Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I've had Binti by Nnedi Okorafor on my to-read list for about a year or so after hearing about how well received it was- it was the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2016 for Best Novella. I recently watched Black Panther the other weekend and saw first hand how cool Afrofuturism can be and was later reminded on twitter about how Binti is an excellent afrofuturist read. This brought it back to the forefront of my list and I finally gave it a shot. And I'm glad I did.

After the jump, you can find my spoiler-free review. Since this is a novella, I'll not use my typical breakdown and just go over the main things that stuck out for me.

Binti is the story of a young woman, Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib, who goes by the name Binti. She is of the Himba people, a small tribe of people in the desert who focus on mathematical innovation and technology. Her skill in "harmonizing" means she'll be successful creating high-tech astrolabes, like her father, yet it also has given her an opportunity to attend the prestigious offworld Oomza University. She would be the first of the Himba to do so and has to face many surprising challenges on her journey there.

The book focuses nearly entirely on Binti's journey, with deviations to explain technology, culture, and related topics. Binti, being Himba, is dark-skinned and gets alienated throughout her entire story, from her family opposing her trip, to the light-skinned Khoush laughing behind her back, to the deadly Meduse who want to kill her. Despite this, Binti stands strong with her special talents and mysterious artifacts. One big aspect of her and her culture is otjize. This is a red clay she covers her hair and herself in. I had briefly heard about it, but was surprised to learn that the Himba are a real people on modern day Namibia and indeed they do use otjize. Binti's otjize becomes a central plot element as it helps define who she is and is something she struggles to do without.

Binti's journey is not straightforward, though. Without spoiling much, the Meduse appear and take over the ship. They are an antagonistic alien species and pose a real threat. Binti has to struggle to survive amidst a hostile alien race and has to try to bridge the gap between her and the aliens, or die trying. This certainly ramps up the tension and provides a way for Binti to grow.

Overall, this was actually a fascinating short read. It can be finished in an hour or two and you can even find a free preview of it at Tor. I'm always a fan of world building but frequently forget that while other species and distant planets are fine, there are plenty of exciting peoples here on Earth too. Binti is indisputably human and a hero with intriguing talents and an exotic culture that makes her that much cooler. I'm curious to learn more about her story and wonder what the other two books in the series are about.

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