Monday, April 24, 2017 |
I am not super conversant in the wider science fiction universe, but I read regularly because they 1) have great (free) original short-form SFF content, 2) a lot of it is by diverse authors, and 3) they do a good job of reminding me to read their articles via Twitter. I saw the cover art for Nnedi Okorafor's Binti there when it was first released, and I put it on my to read list straightaway. I mean, LOOK AT THAT ART! It’s so beautiful and haunting and distinctive. I didn’t finish the novella until recently (one of my lovely secret sisters gifted me with the Kindle version, and it was the kick I needed), but guys, I can’t believe I waited to read this little book. It’s A+ feminist sci-fi entertainment.

binti by nnedi okorafor book cover
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Binti is a young woman from an insular and mathematically talented desert people. The Himba are known for wearing clay on their skin and in their hair, and they cherish this part of their identity, even as it marks them as different. As the heir to her family’s astrolabe-making legacy, no one expects Binti to leave home – it just isn’t done. But Binti has surprised herself by getting into the most prestigious university in the galaxy, and she longs break taboo, leave, and to meet like-minded fellow students. What Binti cannot know is that her fateful decision to step into the unknown will change her, and the course of history, forever.

This compact story (under 100 pages) packs a punch. The plot isn’t overly complex (how could it be in so few pages? especially with any attention to world-building), and neither are the descriptions of tech or mathematics (no matter that the main character is a math and tech prodigy). However, Binti has one of the best senses of place that I've read in a long while - maybe ever! Okorafor also engages the reader with visceral, immediate and vivid descriptions of her heroine and her standing in her culture, along with her sometimes-dark inner thoughts and feelings.

I’ve made an honest effort recently to note the themes in books I like, rather than just enjoy them (in hopes of refining my book taste, I suppose). What I noticed in Binti: transformation, cross-cultural understanding, racism/othering, isolation/loneliness, and bucking tradition. Okorafor also played with some standard SFF tropes: a school for the gifted in space (on another planet in this case), and reimagining "the chosen one."

While Binti is a quick read, the pace is a bit slow at the very start as the reader settles into the setting and Binti's head (there’s some repetition as she focuses/convinces herself to do something). Then it’s danger, action, and suspense to the very end. 

I loved this book to bits, and I thought it had just enough worldbuilding and character development, but I guess I’m used to over-exposition common in most science fiction and fantasy. Basically, I came away with questions about the world: What is an astrolabe? Why the Khoush are so dominant? Why did Binti’s people have to learn the history of the Meduse, even though it is not their fight? What is going on with the Meduse and how did their contact with the Khoush start? How did math become central to everything Binti's people do? With all of these unanswered questions, you can imagine how excited I was to find that there’s a whole series of Binti novellas in the works. I can’t wait to read more Nnedi Okorafor!

In all, a satisfying sci-fi novella with world class description, a healthy dose of originality, and first person characterization.

Recommended for: fans of character-driven sci-fi, anyone looking for a book with a smart, strong heroine, and fans of Sarah Beth Durst's Vessel


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

YAY so glad you liked this! I'm planning to read this and the second Binti novella sometime this year -- they sound terrific!

carol said...

I don't read much sci-fi, but this sounds really good - and short, which is a positive sometimes.

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