2017 Reviews, Long Fiction

Binti

Binti is a brilliant young woman who has been offered a prestigious place at Oomza University, the most elite college in the galaxy. But Binti is Himba, a people who are closely tied to land and family, and who never travel off-planet. Binti, determined to reach her potential, makes the difficult decision to leave everything and everyone she knows behind, and travel across the stars with people who do not share or respect her customs, culture, or brilliance. On her journey, Binti encounters a cultural prejudice so strong that the vendetta between two groups threatens the life of everyone at Oomza. And Binti, with her unique genius, her cultural artifacts, and her strength born of being Himba, might be the only person who can prevent it.

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Image by David Palumbo

Okorafor writes tight passages that build an interesting and vibrant world, and she inhabits this world with fresh characters; Binti is a young genius from a culture that works with the earth. Because of this, she has a few ‘super powers’ that allow her to succeed where no one else could. Binti’s strength is her cultural heritage, inseparable from her mathematical brilliance. With Binti, Okorafor insists that people from cultures often overlooked by mainstream science fiction are crucial to our future.

Binti goes on a heroine’s journey, one standard enough to be familiar and relatable to any reader of YA literature, fantasy, or science fiction. But Binti’s specific challenges and abilities will be more intimately familiar to anyone who has been a cultural or racial outsider in a society of ignorance and prejudice.

The book’s critiques of racism, cultural isolationism, and colonial mentality are layered and nuanced.  During her journey to Oomza, Binti experiences interpersonal prejudice, white fragility, and institutional discrimination. These ideas are mostly explored through people’s response to Binti’s appearance; people despise and envy her hair, and most are blind to it’s significance. They do the same to the medicinal mud she paints her body with. In response to these varied indignities, Binti demonstrates code-switching, pride, determination, patience, and cross-cultural competency. And then the murderous jellyfish aliens come!

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Art by SharksDen- click to Deviant Art

While there are modern exceptions, so much early science fiction is written from the perspective of a dominant society (white American men), terrified against an invading force that might subvert their power. Shortly, a fear that aliens (or -gasp- communists) will colonize white America. In these stories, when a violent alien race comes along they are utterly foreign, bent on total destruction, and must be repelled entirely if humanity is to survive. Invader and invaded cannot coexist, and certainly cannot benefit one another. This is a very specific cultural viewpoint based in the West’s colonial history. This trope is not only boring at this point, but dangerous in a rapidly shrinking world that forces alien cultures to interact virtually and in person every day.

Binti rejects and critiques this trope. Okorafor, from the perspective of a Nigerian-American woman, offers a more optimistic look at cross-cultural encounters. Frankly, it’s what I’d prefer people to be reading in their science fiction.

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A woman from the Himba Tribe of Namibia.

This was a great little novella. It is an efficient exploration of the benefits of cultural diversity and a celebration of the Namibia culture, a heroine’s journey with a relatable young woman, and a refreshing alternative to colonial sci-fi tropes. I read Okorafor’s ‘Who Fears Death’ last year, and as much as I did enjoy it, I think Binti is a stronger book. The tighter structure and economically told story pack a punch, and I am so eager to read more in this series!

Copy of Boy Snow Bird

Fiction, First Looks

First Look: Aunty Lee’s Delights

51e4kECjJOL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_“This delectable and witty mystery introduces Rosie “Aunty” Lee, feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant.”

I’ve never really been one for mysteries, and especially not mystery series. But then again, I realized sometime last year, I’ve never really tried to read any of this type of book before. Enter Aunty Lee, which I’ve heard is a series that is both a great mystery, and heartwarming and charming. Seems a great place to get started on this genre.

First Looks, Long Fiction

First Look: Binti

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“Binti is a supreme read about a sexy, edgy Afropolitan in space! It’s a wondrous combination of extra-terrestrial adventure and age-old African diplomacy. Unforgettable!”

I’ve heard so many good things about Binti and the recent sequel, “Home”. I read “Who Fears Death” by Okorafor last year, and while I loved the writing, I wanted more sci-fi, and a tighter and more concise story. Binti seems to be just that! Okorafor won the 2015 Nebula and a Hugo for Binti, so I’ve got really high expectations. Very excited for this one.

First Looks, Long Fiction

First Look: Ink

ink-cover-1000 “What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks.”

Ink made it onto my reading list prior to election day, and was then taken off, and was then put back on again after election day. I haven’t found much about Vourvoulias or this book, but the description- xenophobia coupled with magical realism and science fiction elements- seems just so potentially meaningful in 2017.

First Looks, Long Fiction

First Look: MoxyLand

3491640“A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. …This story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art.”

That descriptor pretty much covers why I want to read this book. Beukes has been on my radar as a South African woman who has won a Arthur C Clarke Award, and I’ve seen Moxyland recommended by a few excellent people on the internet.