By: Angie Haddock
In her Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella, Nnedi Okorafor introduced us to Binti, a young Himba girl with the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family’s concerns, Binti’s talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey.
The above description is for the first story of Binti, which was a novella. Several more stories followed, and I actually read the anthology of all of them.
The first novella starts in the middle of some action – specifically, the action of Binti leaving home to go to a university on a faraway planet. She belongs to the Himba tribe (a real people, by the way), and most of them never leave their home turf. So she is going against the will of her family.
We are immediately introduced to the interesting dichotomy present in all of the Binti stories: the juxtaposition of a technologically advanced future world where humans interact with beings from other worlds, with that of a traditional tribe who mostly stay to themselves.
Because the stories are individually short, I loved that the action started right away. Even though we’re in a fictional/future world, Okorafor doesn’t have time for elaborate world building to take place up front – you just learn as you go through the story.
The trip to university does not go smoothly, and we meet the main adversary of the first story: the Meduse. These are large jellyfish-like creatures who are connected through a hive mind. They attack the ship taking Binti to the university, but of course, our heroine survives. She even learns to communicate with the creatures, and learns why they attacked: the university has something of theirs that they want back, and they plan on using the ship to sneak into their territory.
Binti offers to be a liaison of sorts, to negotiate with the university and get the item back for The Meduse. Binti is known in her tribe as a “master harmonizer,” but up to now she has mostly used this skill in the context of math and technology. This interaction sets her on a new path, where she will harmonize between different beings and cultures.
This theme continues throughout the series. In later events, Binti tries to bring peace between her tribe and another tribe on Earth who live in the desert, between the Meduse and their enemy the Khoush, and more.
Another ongoing theme is Binti struggling to find peace between what her family and tribe expect of her, and what she feels she is being called to do. A life in space, interacting with other species, was not exactly on her family’s radar for her. And when she brings a Meduse home to Earth, it causes problems with the neighboring Khoush, for which Binti is blamed.
Overall, these stories were fun and engaging. I felt like the second and third novella were really one continuous story, and the division between them seemed arbitrary. There were a few minor issues like that – things that bugged me, but didn’t necessarily ruin what was good about Binti’s story.
I read this story with friends, as part of my deep dive into diverse sci-fi. See more here.