Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor (book review).

The first ‘Binti’ novella was truly wonderful and made a real impression when I first read it. The story constantly challenges the preconceptions of the reader even as it challenges the preconceptions of the characters within it. Binti comes from the Himba tribe in Namibia(?), a people who rarely leave their homeland and are looked down on by the majority Khoush.

Offered a scholarship to the off-world Oomza University, Binti must face down prejudice from both alien races and other humans as they struggle to understand her culture and customs, viewing her as little more than an uneducated savage. Author Nnedi Okorafor only slowly fills us in on the background of this future Earth so that, even given insight into Binti’s thoughts and custom, you will be constantly surprised and delighted to discover that you’ve misunderstood much of her history.

When the jellyfish-like Meduse attack the ship that is transporting Binti to Oomza, she must use all of her limited experience to survive and to prevent an escalation in hostilities between the species. Her special skill with mathematics, the rich clay that she rubs on her skin, the ancient piece of technology she keeps as a talisman are all aspects of her life that prove to be of far more import than she could have realised.

‘Binti’ is an uplifting and satisfying story and, like me, I’m sure many were delighted when Nnedi Okorafor wrote the two sequels. To be able to read them back-to-back in this volume, along with an additional previously-unpublished short story, makes the experience even more rewarding.

‘Binti: Sacred Fire’ is the additional story, inserted in the volume between the first and second novellas. Weeks after arriving at Oomza University, Binti is still struggling to fit in to the multi-cultural campus and to cope with flashbacks to the horror of her first encounter with the Meduse and her traumatic survival. The story highlights some of the outlandishly bizarre aliens also at the university and shows that the basis for prejudices is always indefensible. It is another warming and marvellous story.

After a year at the university, Binti decides it’s time to travel home in ‘Binti: Home’. Conscious that her decision to leave the Himba homeland upset her parents, suffering from homesickness and keen to fulfil her traditional obligations, Binti sets off on the return journey to Earth. In a bold move, she also seeks agreement to take her Meduse friend, Okzu, determined to heal the rift between species. Yet again the mix of far-future tech, traditional values and cultural misunderstandings add wonderful depth to the tale.

The final and longest novella is ‘Binti: The Night Masquerade’, a reference to the mystical figure that appears to only male members of the Himba tribe in times of change. The story continues on directly from ‘Binti: Home’ as Binti makes more discoveries about her heritage and her people while attempting to maintain the fragile peace between the Meduse and the Khoush.

The astonishingly diverse world of alien species and other-worldly technology add layer after layer to the story and make this a highly original and fascinating collection.

Gareth D Jones

February 2019

(pub: DAW, 2019. 368 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), £19.53 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-75641-518-1)

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