Binti (2015) by Nnedi Okorafor Review
Binti is one of the first of the Himba people to ever be offered a place at the Oozma University, a prestigious academy for intergalactic species. This means that she has to leave Earth, her home planet, and her family to travel between the stars among strangers who don’t share her ways or respect her customs. As she travels to the Oozma, though, their ship gets threatened by the Meduse, an alien race who has been wronged by the Oozma in the past.
Binti is highly known for winning the Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novella, which caused quite a stir as it hyped science fiction readers and lovers alike. It is also known for being culturally diverse, something that I admire while reading this. It includes a myriad number of species, both human and alien. It does not only address diversity by having races of different color, but also through their cultures and how one does not exactly click with another as their dialect and way of living don’t match. It explores the idea of tradition and family. Binti, the character herself, might be my favorite part of this novella. Feminists will love her character–she is strong, brave, and resourceful, in spite of her situation and some of the events that take course over the entire story.
This leads to my main problem with the novella. I sometimes say that full length novels don’t sustain enough plot and story to have a span of 300+ pages; it rambles on and on, concerning itself with red herrings to fill its pages. In Binti’s case, though, it’s the other way around. The story itself is filled so much with ambition and life that 90 pages is not enough. As a result, Binti is an underdeveloped novella and as a piece of science fiction, it is very weak. It only goes as far as its interesting premise goes, and never more than that. It could’ve had chances to explore more about the intergalactic species, the Oozma University itself, and the Meduse, but it ended up rushing things along. In fact, as a certain event happened in the story concerning itself with the Meduse, I was so thrown off back because of how far-fetched and hurried it was. If this was a novel, that could’ve been its climax, but in actuality, it happened about 40 pages in, really messing up with the pace of the story.
Binti could’ve worked better as a full length novel. Its ideas are as grandiose as its ambition, and it never got to reach to the heights it could’ve achieved. The plot is underdeveloped, there is barely any world building, and the pacing was very much off. I do understand that there is a sequel, but I don’t understand why Binti would be a novella when the plot itself deserved so much more than what it got in one, single volume. It gets merit for cultural diversity and strong character, but in the end, it is subpar to its potentials.