"Prepare to fall in love with Binti." Neil Gaiman
Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself but first she has to make it there, alive.
The Binti Series
Book 1: Binti
Book 2: Binti: Home
Book 3: Binti: The Night Masquerade
PRAISE FOR BINTI
"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!" Wanuri Kahiu, award-winning Kenyan film director of Punzi and From a Whisper
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Nnedi Okorafor
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Nnedi Okorafor
All rights reserved.
I powered up the transporter and said a silent prayer. I had no idea what I was going to do if it didn't work. My transporter was cheap, so even a droplet of moisture, or more likely, a grain of sand, would cause it to short. It was faulty and most of the time I had to restart it over and over before it worked. Please not now, please not now, I thought.
The transporter shivered in the sand and I held my breath. Tiny, flat, and black as a prayer stone, it buzzed softly and then slowly rose from the sand. Finally, it produced the baggage-lifting force. I grinned. Now I could make it to the shuttle. I swiped otjize from my forehead with my index finger and knelt down. Then I touched the finger to the sand, grounding the sweet smelling red clay into it. "Thank you," I whispered. It was a half-mile walk along the dark desert road. With the transporter working, I would make it there on time.
Straightening up, I paused and shut my eyes. Now the weight of my entire life was pressing on my shoulders. I was defying the most traditional part of myself for the first time in my entire life. I was leaving in the dead of night and they had no clue. My nine siblings, all older than me except for my younger sister and brother, would never see this coming. My parents would never imagine I'd do such a thing in a million years. By the time they all realized what I'd done and where I was going, I'd have left the planet. In my absence, my parents would growl to each other that I was to never set foot in their home again. My four aunties and two uncles who lived down the road would shout and gossip among themselves about how I'd scandalized our entire bloodline. I was going to be a pariah.
"Go," I softly whispered to the transporter, stamping my foot. The thin metal rings I wore around each ankle jingled noisily, but I stamped my foot again. Once on, the transporter worked best when I didn't touch it. "Go," I said again, sweat forming on my brow. When nothing moved, I chanced giving the two large suitcases sitting atop the force field a shove. They moved smoothly and I breathed another sigh of relief. At least some luck was on my side.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later I purchased a ticket and boarded the shuttle. The sun was barely beginning to peak over the horizon. As I moved past seated passengers far too aware of the bushy ends of my plaited hair softly slapping people in the face, I cast my eyes to the floor. Our hair is thick and mine has always been very thick. My old auntie liked to call it "ododo" because it grew wild and dense like ododo grass. Just before leaving, I'd rolled my plaited hair with fresh sweet-smelling otjize I'd made specifically for this trip. Who knew what I looked like to these people who didn't know my people so well.
A woman leaned away from me as I passed, her face pinched as if she smelled something foul. "Sorry," I whispered, watching my feet and trying to ignore the stares of almost everyone in the shuttle. Still, I couldn't help glancing around. Two girls who might have been a few years older than me, covered their mouths with hands so pale that they looked untouched by the sun. Everyone looked as if the sun was his or her enemy. I was the only Himba on the shuttle. I quickly found and moved to a seat.
The shuttle was one of the new sleek models that looked like the bullets my teachers used to calculate ballistic coefficients during my A-levels when I was growing up. These ones glided fast over land using a combination of air current, magnetic fields, and exponential energy — an easy craft to build if you had the equipment and the time. It was also a nice vehicle for hot desert terrain where the roads leading out of town were terribly maintained. My people didn't like to leave the homeland. I sat in the back so I could look out the large window.
I could see the lights from my father's astrolabe shop and the sand storm analyzer my brother had built at the top of the Root — that's what we called my parents' big, big house. Six generations of my family had lived there. It was the oldest house in my village, maybe the oldest in the city. It was made of stone and concrete, cool in the night, hot in the day. And it was patched with solar planes and covered with bioluminescent plants that liked to stop glowing just before sunrise. My bedroom was at the top of the house. The shuttle began to move and I stared until I couldn't see it anymore. "What am I doing?" I whispered.
An hour and a half later, the shuttle arrived at the launch port. I was the last off, which was good because the sight of the launch port overwhelmed me so much that all I could do for several moments was stand there. I was wearing a long red skirt, one that was silky like water, a light orange wind-top that was stiff and durable, thin leather sandals, and my anklets. No one around me wore such an outfit. All I saw were light flowing garments and veils; not one woman's ankles were exposed, let alone jingling with steel anklets. I breathed through my mouth and felt my face grow hot.
