Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is a novella that was on my radar for a while, but particularly came to my attention when it was shortlisted for ALL THE AWARDS this year. I purchased it for being the most interesting-seeming novella on the Hugo shortlist.

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.

Binti starts off as a lovely story about a young woman with strong cultural ties stepping outside of her comfort zone and leaving her planet and her home for the first time. Leaving her family behind is difficult and she knows they will be angry with her for going. But she holds onto her heritage, taking her traditions with her when she leaves Earth. Although Binti begins as a story of adjusting to new experiences and being surrounded by new people, all of them from different cultures, it takes a sharp turn for the dire, partway through Binti's journey to university.

The story of Binti's belonging — or not belonging — turns from a story of potential social awkwardness into one of survival when Binti is confronted by hostile aliens. I quite liked that Binti was physically changed by her traumatic and otherwise life-changing experience.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting this shift in story, but it definitely made for an interesting read. In particular, the final resolution was not entirely expected, but was very satisfying. That said, I would've loved to have read the conversation Binti has just after the close of the novella! Perhaps if there are more stories set in the same world (which I have heard may be the case), we can find out how that played out.

I highly recommend Binti to all fans of science fiction, novellas, and stories about diverse cultures. It's not a long tale — I read it in a single sitting — but an engrossing and exciting one. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for more of Okorafor's work, which this was my example of.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Tor.com novella
Series: Apparently more stories in this world are forthcoming
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks

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