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Binti (Binti, 1) Paperback – September 22, 2015
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"Nnedi Okorafor writes glorious futures and fabulous fantasies. Her worlds open your mind to new things, always rooted in the red clay of reality. Prepare to fall in love with Binti." ―Neil Gaiman, New York Times bestselling author of American Gods
“Binti is utterly captivating... [and] shows that one girl can change the course of the galaxy.” ―Michaela Gray, Geek Syndicate
About the Author
- Publisher : Tor; 1st edition (September 22, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 96 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765385252
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765385253
- Item Weight : 2.89 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.24 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #78,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Binti desperately wants to go to Oomza Uni. However, few Himba ever leave home, and when she steps on-board the spaceship that will take her to university (without telling anyone in her family what she is about to do) it is a momentous decision. Her trip takes a violent turn when the ship is attacked, and Binti's struggle to survive – and the transformation it eventually leads to – makes for a thought-provoking and engrossing read. Okorafor skillfully immerses the reader in her future-verse, never explaining more than necessary, but giving you just enough to create a captivating and tantalizing world. She also expertly twists and skews the usual “alien vs. human” scenario, making for an unpredictable, complex and satisfying storyline.
Binti is a fantastic read, and while it’s the first book by Okorafor I’ve ever read, it definitely won’t be the last.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Afrofuturism
Purchased Copy: from Amazon
Awards: Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella (2016)
Calvin Park spoke about this one over at one of the recent episodes of his Under a Pile of Books podcast; and since I’ve been trying to finish the last few squares for r/fantasy’s yearly bingo challenge, a book on the topic of afrofuturism was most welcome.
Sometimes, everything about a story is excellent – the voice, the worldbuilding, the protagonist – with the exception of one huge, glaring error, a detail overlooked in such a low-key manner that you might not even notice it at first. Then, once you’ve put Binti away, you pause, take a breath and consider.
That is when the final third of this 90 or so pages long novella falls apart.
But before I touch on this spoiler-heavy section of the review, allow me to offer credit where credit is due. Nnedi Okorafor’s respect for the culture of Binti’s people (which draws inspiration from the Himba people of Namibia) along with its infusion with mathematical knowledge make for a fascinating vision of a society both new and steeped in tradition. The way ideas such as mathematical harmony and “ancestral magic” as some call what Binti does, are presented, enrichens the world, and the internal conflict Binti goes through – between following into the footsteps of her ancestors and going after her own desires – plays out in an interesting way.
It’s an engaging read, which I finished in a little over an hour, having enjoyed many of the ideas within – some of them core tenets of science fiction.
Now, onto the SPOILER-filled part of my review, which illuminates the extent of the problem with Binti.
The Meduse, an alien species that counts itself as one of the enemies of the humans and has long warred with them, assaults a ship traveling towards Oomza University. On this ship is Binti, one of the dozens or even hundreds of students on their way to Oomza Uni. Out of all of them, only Binti and the ship pilot survive. Everyone else is slaughtered in seconds, all at once. Binti eventually manages to talk the Meduse out of their attack on Oomza Uni and comes to represent the aliens before the directorial council of the university. Together, they all come to an agreement that sees the stinger the Meduse came to Oomza Uni to reclaim returned to its rightful owner, and everything concludes with a peaceful resolution and the seeds of friendship planted between two old enemies.
So what’s the problem? Let’s look to the Meduse, and what they do here.
The following notion is a turning moment in Binti’s personal perception of the aliens: “Now I could never go back. The Meduse. The Meduse are not what we humans think. They are truth. They are clarity. They are decisive. There are sharp lines and edges. They understand honor and dishonor. I had to earn their honor and the only way to do that was by dying a second time.” That said, to ignore the fact that the Meduse killed a ship full of prospective students is ludicrous – and this is just what happens, when at the end of the novella, during negotiations, the professors of Oomza University agree to return the stinger of the Meduse leader on whose order the massacre is perpetrated; not only that, they demand one of the Meduse come study at the university. What of the slaughtered students? It’s as if they are forgotten by everyone involved – their deaths forgotten, too, by Okorafor, judging by the speedy resolution she offers.
Based on this alone, Binti, much as I enjoyed most of it, shouldn’t have won a Nebula award. This is a glaring mistake and though I’m very interested in the works of Nnedi Okorafor, to praise her work for such naivete goes against the spirit of science fiction. Look at Le Guin’s “The Word for World is Forest,” a SF Masterpiece which treats ; look at the conflict between terrans and the people of the Forest, and how it ends. When one side slaughters dozens or hundreds, there can be peace...but the kind of harmony Okorafor’s characters find after the shortest negotiations is an impossibility, which overlooks so much of the nature of humanity. Not the better part, perhaps – but a part of who we are, nonetheless. Voices should be crying out for justice and for vengeance; there should be words of righteous indignation spoken. But there are none – instead, there is harmony.
