…the spectacle that would’ve existed whether anyone was there to witness it or not.

…There was nothing more that could be said in words. There was only shouting, cheering, cries of delight as the two of them jumped and played and marvel at the spectacle that would’ve existed whether anyone was there to witness it or not.

That is the concluding paragraph of the second book in the Monk and Robot duology. It’s been a while since I’ve been moved to tears by the end of a book and I wasn’t expecting it at the end of this one but here we are.

Briefly, a long time from now on a world not our own, the robots the human population built to serve them achieve sentience. Wonder of wonders, the humans do the right thing and send the robots off to be free and live their own best lives. In the meantime the humans repurpose the fabric and spirituality of their society to reflect kindness, fairness, abundance, sustainability, and hope.

Generations pass, and one day Sibling Dex, a Tea Monk, driven ostensibly by an overwhelming need to find the elusive and possibly extinct cricket so he can hear it chirp, instead finds Mosscap, the first robot any human has seen since the Awakening. Mosscap, in his turn, has been moved to reconnect with the human community in order to ask the burning question, What do humans need? A good question if I ever heard one and one that Dex tells Mosscap will be impossible to answer.

Both of them are happy on the surface but deep down they’re not happy about it, and they’re both on a quest to discover…what? Why not? What’s wrong with them that they can’t be? Someone who knows the secret and will share it with them? If they have any purpose? If so, what is it?

I think myself the unspoken question both characters (and author Chambers) are in search of answering is “How much is enough?” Instead of this perpetual need to see all the places and do all the things and acquire all the other things, is it, perhaps, enough just to bear witness?

“The best thing that we’re put here for’s to see;
The strongest thing that’s given us to see with
A telescope…”

That’s Robert Frost, writing about the guy who burned down his farmhouse for the insurance money so he could buy a telescope, so he could

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

as Mary Oliver admonishes us, and which Annie Dillard did in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, who there wrote

The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

I suppose we can’t all sit around contemplating life, the universe, and everything 24/7 (Who would do the dishes and take out the trash?) but there is a larger message here that we could all learn to our advantage, and that is to wake the hell up. As Travis McGee said

If there was one sunset every twenty years, how would people react to them? If there were ten seashells in all the world, what would they be worth? If people could make love just once a year, how carefully would they pick their mates?

It’s not like we haven’t noticed. It’s not like we haven’t been told.

Gentle and funny and reflective and prescient, and very much recommended, and a shout out to Tor, first for the great covers (although where is Mosscap on Crown-Shy??) and second for publishing something so obviously not meant to be a blockbuster. I hope it is one anyway.

Book Review Monday Chatter

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

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