"Stupid stupid stupid," I whispered. We Himba don't travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otjize is red land. Here in the launch port, most were Khoush and a few other non-Himba. Here, I was an outsider; I was outside. "What was I thinking?" I whispered.
I was sixteen years old and had never been beyond my city, let alone near a launch station. I was by myself and I had just left my family. My prospects of marriage had been 100 percent and now they would be zero. No man wanted a woman who'd run away. However, beyond my prospects of normal life being ruined, I had scored so high on the planetary exams in mathematics that the Oomza University had not only admitted me, but promised to pay for whatever I needed in order to attend. No matter what choice I made, I was never going to have a normal life, really.
I looked around and immediately knew what to do next. I walked to the help desk.
* * *
The travel security officer scanned my astrolabe, a full deep scan. Dizzy with shock, I shut my eyes and breathed through my mouth to steady myself. Just to leave the planet, I had to give them access to my entire life — me, my family, and all forecasts of my future. I stood there, frozen, hearing my mother's voice in my head. "There is a reason why our people do not go to that university. Oomza Uni wants you for its own gain, Binti. You go to that school and you become its slave." I couldn't help but contemplate the possible truth in her words. I hadn't even gotten there yet and already I'd given them my life. I wanted to ask the officer if he did this for everyone, but I was afraid now that he'd done it. They could do anything to me, at this point. Best not to make trouble.
When the officer handed me my astrolabe, I resisted the urge to snatch it back. He was an old Khoush man, so old that he was privileged to wear the blackest turban and face veil. His shaky hands were so gnarled and arthritic that he nearly dropped my astrolabe. He was bent like a dying palm tree and when he'd said, "You have never traveled; I must do a full scan. Remain where you are," his voice was drier than the red desert outside my city. But he read my astrolabe as fast as my father, which both impressed and scared me. He'd coaxed it open by whispering a few choice equations and his suddenly steady hands worked the dials as if they were his own.
When he finished, he looked up at me with his light green piercing eyes that seemed to see deeper into me than his scan of my astrolabe. There were people behind me and I was aware of their whispers, soft laughter and a young child murmuring. It was cool in the terminal, but I felt the heat of social pressure. My temples ached and my feet tingled.
"Congratulations," he said to me in his parched voice, holding out my astrolabe.
I frowned at him, confused. "What for?"
"You are the pride of your people, child," he said, looking me in the eye. Then he smiled broadly and patted my shoulder. He'd just seen my entire life. He knew of my admission into Oomza Uni.
"Oh." My eyes pricked with tears. "Thank you, sir," I said, hoarsely, as I took my astrolabe.
I quickly made my way through the many people in the terminal, too aware of their closeness. I considered finding a lavatory and applying more otjize to my skin and tying my hair back, but instead I kept moving. Most of the people in the busy terminal wore the black and white garments of the Khoush people — the women draped in white with multicolored belts and veils and the men draped in black like powerful spirits. I had seen plenty of them on television and here and there in my city, but never had I been in a sea of Khoush. This was the rest of the world and I was finally in it.
As I stood in line for boarding security, I felt a tug at my hair. I turned around and met the eyes of a group of Khoush women. They were all staring at me; everyone behind me was staring at me.
The woman who'd tugged my plait was looking at her fingers and rubbing them together, frowning. Her fingertips were orange red with my otjize. She sniffed them. "It smells like jasmine flowers," she said to the woman on her left, surprised.
"Not shit?" one woman said. "I hear it smells like shit because it is shit."
"No, definitely jasmine flowers. It is thick like shit, though."
"Is her hair even real?" another woman asked the woman rubbing her fingers.
"I don't know."
"These 'dirt bathers' are a filthy people," the first woman muttered.
I just turned back around, my shoulders hunched. My mother had counseled me to be quiet around Khoush. My father told me that when he was around Khoush merchants when they came to our city to buy astrolabes, he tried to make himself as small as possible. "It is either that or I will start a war with them that I will finish," he said. My father didn't believe in war. He said war was evil, but if it came he would revel in it like sand in a storm. Then he'd say a little prayer to the Seven to keep war away and then another prayer to seal his words.
I pulled my plaits to my front and touched the edan in my pocket. I let my mind focus on it, its strange language, its strange metal, its strange feel. I'd found the edan eight years ago while exploring the sands of the hinter deserts one late afternoon. "Edan" was a general name for a device too old for anyone to know it functions, so old that they were now just art.