It is not earned. Binti’s growth and individual understanding of the Meduse doesn’t wash away the weight of what they have done. The stolen stinger, as fine a reason as it is to the culture of the Meduse for the perpetration of slaughter and the planning of a yet more grand massacre, is no excuse most anyone would accept. And that...that’s a serious overlook on the part of Okorafor, all the more shocking for the brilliant way in which she captures the culture of Binti’s people, and the work she does on the Meduse.
My score for this one is, regretfully, a 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
Top reviews from other countries
RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS
What I thought...
My TL;DR above does not adequately or even appropriately describe what this book is about - but frankly that's why I'm not an award winning author. This book is about space octopuses murdering a ship full of people. But it is also (and more importantly) about a girl who leaves her people, breaks away from all her traditions to pursue an academic career. It is about family, and culture and all sorts of other important topics too.
It took me a little while to get into this book for one reason - Binti keeps talking about mathematical things, like fractals and equations and all sorts. I know nothing about maths, apart from the basics. I've heard of fractals, but the rest could be all made up or it could be real and I'm not sure which it is. However, once I decided that it probably didn't matter what exactly those little bits meant (I mean I don't know what 'wingardium leviosa' actually means, but it didn't stop me enjoying Harry Potter) I found story really clever and interesting.
I'll definitely be getting hold of the other two books when I get a chance.
Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!
There is no shortage of brilliance in this story. The principle character, Binti, is a lovely wise fool: a brilliant mathematician who is nevertheless adrift in a universe she doesn't understand, because she has left her tribe - and had to overcome significant personal and social obstacles to do so.
The glimpses we are given on Binti's nation, planet and wider galaxy are fascinating jewels, but the story as a whole is something of an unripe fruit.
For example, Okorafor gives us the wonderful living shrimp-ships but, once seen, they basically become a generic spaceship that might as well be Enterprise or Galactica. The astrolabe is frequently referenced but no explanation is given of what it is or what it is for or why Binti's history as a designer of such things is important socially or technologically. And the whole story revolves upon a deus ex machina the author only barely remembers to tell us exists in time for it to become important, only to entirely remove its importance before the end of the story.
In terms of what I didn't like, though, none of that is really important. What left me unhappy with this story was the speed with which the narrative jogged from "these monsters have slaughtered all of my friends" to "this monster is my only friend". The logical conclusion of "I would have more friends if this one hadn't killed all the others" is never even approached, let alone explored.
However... Despite sounding like a hated this story, I really didn't. Binti herself is an utterly delightful character and the world she inhabits is equally beguiling. The problem, as I see it, is that Okorafor has packed a novel - and a good-sized novel, at that - into a novella, cutting away character development, deeper motivation and important chunks of what ought to be in the story in order to rush Binti to her destination.
I will still buy the next two - longer - sections of Binti's journey and expect to enjoy them a good deal more as this author gets into her stride. Maybe, one day, she will expand this novella to the size and depth of narrative that the story arc really deserves. Until then, this is a worthwhile read, but - sorry BookBub - not one of the 51 top scifi stories every written.
From there, not much makes sense. Binti's genetic powers are hammered in without explanation, and there just isn't enough here to give a fully fleshed background as to who they are and why they are such a threat other than the whole killing thing. The conclusion feels just as rushed as rushed and forced with a complete about turn that made no bloody sense.
It's an interesting premise, but it ends up feeling poorly managed and like a disjointed set of scenes hiding something that could be better. I suspect if this was a full novel it might have worked better for me, but as it stands it just doesn't have the depth.
There is so much in this that just gives a twist to something, and makes it different: mathematics as a mix of divination and foretelling, bound up with meditation; an alien culture and mindset, and the struggle to both interpret and understand it; a university in the space age, for all races and peoples; and a girl leaving her home, her culture, her land – yet carrying them with her, and binding them into her new life.
The story itself is simple, and sweet; a journey from home to a new place, a new adventure and all the emotions and trials that go along with it. It’s complicated by troubles during the journey, but Binit finds new strengths, ways around, new ways to think.
If you haven’t yet read this, and you like fantasy or sci-fi – read it. Even if you don’t like it, it will open your mind!