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.
Title: Binti | Series: Binti #1 | Author: Nnedi Okorafor | Publisher: Tor.com | Pub. Date: 2015-9-22 | Pages: 96 | ISBN13: 9780765384461 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 5 out of 5 | Source: Library
My first experience with Nnedi Okorafor was her novel Lagoon. To say that I wasn’t impressed would be to put it mildly. That book made lots of promises that ended up feeling empty to me. So, needless to say, it wasn’t the best first impression that an author could make. I didn’t know after reading it if I would ever be willing to give her another try. But then I saw Binti sitting on the shelf at the library. And I saw how tiny of a book it actually was (lengthwise and actual size as well). I figured at most I’d be wasting an hour of my time if I hated it.
I didn’t hate it.
I wish Binti had been my introduction to Nnedi Okorafor’s work. I really do.
Binti hammers home what it’s like to be different. To be an alien amongst your own race. To be alien even to those in your own family. I think where Binti succeeds is that Nnedi Okorafor speaks those of us that are different in ways that don’t begin with the color of our skin or our gender. She speaks to the ones whose minds shine with a rare brightness. Binti is someone that fellow outsiders can connect with. She is that fellow soul that simply can’t be what her society expects her to be. And while she’s giving us a way to connect with her even if we can’t in other ways. It’s a connection that is seamlessly made, even while her surface otherness is kept front and center as well.
I am that white girl that’s skin is so sensitive to the sun it can almost only be exposed to it through tinted glass. I wear the darkest possible sunglasses because I reject bright sunlight instinctively. I am so pale you can easily trace the blue of my veins underneath my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to face the racism that African Americans do on a daily basis, and I’ll never claim to. Because of that Binti surprised me because of the way it made me feel.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I had this sudden great insight about white people being toerags or anything like that. Collectively, we are. I’m aware of that and I don’t think that’s what this short story was all about. No, Binti surprised me because Nnedi Okorafor made me step into the shoes of someone other in ways I could and could not identify with, and then she took it a step further. It’s hard to even put it into words, especially without spoiling anything. Let’s just say that when she becomes aware of the change that has occurred, that bereftness resonated through me. I felt invaded. I wanted to scream with her because it’s one thing to be different by circumstance of birth or mental makeup. With the first, you have a community to support you, that will understand. To the second, you generally have the ability to find a way to deal with it, because on at least some level you are choosing to display your uniqueness.
But to have any choice taken away? To have part of you altered against your will? To have never even been given the opportunity to say no?
That is terrifying. That is heartbreaking.
And that is the power of Binti.
Oh, and the ship was very neat as well.
I wouldn’t have any other way.
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Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
She is also a co-founder of Ladies of Horror Fiction, though she has stepped down to regular crew level.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.
I think the third book in this series just came out, so you don’t have to wait! Are you going to read the other novels in the series? I’ve heard that Lagoon wasn’t what people thought or wanted it to be, but that was her book that was up for a Goodreads award, if I remember correctly.
Have you ever read Kindred, the sci-fi novel by powerhouse Octavia Butler? Even though that novel was about a black woman in the 1970s (which is when it was written) being sent back in time to slavery. Even though she was a modern black woman who had certain ideas about racism being sent back to a plantation, I felt like I could relate to her because there were also issues related to gender and power.
I might read more as long as the stories continue to be short. I have not read Kindred, but I have read Xenogenesis.
I’ve heard Xenogenesis is amazing and challenging because the concepts are so different from what we normally get in any kind of fiction.
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