A Prayer for the Crown-shy by Becky Chambers

About halfway through Becky Chambers’ A Prayer for the Crown-shy I realized what it was reminding me of: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 novel.

I’m not a fan of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Mr. Pirsig’s novel is an autobiographical account of a cross-country trip he took with his young son. Along the way he reviews the history of his own life with a focus on the philosophy he has learned. He basically reviews the history of thinking working through various ideas to come to a conclusion I’ve long forgotten. This practice has a special name, but I’ve forgotten it. He does it for several days and hundreds of pages.

My frustration with the book stemmed from the lack of communication with his son. What’s the point of going across country on a motorcycle with your son sitting behind you if you don’t engage him in conversation? For all of his philosophizing, he kept missing the most important point while it literally had its arms wrapped around him.

I was irritated throughout and never found any enlightenment.

Ms. Chambers book is the second in a series of three “Monk and Robot” books, set in a utopian future where humanity has managed to find a balance between technology and nature after all of the intelligent machines took charge of their own existence and headed out for the territories like Huck Finn.

Generations have gone by since that date.

The novel is told by “Monk”, a non-binary travelling ascetic who counsels people by making them teas specific to their own personalities and needs. I like this character. He’s kind of a fantasy for many of us, travelling around in a cool custom wagon/home, meeting people in various towns, making them teas, moving on. Then the monk meets a robot.

The robots have had no contact with humanity since long before anyone can remember. This robot is looking to meet humanity, to check up on how people are doing, to find out what they need.

The second book features the two main characters travelling towards the main city. Along the way they have several conversations as each learns about the other’s way of life. The entire book is really an excuse for Ms. Chambers to discuss things she’d like to share with her readers. There’s a lot of philosophy in A Prayer for the Crown-shy. That’s why it began to remind me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but in a good way.

I should be bothered by how didactic A Prayer for the Crown-shy is, but I was not. Even when I recognized that the section I was reading only served as a platform for Ms. Chambers ideas, even knowing that next to nothing was really happening plot wise in the book, I enjoyed it. It was like the two characters in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance finally started talking to each other.

Monk and Robot become very good friends on their journey. The two care about each other deeply. Their conversations, while interesting, are almost beside the point as far as I’m concerned. By the end of this book, the second in a series of three, they are two friends of mine telling me about their vacation over a couple of lattes, or teas, I guess. I’m not really a fan of tea, but I’m happy to play along.

That’s how I feel about the book in the end. Whatever its faults, whatever its strengths; I’m happy to play along.

Look for a review of part three once it finally comes out.