Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Series, #1)
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.
A scifi novella I heard about in the context of bringing some much-needed new energy to the genre. It’s not that there’s never been scifi starring a black woman, but there hasn’t been a lot of it. What I found most intriguing about the novella, though, was the main character seeking to pursue her scientific interests without losing her ties to her culture. I think this is a struggle that many first-generation college students feel, and I liked seeing it represented so eloquently in literature.
The young black woman going to university isn’t devoid of her own character and culture. The characterization isn’t just like every other scifi main character ever whose skin just happens to be darker. No, Binti is much more than her skin tone. She’s a whole backstory of a tribal culture that is simultaneously rich in scientific knowledge. (A great concept, beautifully executed). Being the first to leave is scary, and she clings to what she knows of home while also being unafraid to reach out and learn new things.
Without spoiling things, her culture and her diversity ends up being a key factor that aids in the war with the Meduse in a creative way that had me smiling. So there’s a lot to like about the novella.
I didn’t 100% love it, though. Much as I got a good sense of Binti, I didn’t get a good one of the secondary characters around her. This made it so that when the bad things start happening later in the novella, it was hard to care about them. Obviously novellas are limited by length, but I do think the secondary characters could have been more fleshed out like Binti to make the action scenes have the emotional impact on the reader that they do on her.
All in all, though, as a woman with curly hair that has been called “tentacle-like” I loved having a scifi read with tentacle-like hair playing such a central role. I’m excited to read the next entry in the series.
4 out of 5 stars