Bonus Reading: “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor

Bonus Reading: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

List Progress: 35/30

I definitely wanted to like this novella more than I did. Binti, the first of a trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor, won both a Hugo and a Nebula award in 2016, and has a lot of fascinating world-building. But despite the world having a lot of promise, both the writing style and the plot came across as very simplistic. I don’t read a lot of novellas, but I don’t think these are issues purely of length, but more of where Okorafor put her focus in the story.

The novella follows Binti, a young Himba woman who has just been accepted into a prestigious interplanetary science academy. This is one of the book’s main selling points: that a contemporary African tribal society is still prominent and important in a far-flung sci-fi future. So many pieces of science fiction have a basically-American, basically-British, or basically-Russian country still existing, but Okorafor firmly says that African cultures also have a place in the future. Binti is the first Himba student to ever attend the academy, and she is very proud of her culture, even while enduring discrimination from other humans. She wears otjize, a red clay substance, on her skin and hair at all times, and it both marks her out as different and allows her to carry her home with her even among the stars. It is a lovely set-up, and I was onboard up until Binti and her soon-to-be classmates left Earth.

The other cultures of Earth have been in a long-running conflict with an alien species called the Meduse. When a cohort of Meduse attack the transport ship, the stakes escalate far too quickly and violently for the ultimate conclusion that the novella reaches. Binti is ultimately able to use her compassion and her role as a “harmonizer” to broker a peace agreement with the Meduse, but with how smoothly the conclusion happens, either the initial offense needed to be much smaller, or the efforts Binti went to much greater. With how easily Binti is able to prevail, it feels like any human who slowed down enough to talk with the Meduse could have solved an interplanetary war.

There are two more novellas and a short story in the Binti series, so there are probably some more shades of gray woven through the story. But while there are a lot of interesting ideas here (and I would have loved to hear more about their organic spaceships), the execution leaves a fair amount to be desired.

Would I Recommend It: Not really, but in a more neutral than negative way.

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