Saturday, July 30, 2016
REVIEW: Binti (e-novella) by Nnedi Okorafor
Again, no read-alikes. I'm feeling lazy. Warning: my review includes spoilers.
Sixteen-year-old Binti is the first of the Himba people ever to be accepted to Oomza University. She'll be a minority there in another way as well – only 5% of the university's population is human. As terrifying as it is, leaving her tribe behind, Binti quickly finds friends among the humans traveling to Oomza Uni – but all of that is ruined when aliens known as the Meduse board the ship and slaughter nearly all of its 500 passengers. The only ones left alive are the pilot and Binti.
The ship is headed to Oomza University so that the Meduse aboard can reclaim their chief's stinger, currently on display at one of the university's museums. Binti has to somehow find a solution that will help her survive and prevent further bloodshed.
When I decided to try one of Okorafor's works, I really wanted my first one to be Binti. The cover art was gorgeous, and the description made it sound like it was right up my alley. However, Binti hadn't yet been released then, so I read Akata Witch instead (which I never got around to reviewing - oops). A review on Booklikes reminded me that I still needed to read this, so I bumped it up to the top of my TBR.
I really wanted to like this story. I'd heard almost exclusively good things about it. It starred a heroine who was going against her family's wishes to chase her dream of attending a prestigious university. In space! It had some good things to say about what can be accomplished if you stop seeing a group as “other” and as “the enemy” and start listening. Also, the details about Himba culture were interesting, and I liked how Okorafor incorporated Himba people and culture into a sci-fi world.
I was miffed when two weeks worth of Binti getting to know people and making friends were glossed over in a single paragraph, but the reason for that soon became clear. The happy-happy ending would have been even more glaring if more of those victims had felt like real, fleshed out people.
I really did like Okorafor's overall message, but it was handled badly. If those 500 people hadn't just been killed, or if the story had been longer and had had the same level of emotional complexity when it came to the Meduse and peace efforts as it did when it came to Binti's struggles with leaving her people and possibly her culture behind, this would have been so much better.
Even with Binti doing the talking for them, I had trouble believing that a group of aliens who had just slaughtered hundreds of people could go to the university, reasonably explain what they wanted and why, and then not only get what they asked for, but also an apology and an offer of a place at the university for Okwu, one of the Meduse who'd have killed Binti if she hadn't been protected by a mysterious device.
Binti, too, adjusted extremely quickly to being around (and even befriending!) a being who'd murdered a bunch of her recent friends and acquaintances. Okwu and the other Meduse had also robbed Binti of part of the way she expressed her culture, taking away the hair that she'd braided into a code communicating the history of her people. Considering how much emphasis was put on the importance of the otjize Binti covered her body with, I'd have thought that the Meduse physically altering her without her consent and removing her ability to incorporate another aspect of her culture would have upset her much more deeply.