On My Bookshelf: Binti

Binti - book cover.jpgFor at least a month, this novella has been on my tag list for online borrowing. It finally popped up “available” a few days ago. According to my app, it took me fifty minutes to read it. I sent it back right away, as there was already someone waiting in “line” for it.

The title character has left behind disapproving family and friends on Earth to begin university studies on a distant planet. What begins as a young woman’s coming-of-age tale takes a horrific turn when aliens take over the transport ship and slaughter everyone but Binti and the pilot.

Binti has two cards up her sleeve. She carries a souvenir from home, a stone of some kind that is very old, seems to have a mysterious technological aspect, and has the power to fend off the aliens, killing the one who approaches her to kill her. So she is able to survive in her cabin as the ship continues to the university planet. The clay mixture she applies as make-up for face and hair has healing properties for the aliens. These two factors–curious things of culture that set her apart from even the other human beings–lead to a surprising resolution of the plot. Most of all, a young woman in conflict with her culture and struggling to find self-identity finds inner resources of strength and insight. This is a very positive narrative for young women today–I would recommend this work even to non-science fiction fans.

Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor’s tale is tightly written–not a wasted word nor any padding. Plotting and characterization is perfect–I can see why this won science fiction’s top two awards for 2016 best novella. I noticed hulu is developing the story into a mini-series. Good for the exposure. But bad, in the sense that this novella could be made into a single-viewing movie. Maybe there are plans for the sequels to this work to be put on film. That would be worth watching. A Peter Jackson Hobbit treatment we don’t need.

This was my first experience reading Ms Okorafor, so this last observation might be something more characteristic of her prose style. There is something about the writing that draws the reader into a future and a culture not quite our own. It wasn’t at all off-putting, just a window into a different universe. The closest I’ve experienced this is in the writing of Ann Leckie. It’s not just Ms Okorafor’s aliens, which are different enough–not bad guys with special effects make-up. Even the Earthlings seem centuries removed from the present.

I was reading an online sample of another science fiction novel last night and it seemed the opening chapter could have taken place anywhere in a scientific outpost in today’s world. I didn’t get to the part with the aliens yet, but after reading Binti, I was left disappointed. I didn’t borrow that book.

This novella I would recommend for anyone of a double-digit age. There is one scene of blood and gore, but the way hostilities are resolved is something today’s world needs now. Not in the distant future.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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