Friday, January 25, 2019

7. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

She calls it a novella, but really it is a short story so I feel a bit cheap considering this as a single book.  I did purchase it new and separately, so economically it is quite definitely a book and I'll take that.  Anyways, I have been wanting to read a book by Okorafor for a while now. I thought Binti was the one you are supposed to read but I think I probably should have started with a real novel such as Who Fears Death.  She writes in a lot of different forms with novellas and sort-of series and some books for young adults, so it is difficult to find a clear entry point.

The story is about a gifted young girl who comes from a tradtional desert people and is running away off-planet to go to university, the first of her people to do so and against her family and community's wishes.  En route, the ship is attacked by Meduse and she by the luck (or perhaps her special technological skills) of a piece of ancient tech that she found and keeps as a good luck charm, she is spared.

I am reluctant to be overly critical as this is really a short book.  The protagonist is really cool, as is the setting.  It's written directly and enjoyably.  I gobbled it up.  It just felt a bit thin for me (again, the size so not a real criticism).  I feel that this could easily be a young adult novel (and perhaps that is a large part of its audience).  The resolution is very quick and things work out way too well (given humans), but again this is probably a function of the form of the story.

More disappointing, is that the progressive, racial themes were basically analogous to our own social issues, almost simplistically so.  It is like a 101 of post-colonial tropes.  The girl comes from a minority, dark-skinned tribe that wash, dress and decorate themselves very differently than the light-skinned majority on her planet.  The conflict that triggers the attack is because of a body part stolen for research and kept in a university museum.  I suspect this book informed some of the writing in Black Panther. 

I like these themes and recognize that their absence in sci-fi and fantasy are not an absence but rather due to the dominance of the white male viewpoint.  It's just that I wished they had been incorporated here in a way that didn't keep reminding me of the real world.  That being said, the final part of the book, where the heroine is transformed physically and makes a connection with the meduse suggests the setting will get more complex and take me to a new place without sacrificing the impact of those real-world issues on the narrative.  I do have the next one, so that should be interesting.

Despite my nitpicking, a good start.  I just want to go deeper.

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