Completed 2/4/2019, Reviewed 2/4/2019
This was a wonderful little novella which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in that category. It is the story of a young black girl from Earth who finds herself in the middle of an interplanetary war. It’s an intense, quick read, but Okorafor does not skimp on prose, smart dialogue, or action. I found myself drawn in very quickly.
Binti is a sixteen year-old from an isolationist desert people, the Himba. They have little contact with others, one being the sale of astrolabes which Binti’s father makes and sells. Binti has been accepted into Oomza University. She is the first of her people to be smart and gifted enough for this honor. She decides to go, against the wishes of her parents, siblings, and community. She transports to the shuttle terminal where she encounters prejudice from the very white majority there, the Khoush. They are appalled at her for her race, her hair, and the clay and oil mixture she spreads on her hair and skin. You see, the Himba are the people of the earth, so they cover themselves with this mixture to honor it. She manages to make it on the shuttle with only minor trouble and soon makes friends and even has a crush on a boy. However, after the shuttle is launched, it is attacked by the Meduse, a race of aliens at war with the Khoush and Binti is the only survivor.
If I have any criticism with the book, it’s that it was too short. I like short stories, but this could have been a full length novel. It is packed with good ideas. Everything happens very quickly, and you have little time to settle into it. For example, the process of her making friends basically takes a paragraph. It could easily have been several chapters worth of material. At the same time, Okorafor pays attention to some details, like the otjize, the clay and oil mixture that Binti covers herself with. It’s enough to draw you in, but you want more.
Despite being less than a hundred pages, Binti’s character is very fleshed out. She’s very sixteen, both mature and childish simultaneously. However, she is the only major character, except for one of the alien Meduse. Again, there could have been so many other minor characters, but in this short a book, this is all you get.
I give the book four stars out of five. I really enjoyed it, wishing it were longer. At least we get into Binti’s world two more times, as this is a trilogy. And the next book is over a hundred and fifty pages, so here’s hoping.