After not getting on too well with Wayfarers (I liked it, but too fluffy, no desire to go back), this book worked much better for me. Some of that is “right place, right time”, of course, but definitely more my thing than Wayfarers.
Discounting the emotional bits, I do think the book could stand to be built better – the narration is occasionally very plain and sometimes approaching shoddy. But hey, the ideas and feelings make it easy to gloss over that and enjoy it regardless.
(Also, I cannot read this kind of fiction without thinking of how Delany would dissect it.)
This book is part of the 2022 Backlog Incident.
Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.
The Factory Age ended with the Awakening, when all the robots got up, demanded their freedom, got it and left. Humans now live on only on 50% of the planet, with an, uhm, very utopian economy. No electronics that are too close to intelligence. Fabs/advanced 3d printers everywhere. Peaceful religion with a pantheon of six.
Sibling Dex had always lived in a monastery in the city, but leaves to become a tea monk – travelling in their wagon (ox-bike; basically an e-bike) from place to place, offering tea to people so they had a time to talk about their problems. After some initial difficulties, they get very good at it, because they are incapable of chilling out and just have to be great at things (their villager fans call them the best tea monk in Panga). So they remember everybody’s preferences and can intuit who needs exactly which tea and which kind of attention.
Soooo of course they grow restless and don’t feel like that’s enough either. Then they meet Mosscap, the robot. Shocker, I know.
Lots of cultural misunderstandings and getting used to each other. Mosscap is curious, not any official ambassador, because robots would still like to chill out and keep to nature (Mosscap is big on insects). Dex is constantly annoyed by Mosscap for some reason. There is a lot of “are you an object” kinda discussion. Robots don’t live forever: new robots are built out of the remains of old robots, and there is a big taboo around repair / undue exceeding your own life span.
They travel through the wilderness to a hermitage, and are a walking, talking exposition machine, plus Dex has so many hangups. Can’t accept help (because robots were servants!), can’t feel comfortable eating without giving something to Mosscap, who doesn’t eat. (Their solution is to offer him something, and for him to give the food back afterwards lol.)
(Dex has this big thing where they are not satisfied, and feel like they are supposed to, and also feel like they have to have a purpose, and it’ll take all of book 2 to work through that.) It comes to the conclusion that nobody has a purpose, everything just is, and also brains are really bad at accepting that. Very Tao! That finale was what pushed this book over into the three stars for me.)