I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Published by Tor.com on September 22 2015
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: A very short but powerful story about a girl leaving home for the first time, with a strong theme of dealing with prejudice, but a little too short, in my opinion, to fully develop that theme.
This is the second work of fiction that I’ve read by Nnedi Okorafor, and I have to say I’m starting to enjoy her abrupt writing style. That’s the best way I can describe it. Her characters say what’s on their minds and there is very little “padding” in her writing. Just like in Lagoon, Okorafor isn’t shy about shocking her readers with sudden violence. But I love her imagination, and I especially love the way she portrays women. In this case, Binti is the main character, a brilliant young mathematician who has been accepted into Oomza University. Unfortunately for Binti, the university is on another planet, and she must leave her home for the first time ever. Not only that, but she’s the first of her tribe, the Himba, to ever leave home, and you can imagine the stress this puts on her and her family. This is also the first time I’ve read about a female MC whose “super power” is math! Cool, right?
Binti’s adventures start on the ship she boards that will take her to her new home, where she immediately starts to bond with other students who are on their way to the university as well. But not long into the journey, the ship is attacked by an alien race called the Meduse, who brutally murder everyone aboard except Binti and the pilot. Terrified that she is next, Binti discovers she is able to communicate with the Meduse because of an old device she owns called an edan. With the Meduse on course for the University in order to take back a relic that was stolen from their chief, Binti will need to use her reasoning skills in order to survive.
The main draw for me was the character of Binti, who I admired and cheered for as she deals with one scary moment after another, all the while keeping her cool and strategically figuring out her next steps to keep the Meduse from killing her. I loved that Binti is a mathematician who uses her math skills to trick her brain from into going into panic mode when she is confronted with killer beings. Binti is different from all the other students who are on the ship, as she is the only Himba on board, but she steadfastly clings to her traditions, like covering her hair and skin in otjize, the rich red clay of her homeland, despite the fact that the others laugh at her appearance. Standing strong in the face of prejudice is certainly an admirable trait, and I was so proud of this plucky girl who uses her brain—as well as the love for her people—to stand up to those who treat her differently.
The conversations between Binti and one particular Meduse were interesting, but at times felt a little too “messagey” for me. Science fiction has long been used as a vehicle to explain and deal with human prejudices, but that subject seems almost too big for such a short novella. Okorafor tends to state the obvious sometimes, and I would much rather her message, as important as it is, come across in a more subtle way.
Something odd happens to Binti on the spaceship, in relation to her interactions with the Meduse, and I have to use the word “abrupt” again, because I wanted the author to take her time and develop this particular event more. Unfortunately with novellas, an author has a much shorter time frame to work with, and I think in this case Binti would have benefited from being a longer story, maybe even a novel. The end felt particularly rushed, and the author ties everything up in a neat little bow, which might make fans of happy endings smile, but I wanted a bit more ambiguity.
I highly recommend you try one of Nnedi Okorafor’s novels, a format that feels more suited to her writing style. But I can’t leave this review without stating again how much I enjoyed Binti. Any character who is willing to leave the comforts of home, give in to her curiosity about the world, and better herself, even if it means facing down a dangerous alien race, is someone I’d love to know in real life.
Big thanks to Tor.com for supplying a review copy.