Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Binti" By Nnedi Okorafor

Cover illustration by David Palumbo

Binti is a 90 page novella by Nnedi Okorafor. It is part of Tor's new imprint featuring shorter works of high quality SF. The book sports Stubby the Rocket on its spine rather than the usual Tor logo. I read a longer short work in this series just a few weeks ago: Kai Ashante Wilson's superb The Sorcerer of Wildeeps and Binti is a no less accomplished work.

It's also just as bloody in its own way, although that won't be a surprise to anyone who has read Nnedi's adult work.

The novella tells the story of Binti, a girl from the Himba tribe of Namibia, who has just been accepted into Oomza University, galactic U. So we have here a very Heinleinian set up: a youth sneaks off to seek their fame and fortune among the stars. Except being from an ethnic minority, Binti takes a lot of shit from other Earthers even before she gets off planet.

Numenera fans will love the edan that Binti found in the desert and now carries with her as a keepsake. "'Edan'" was a general name for a device too old for anyone to know it[s] functions, so old that they were now just art." As she goes through security screening at the spaceport, Binti's edan becomes a focus of the guard's scrutiny:

"He was inspecting its stellated cube shape, pressing its many points with his finger and eyeing the strange symbols on it that I had spent two years trying unsuccessfully to decode. He held it to his face to better see the intricate loops and swirls of blue and black and white, so much like the lace placed on the heads of young girls when they turn eleven and go through their eleventh-year rite."

Fans of Farscape, the Trinity RPG, and the Strange Stars setting will love the starship in which Binti travels (whose name may be an original Star Trek series reference; but maybe not):

"The ship was a magnificent piece of engineering technology. Third Fish was a Miri 12, a type of ship closely related to a shrimp. Miri 12s were stable calm creatures with natural exoskeletons that could withstand the harshness of space. They were genetically enhanced to grow three breathing chambers within their bodies."

Due to one particularly bloody scene, I'd say this is a novella for adults rather than for the YA market. I won't spoil the rest of the story; just get it and read it. Nnedi has created an interesting, emotionally complex and resourceful young female protagonist. Conflict is resolved in ways you don't often see in space opera. There are some rather fantastic medusoid aliens, with a culture that mirrors the Afrofuturism of the humans in this setting. I may write the Meduse up in the near future as a clade for the Strange Stars setting. They are a perfect fit.

Just go read this one!

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