enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Nnedi Okorafor, Binti

I read this book about 16-May-2016. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2015. This note was last modified Tuesday, 17-May-2016 22:21:09 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Another novella published as a trade paperback, this on by tor.com. Also it's up for the Hugo, and it just won the Nebula.

This one is (not unexpectedly) a good deal better written than the Alastair Reynolds I just read. It's also not based on world-building I find as unpleasant.

Binti is living a future-tribal life, in a place where she walks a mile to get to where the shuttle picks up, which takes her to the launch station, which takes her to the satellite where she gets on the ship that takes her to the premiere multi-species university, which she has won a place at (the first of her people to do so; "her people" means just her tribe to her).

Her family, in particular her father, makes "astrolabes", which seem to play the role of mobile computer and communication devices. She is a master "harmonizer", which seems to imply some mystic ability to make things down to the atomic level get along. She's slated to take over her father's business, and her family disapproves of her going to the University. She has no problem with her astrolabe (one she made herself, to replace the one her father made her when she was young) working (interacting with the environment) on the university planet, so apparently it's based on universal standards.

There's some discussion of her tribal conflicts with people of the dominant local tribe, and she meets a couple on her trip early on. They frown on her tribal custom of coating her body and face in red muc (and the book cover is a face with fingers spreading on a pattern of such mud). This mud has serious plot significance; it turns out to have magical healing powers on aliens, among other things. Sorry, I'm not perhaps phrasing it in the most favorable light, but some aspects of the world-building here do bug me rather a lot. In a desert it'll clearly be dry most of the time, and flake off, and make a mess, and get all over your clothes, and so forth. And in your food, on any books, into anything delicate you work on. Ick. Ahem.

As she's starting to make friends on the starship, the Meduse attack and kill everybody but her and the pilot, including killing a boy she may be forming a relationship with in front of her at lunch. Apparently the University has acquired the stinger of the chief of (this group of?) Meduse, who are like jellyfish in some ways and are clearly related to the "Medusa" legend on earth since they infect her with their tentacular blue glowing hair somehow. Honor apparently requires recovering this stinger (and the University admits later that it acquired it in violation of its own rules, too, so that's probably right). Their idea of honor also seems to allow killing everybody on the ship that isn't directly useful to them (nearly all new students going to the University for the first time, i.e. they have some connection but it's brand new and they certainly had no control over the previous bad behavior).

You might be able to read it as Binti becoming their negotiator and arranging things to avoid war (they'd kill a lot of people at the University and then be overrun, and it would be a huge incident), which is in some ways good. On the other hand, doing it this way seems to quite clearly accept the Meduse approach of killing everybody not of immediate use to them. If that's the general attitude, I do not predict a long future for this civilization! Clearly the Meduse are being brought more into the civilization, though; the one that Binti first communicated with becomes the first Meduse student at the university.

There's also an ancient artifact that some call "god metal" which nobody understands but which lets her communicate with the Meduse (having not done anything in all the years she's had it), and being able to harm the Meduse in some circumstances. Very plot token. A bunch of the attitude is, I think, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", but I'm not so happy when that's pushed to the point where somebody who creates the technology (astrolabes) thinks that way about it.

Clearly better than the Reynolds, anyway :-) .


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David Dyer-Bennet