Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Rating: 4 STARS
Science Fictin | 96 pages | Published by Tor
Mini Review: Binti, now a Nebula Award nominated novella, is an important and exciting work of science fiction and Afrofuturism that every fan of the genre should read.
When I saw the list for this year’s Nebula Award nominees, I jumped with joy at the sight of such a diverse array of stories and writers receiving recognition. Binti in particular captured my attention because Nnedi Okorafor is an established and critically acclaimed writer of science fiction and fantasy who is one of the leading voices in literary Afrofuturism.
To no one’s surprise, Okorafor’s latest novella does not disappoint. The narrative follows Binti, a human of the Himba people of Namibia who is chosen to attend a prestigious university in the planet Oomza Uni due to her natural talent in understanding technology. Acceptance is a tremendous honor because only 5% of the university’s students are human and Binti will serve as the sole representative of the Himba people. Much of her knowledge was imparted by her father in particular, and the Himba people in general, because they are a culture with great talent for developing sophisticated technology and are masters of circuits, currents, and mathematics.
However, upon hearing the news, Binti knows that she will not receive the approval of her family or people because, as she puts it, they simply “don’t travel” and are rooted to their land. They are so rooted to their land, in fact, that they cover themselves with it. In the cover, we see Binti spreading the orange “otjize,” a mix of red clay from the local lands and oils from local flowers. So, with fear of rejection and disapproval in her mind, Binti decides to leave her home and planet for Oomza Uni to learn and grow among the galaxy’s greatest minds.
Unfortunately for Binti, she exists within a science fiction story and thus there must be drama and action. As she travels across space, the ship (which is actually a large insectoid creature) is attacked by the Meduse, a jellyfish-like species of people who terrorize space and destroy anything that comes before them.
I will leave the rest of the narrative for you to read and enjoy. But rest assured that it is wonderfully imaginative and thrilling to read. Okorafor writes in a deceptively simple fashion that belies the depth and nuance of the world she creates in a mere 96 pages. I found myself fascinated by tiny details of the novel that I wished could be expanded upon even further. An advanced species of space pirate jellyfish? Spaceships that are actually giant living creatures? Astrolabe communication devices? An entire planet devoted to knowledge and research led by the best minds in the galaxy? There is enough material there to write an entire novel! My only complaint was that there wasn’t more story to read. However, having such expectations is a failure on my part, not of the author’s, as I am perfectly aware of the limitations of novellas.