Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Binti #1
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
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Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.
I was intending to review The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin today, but I spent too much time wading through A Hundred Thousand Worlds for a review over at The Book Pushers, and ran out of time. So I decided to review a different (and much shorter) book that is also among this year’s Hugo nominees. I’ll get around to The Fifth Season before Hugo voting is final.
Let me say this up front, I loved Binti.
Binti is a story in the classic SF coming-of-age-by-leaving-your-home-planet tradition, given a fresh twist by its Afropolitan heroine. The freshness comes from both aspects of that description. Females are much less often featured in this trope, where the protagonist leaves their home planet driven by a desire to be more than what home has to offer. Also, the heroine of Binti is unmistakably African, and in a future world where she faces similar types of prejudice to today, but in ways and for ostensible reasons that make more sense in this future. Although there are multiple shout outs to the present day “can I touch your hair?” issue.
Ultimately, this is a story about healing and survival. It’s about finding commonalities between people who have always seen each other as deadly enemies, to the point where both sides shoot first and ask questions never.
And this is a story about cultural misappropriation gone terribly, terribly wrong in the name of profit and fame.
At the same time, Binti is an everyteenager, leaving her family, her home and her predictable but probably excellent future for the great unknown. She is compelled and propelled by the desire to grow beyond the place where she was planted. But this is done in the story in such a way that nothing and no one is demonized. She’s not leaving because things are bad in any way at all. Only that her family desires to see her continue in the place and life they have planned for her, and view her desire for something different as both wrong and selfish.
In the end, she becomes far more than she, or anyone, ever dreamed. But she also becomes a different person than the one who left. As she strides off into her very brave new future, she is forced to wonder whether the price is a complete unmooring from her past.
And to know it was worth it.
Escape Rating A+: Binti changes the course of the galaxy, not because it wants to change, but because she feels compelled to change it. And because making things change is the only way for her to survive.
Binti has, along with its coming of age story, the feeling of a first contact story. Although this isn’t the first time the Meduse and the humans have crossed paths, it does seem to be the first time that they have had a reliable method of communication.
As Binti postulates in the story, it is a lot harder to kill someone after you have learned their name and had lots of conversations with them. It still isn’t impossible, as Earth’s history all too clearly shows, but it is harder once there has been some tentative steps toward understanding.
Especially when Binti’s ability to “harmonize” different things and different people through very, very high-level mathemagic allows the Meduse to finally see her, and eventually other humans, as an intelligent species, however different, like themselves.
But in the story, we see Binti’s hopes and desperate fears as she tries to find a solution that will allow them all to live. She seems to go through those seven stages of grief over and over as she is constantly sure that the Meduse will kill her as they did the rest of the passengers on the ship. Her breakthrough is almost as frightening as her initial capture, and equally unlikely of success.
In conclusion, Binti is a beautiful story. And even though it is short, it manages to both feel complete and leave the reader wanting more. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out in January.