So, it’s not a secret that I’m a Nnedi Okorafor fan. I like her blend of fantasy, social commentary and emotional honesty. Binti boasts all of these traits. In her newest novella, a 97 pager unless my kindle lies to me, Okorafor tells the story of a young girl who leaves her village and people to go study mathematics among the stars. This is Okorafor’s first “Outer Space” story and I was ridiculously excited to read it. As in, staying up until midnight when it was downloaded on kindle and proceeding to read until two a.m. excited.
Binti, is from a small cloistered village. Though her people are extremely talented mathematically they are isolated from the general population. Binti has never left her village. When she’s offered a spot off-world at one of the most prestigious universities, Binti decides to go against her family’s wishes and leave to pursue her education. But, going away from home is more dangerous than Binti had imagined and she’ll have to use her skills as a harmonizer to survive.
Binti’s abilities in mathematics are really cool. She does what’s called treeing, finding the patterns in mathematics in a trance-like state. She also is able to tap into some really cool technology.
Okorafor often talks about the way that we see other groups, especially those whose habits and appearance are clearly different than our own. One of the things I really liked about this is that Okorafor (1) doesn’t pretend that being among aliens will somehow magically turn the world post-racial, and (2) the treatment Binti receives from the dominant human group is problematic, but extremely subtle. Things like people touching Binti’s hair without asking or even knowing her create a subtle, but impactful sense of the culture.
The story has a great sense of excitement, without being overly action-packed. Binti’s ship is boarded and while it is, at first, quite dramatic and violent, a lot of time is spent talking about the consequences of a violent boarding. In that way, I think it satisfies a lot of both the action and emotional factors I like in a story.
There are some plot holes– communication between the aliens and the humans is supposed to be a fairly rare thing (only two people can communicate between the species), but there’s a treaty in place. Some of the story points could use some more development, particularly after Binti’s ship lands at University. Similarly, I could have handled more character development. Mostly those weaknesses come down to me wanting to see more of the world.
The story is well done overall. I think this length was a bonus for Okorafor. She writes a lot of her short fiction and then expands on those stories to create her novels. I think this was a happy medium for her writing style. It was enjoyable, despite me thinking that some of the story points needed more development.
*Note: After posting this review, I did receive a copy of Binti for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*