Review – Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

A young girl defies her tribal traditions and sneaks off-world to university.1

Binti has magical artifacts, powerful rituals, strange races, and arcane institutions – it’s not science fiction that is obsessed with, or even interested in technology.  Instead, Binti is about leaving home, encountering new cultures, and becoming part of the big scary world.  Two things elevate Binti above the usual fare: an incredible degree of cultural specificity, and an extremely relatable titular character.  The cultural aspects are the most striking, with the Himba an insular African tribe dominated by tradition and family, but one where the family business can be producing bespoke technological wonders for neighboring, starfaring tribes.

Binti on the other hand is a fairly typical protagonist who chaffes at the limits of her family and culture, but the change in perspective that coming from a different culture brings revitalises this tired trope.  Binti fearlessly boards a living ship, but worries that her supply of otjize2 which she covers herself with won’t last her time away.  She seeks harmony where others would seek strife, and this ultimately leads the novel to jump the rails of the standard narrative and break genuinely new ground in its climax.

Anthropological afro-futurism takes a tired trope and turns into something new and exciting.

  1. Hugo Novella winner from 2016 – the year I skipped the awards.  Its sequel is in consideration for the novella category in 2018.
  2. Perfumed ointment made from earth.

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