by Nnedi Okorafor
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.
I've been meaning to read something of Nnedi Okorafor's for a while now. She's very popular in the realms of SFF and so much of her work seems to deal with themes that I love to read in my fiction, while also dealing with fantastical characters and places influenced by Africa as opposed to all the American and European-based fantasy and science fiction out there. Binti won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in last year's Hugo Awards so I was eager to check it out, especially as I don't read many novellas and I was hoping this story would give me the same kind of vibe I got from Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet which I love very much.
Like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Binti is a piece of science fiction that explores how we react to and treat cultures different to our own, and how mutual respect can lead people from war to peace, but I found it to be a much darker story than Chambers'. This isn't a bad thing and is truly no surprise considering the situation Binti finds herself in after she flees her homeland to attend university, something her people never do, on a ship that is doomed when it finds itself caught in the crossfire of a war that has been raging on for years.
I love Okorafor's imagination, particularly Binti's culture and how it's viewed by outsiders versus people like Binti who understand the importance of her people's customs and traditions. To be honest I wanted to know even more about Binti's life before she left for university; I wanted to meet her family, to see what life was like at home for her and how she fit into her society and what everyone she knew at home thought of her and how she'd ended up applying to university in the first place. In fact I'd've liked Binti to be longer in general, because I enjoyed what I read but there was so much that I felt could have been explored more that the novella left me a little dissatisfied; I felt as though I didn't really get to know Binti's friends very well at all or what her relationship with them was like, which made it difficult to feel emotionally connected to the story during its darker moments.
In general I felt as though everything was wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking - I was particularly frustrated with a section near the end of the novella where Binti accepts something about her being physically changed without her permission more easily than I was expecting her to - so I'm looking forward to the sequel, Home, which is being released at the end of this month and I'm hoping will explore a lot of the things I was hoping would be explored in this novella.
All in all I didn't fall head over heels in love with Binti as I was hoping to, but I still really enjoyed it and I think Okorafor is completely worthy of all the praise she's been receiving for it. I think this was a great introduction to Okorafor's work and I'm definitely planning to read more of her work in future - I've got my eye on Akata Witch.
If you want to read science fiction that explores cultural differences and is less Americanised than so much science fiction out there, I recommend picking this up and giving Okorafor a chance. She's a much-needed voice in the realms of SFF and I can't wait to see what she does next because Binti is full of potential.