Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: September 2015
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 the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.
Characterization and badassery
The characterization in this book is beautiful. There’s a rich cultural background that creates a futuristic alt-history sort of fantasy Earth. The racial allegories are much more than mere overtones, though the story itself comes through on its own strength.
Binti is a dark-skinned girl from a somewhat xenophobic culture. There’s a definite chicken-and-the-egg situation with that xenophobia. Would they have been that way if the white majority did not treat them so poorly? But Binti’s people have their interesting culture and mathematical abilities that serve as the basis as a sort of magic. So there are as many fantasy elements as there are science fiction elements.
Binti has struggled with her desire to go to a prestigious university. She’s the first of her people to be accepted. But because her people do not leave their land, she has to sneak away. The rest of the story is about her trip to the university. She proves to be courageous, friendly, and ambitious, while having many of the typical teenage desires to fit in.
Plot and pacing
The plot is very simple, but the prose (see below) fills in the gap. The one issue I had with the plot was that Binti survived harrowing circumstances not due to her agency, but due to a deus ex machina that acts as a weak hinge to keep the story together.
The pace is fine. This is a novella, and it took me about an hour to read. There were no parts that seemed to drag.
Prose and editing
The prose is easily the best thing about the story. I had a strong sense of the sounds, smells, and micromoments of the story. I felt truly immersed in this world, which existed in a beautiful, almost lyrical sense. The prose is so full and vibrant that the simplicity of the story is a non-issue.
A wee smidge of gallows/culture clash humor, but that’s it.
Okorafor’s writing style has made me a fan. I’ll be reading more of her stories because they flow like wine–rich and easy. If the story itself isn’t complex, that’s fine. Not all stories need to be. This was a true pleasure to read.