I first saw this book on Hannaconda’s blog (here’s a page where it’s shown, but she’s talked about enjoying the series elsewhere). Because of that, I picked it up when I saw it sitting on the library shelf. It’s the first in a trilogy, and I had some time to binge a short book today.
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
This book looked so short, I just plucked it out of the library’s folds. I considered packing all three into a single review, but the next two books are a more reasonable length so I decided to forgive myself with this one.
It won both Hugo and Nebula awards, so I’m looking forward to something interesting and new.
This book was interesting. Overall, I’d suggest it to a fan of sci-fi who wants to keep up with the modern classics or for someone looking for a well-done character from a non-American, non-European background. Okorafor does an excellent job making Binti’s culture accessible enough for a western English-speaker to enjoy, but does not dumb things down to the point where the Himba culture doesn’t matter. I found it delightful, but be aware – this book is very soft science fiction and floats right on the boundaries of fantasy. The description of “math” in the book is horrid.
One thing that I did think was an issue, though, were the use of “Macguffins,” wherein Binti just happened to have the materials necessary to solve the problem. Binti herself was clever, and her motivations were well-developed, but there were several overly-convenient plot devices that I wasn’t a big fan of.
I also wasn’t sure exactly what age range it fit, because it had a lot of tropes and feel like a YA novel but touched on some pretty complex issues of race and history that might go over a young reader’s head. I think I lean towards it being YA, but Okorafor insists it is adult.
4/5 Discoball Snowcones
In this book, Binti is the first person from the Himba people group to attend college on the planet Oomza Uni, and she fears some of the racial prejudices that may crop up against her. Some of these appear to be well-founded, and some of these are not. I did think the author focused a whole lot on Binti’s hair, but I realize hair is an important deal for black people and so I don’t have much issue with it.
When she was in the spaceship, the mysterious Meduse aliens took the ship and killed everyone. Then, it just so happened that Binti had an ancient tech item in her pocket that protected her and gave her telepathic powers. I thought Binti just happening to have this magical thing was a bit too coincidental. As well, Binti’s otjize (or scented red clay she puts in her hair – a Himba practice) just happened to heal a murderous Meduse’s wounds, which gave her an enormous leg up. I thought this, as well, seemed a bit coincidental. I understand its significance in a diversity-focused work, but as a plot device it fell flat for me.
Overall, though, Binti’s efforts to befriend the Meduse was interesting and worth the read. Alexander Eliot, if you’re reading this, I think you’d really enjoy this book. It reminded me of Expedition.
Stay tuned for the next book in the series, Binti: Home!