Written by Kristy Dolson
Happy New Year! A new year elicits new resolutions to improve ourselves. Maybe you want to experience new activities? Maybe you want to read more? Maybe you want to expand your horizons and become a better person in the process? I don’t know about you, but I started 2018 with a very long “to-read” list. Why not get a start on your reading list with a short, stimulating sci-fi novella?
Binti is the story of a young girl coming into womanhood who gets accepted into a prestigious university, Oomza Uni, due to her gifted mathematical talents. There are problems, however. She belongs to a race of people who had never before been accepted to this school. And the school is on another planet. And her family has forbidden her to leave. Naturally, she runs away.
What follows should be a simple space-flight to Oomza Uni, but it turns into a journey fraught with dangers that Binti must overcome. Though the genre is science fiction, at its core, this is a coming-of-age story with strong themes of identity, belonging, and friendship.
The author, Nnedi Okorafor, is a Nigerian-American writer, and her style is quite readable. She unpacks a lot of plot in a very short time-span. The story develops well, with a reasonable number of flashbacks to illuminate Binti’s motivations and specific plot events. The dialogue is engaging, and it never feels too heavy-handed, which often happens in the sci-fi genre. There are a lot of new terms, but newcomers to the genre shouldn’t feel intimidated, as the themes are mostly about character growth and the issue of belonging.
Regarding setting, though I don’t recall a specific time being mentioned, the story clearly begins on far-future Earth. Binti belongs to the Himba tribe in Africa. It’s unsettling to read about a world set far enough in the future that humans have established universities on other planets, and yet racism is still rampant. This is neither a utopian, nor dystopian vision of the future. It is just one idea of what could happen, and considering the racially charged global events of 2017, this future seems quite realistic.
Binti is well worth reading. If you’re not much into sci-fi, this may not be your cup of tea, but with a page count of less than 100, I highly recommend giving it a try. You may even find that when you get to the end, you’ll find yourself wanting more. I am always on the lookout for new and unique voices to round out my literary horizons, and Nnedi Okorafor has certainly delivered for me. I will undoubtedly be adding more of her thought-provoking work to my to-read list.
If 2017 has shown us anything, it’s that we all have to confront the fact that racist thinking will continue into the future if we do not take steps to stop it today. I hope this dynamic novella will both help you get into your 2018 reading and help you expand your horizons. There is a lot to contemplate with this text, so I highly recommend it for book clubs.
Best of luck in 2018!
Kristy Dolson lived in South Korea for five years before taking a year off to travel, read, and spend time with her family in Canada and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Education and has just returned to Gwangju where she splits her time between teaching Korean teachers at JETI and reading as much as she can.