book reviews by Althea

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor ***

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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read as part of the Hugo Voters’ Packet.

Enjoyable YA space adventure with an engaging protagonist.
In this future, the Himba tribe of Namibia are an insular minority, looked down upon by the majority Khoush although the Himba have become specialized experts in math and ‘harmonizing,’ producing “astrolabes” (which seem to be the future’s smartphones). Teenage Binti’s skills have won her a coveted scholarship to an intergalactic university, but to her family, it is unthinkable that she would be permitted to leave her tribe and go. Unwilling to let her dreams die, Binti runs away and soon finds herself on a ship en route to Oomza Uni. Unfortunately, that ship is hijacked by alien terrorists.

Although the setup is both fun and fascinating, there were a few plot holes and the way things eventually worked out was too easy and simplistic, I thought.

My issues with the story:
(view spoiler)

2. On a related note, although yes, the professors at the Uni did both the right and the sensible thing by acceding to the terrorists’ demands, it seems inconceivable that none of them would mention the slaughter of a boatload of their colleagues, some of whom would undoubtedly have been close friends, lovers, family… No grief or anger at their loss is shown – only a bit of anger at demands being made. Overall, the mass murder is treated like a quickly-forgotten no-big-deal.

3. Binti’s skin treatment is revealed to be a cure-all to the alien Meduse race. Luckily, it turns out that the formula is not unique to Namibia; it can be produced elsewhere. However, no mention at all is made of the immediately obvious situation: if something you have is valuable to a warlike species, you and ALL OF YOUR PEOPLE are in deep danger. It never seems to occur to Binti that if she can’t provide more of it, the Meduse would undoubtedly invade Namibia for it.

4. In a story this short, there’s room for a limited number of unexplained and logically unlikely thingummies. We start out with one, the mysterious ‘edan’ that Binti found in the desert and uses as a good luck charm. It sure is convenient, when she’s attacked, that her good luck charm turns out to be a mentally-powered force shield AND translation device! But, seeing as there wouldn’t be much of a story if it wasn’t, I can accept that. All the Meduse are appropriately shocked that she can suddenly communicate with them. However, that’s kind of negated when later, it turns out that communication can ALSO be facilitated by a quick ‘sting’ that’s actually some kind of DNA/blood transfusion… I think that having either the ‘sting’ or the ‘edan’ as a plot device, but not both, would’ve made the story stronger.

5. As one last minor point, I would’ve liked more on what ‘harmonizing’ is and how a math/engineering-related skill translates into negotiation skills. But that’s mostly just because Binti’s professional thought processes are interesting. I wanted to find out more about the ‘astrolabes’ she makes, too!
(hide spoiler)]

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