibling Dex has broadcast the news of their encounter with Mosscap. Now their inbox is full of replies. The city’s university wants to set up a seminar. Monks want to schedule a forum. Village communities want to schedule meetings. Everyone wants to meet the first robot to reach out to humans since the Awakening.
Dex and Mosscap’s first stop is a village named Stump. Mosscap had been concerned about how humans would react to it. Would the sight of a robot bring painful associations with the Factory Age? But Mosscap had no need to worry. The villagers were eagerly waiting to greet the robot. They’d made a banner that says “Welcome Robot.” (I’ve said it before: This is the most pleasant post-apocalypse story I have ever read.)
Dex realizes, too late, that they had failed to plan out what was supposed to happen at these meetings. They were used to being a tea monk, where individuals came to them. They don’t know how to address a crowd. And why, exactly, are they addressing a crowd? After fumbling a bit, Dex explains that Mosscap wants to know what humans need.
The villagers are confused. They fall silent. Eventually, a man speaks up. He needs his door fixed. Someone else says they have a bicycle they need repaired. Other villagers list various tasks they need help with. Maybe it isn’t the answer Mosscap was seeking, but it is eager to help the villagers.
I thought that this was amazing: Mosscap is given a total of 38 pebs for helping the villagers. (Dex says that it’s short for “digital pebbles,” but no one ever says it that way anymore.) So, it’s like money, asks Mosscap. No, replies Dex. (Money hasn’t existed for centuries, but Dex learned enough about it in school to understand the concept.) The book takes several pages of conversations to explain the system, and makes it seem both familiar and unusual. “…instead of a system of currency that tracks individual trade, you have one that facilitates exchange through the community.” Basically, pebs differ from money in that they aren’t required for the exchange of goods and services, but they instead provide an incentive to contribute to your community. Every person’s peb account is on public record, and debt, rather than being seen as a negative character trait, is seen as a cry for help. (I wish Star Trek had explained its “money doesn’t exist anymore” concept as well as this book does.)
Dex and Mosscap travel around Panga and have many adventures. (I especially enjoyed Kat’s Landing, a village where everything is crafted from centuries of garbage dredged from the waters, and the events that take place there.)
As with the first book, this book is crammed full of religious and philosophical discussions. (Dex explains to Mosscap how shrines are intended for humans, more than for the gods they honor.) There is a fascinating reason that Mosscap is reluctant to have one of its oil-based plastic parts replaced with a bioplastic part.
The first book is devoid of conflict. This book introduces some mild conflict when Dex and Mosscap travel near an isolationist village opposed to modern technology. Even then, it’s a merely matter of Dex avoiding the village out of respect for its beliefs, and the village avoiding contact with a robot and an electric ox-bike. Ultimately, this conflict turns into another philosophical discussion.
This is a book about peaceful coexistence.
It’s a story about a friendship.
This is a short book, just 156 ePages on my phone, or 80 ePages on my tablet. It jumps right into the story without a recap of the first book. I don’t think you’d be able to read this book without having read the first one. This isn’t a criticism, exactly, but I wonder why Wild-Built and Crown-Shy are two short books instead of one regular one.
I’m not sure if there’s going to be a third book in the series. The ending of this book felt more like an ending than the first one did. It left several questions unanswered. Then again, maybe those questions don’t need answers.
I absolutely loved this book.