- Around the Year #9: from one of the top 5 money-making genres
- Book Riot #6: by an author of color and set in or about space
For the record, the five popular genres I could have chosen from were:
Most of these choices are not my bag, though if there’s ever a future year where I have to take on both these “big 5” genres and the 1 Mil+ Goodreads thing again, I may finally just put a clothespin on my nose and read 50 Shades. But for this year, sci-fi was definitely the best choice for me. I don’t follow the genre nearly as well as I did back in high school, but I have more of an interest in sci-fi than in the other 4 types of book.
As, in fact, evidenced by the way I’ve collected a wee small collection of sci-fi books along the way through my addiction to Kindle daily deals. I purchased Binti because it was listed as a big award winner in sci-fi—like Hugo and Nebula awards, which are legitimately a Big Deal. I was also looking to widen my understanding of contemporary sci-fi by grabbing a title written by an African-American woman.* And I am very glad to have been introduced to Okorafor’s body of work.
Still, I have so many mixed feelings about this book.
Binti is a novella which introduces us to both the title character and an entire universe Okorafor has created for Binti to inhabit. For such a wee little tale**, it is an incredible tour de force for Okorafor to have built such a rich, multi-textured, and multi-cultural world. The contrasts between Binti’s (isolated) Himba community and traditions and those of the universe’s other residents—the Koush, the Meduse, the planet of Oomza Uni—are captured in poetically concise details. For example, having the spaceships in this world be living creatures is just so cool.
The character of Binti herself is also wonderfully conceived. Okorafor creates authenticity in Binti’s narrative voice, and strikes a beautiful balance of characteristics within this 16-year-old young woman. Binti is believably smart and courageous, and also believably human and fallible. She feels the discomfort of being an outsider when she first steps onto the spaceship (the first of her Himba tribe to ever go off-world), and when the plot’s big challenges arise, she is believably afraid and overwhelmed—and also resourceful enough to find her way through the challenges.***
However, I am really, really troubled by the level of challenges presented to Binti in this novella, and, more importantly, by the lack of proportionate consequence from these events. We’re talking serious violence and questions of power and consent, here. It’s big heavy stuff (however poetically and subtly narrated it may be), and it’s not given nearly the depth or weight it deserves as the book races towards a mostly-happy ending.
I know this novella is the first in a set of three books, and I have hopes that the full sequence of books will have the available acreage to continue unwinding the impact of these events with the level of gravity they legitimately deserve. Given all that was so impressive about this novella, I am 100% willing to read the sequels in hopes that fuller exploration happens in the way I’m hoping for.
* You should see the stack of unread Octavia Butler sitting in my Kindle library.
** 90 pages. That’s it.
*** I am entirely unsurprised to see that Okorafor has recently begun authoring a comic series about Black Panther’s younger sister, Shuri. I am also incredibly eager to get my hands on this series and read it.
Image credit: Photo taken by the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.