My edan was more interesting than any book, than any new astrolabe design I made in my father's shop that these women would probably kill each other to buy. And it was mine, in my pocket, and these nosy women behind me could never know. Those women talked about me, the men probably did too. But none of them knew what I had, where I was going, who I was. Let them gossip and judge. Thankfully, they knew not to touch my hair again. I don't like war either.
The security guard scowled when I stepped forward. Behind him I could see three entrances, the one in the middle led into the ship called "Third Fish," the ship I was to take to Oomza Uni. Its open door was large and round leading into a long corridor illuminated by soft blue lights.
"Step forward," the guard said. He wore the uniform of all launch site lower-level personnel — a long white gown and gray gloves. I'd only seen this uniform in streaming stories and books and I wanted to giggle, despite myself. He looked ridiculous. I stepped forward and everything went red and warm.
When the body scan beeped its completion, the security guard reached right into my left pocket and brought out my edan. He held it to his face with a deep scowl.
I waited. What would he know?
He was inspecting its stellated cube shape, pressing its many points with his finger and eyeing the strange symbols on it that I had spent two years unsuccessfully trying to decode. He held it to his face to better see the intricate loops and swirls of blue and black and white, so much like the lace placed on the heads of young girls when they turn eleven and go through their eleventh-year rite.
"What is this made of?" the guard asked, holding it over a scanner. "It's not reading as any known metal."
I shrugged, too aware of the people behind me waiting in line and staring at me. To them, I was probably like one of the people who lived in caves deep in the hinter desert who were so blackened by the sun that they looked like walking shadows. I'm not proud to say that I have some Desert People blood in me from my father's side of the family, that's where my dark skin and extra-bushy hair come from.
"Your identity reads that you're a harmonizer, a masterful one who builds some of the finest astrolabes," he said. "But this object isn't an astrolabe. Did you build it? And how can you build something and not know what it's made of?" "I didn't build it," I said.
"It's ... it's just an old, old thing," I said. "It has no math or current. It's just an inert computative apparatus that I carry for good luck." This was partially a lie. But even I didn't know exactly what it could and couldn't do.
The man looked as if he would ask more, but didn't. Inside, I smiled. Government security guards were only educated up to age ten, yet because of their jobs, they were used to ordering people around. And they especially looked down on people like me. Apparently, they were the same everywhere, no matter the tribe. He had no idea what a "computative apparatus" was, but he didn't want to show that I, a poor Himba girl, was more educated than he. Not in front of all these people. So he quickly moved me along and, finally, there I stood at my ship's entrance.
I couldn't see the end of the corridor, so I stared at the entrance. The ship was a magnificent piece of living technology. Third Fish was a Miri 12, a type of ship closely related to a shrimp. Miri 12s were stable calm creatures with natural exoskeletons that could withstand the harshness of space. They were genetically enhanced to grow three breathing chambers within their bodies.
Scientists planted rapidly growing plants within these three enormous rooms that not only produced oxygen from the CO directed in from other parts of the ship, but also absorbed benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. This was some of the most amazing technology I'd ever read about. Once settled on the ship, I was determined to convince someone to let me see one of these amazing rooms. But at the moment, I wasn't thinking about the technology of the ship. I was on the threshold now, between home and my future.
I stepped into the blue corridor.
* * *
So that is how it all began. I found my room. I found my group — twelve other new students, all human, all Khoush, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. An hour later, my group and I located a ship technician to show us one of the breathing chambers. I wasn't the only new Oomza Uni student who desperately wanted to see the technology at work. The air in there smelled like the jungles and forests I'd only read about. The plants had tough leaves and they grew everywhere, from ceiling to walls to floor. They were wild with flowers, and I could have stood there breathing that soft, fragrant air for days.
We met our group leader hours later. He was a stern old Khoush man who looked the twelve of us over and paused at me and asked, "Why are you covered in red greasy clay and weighed down by all those steel anklets?" When I told him that I was Himba, he coolly said, "I know, but that doesn't answer my question." I explained to him the tradition of my people's skin care and how we wore the steel rings on our ankles to protect us from snakebites. He looked at me for a long time, the others in my group staring at me like a rare bizarre butterfly.
"Wear your otjize," he said. "But not so much that you stain up this ship. And if those anklets are to protect you from snakebites, you no longer need them."
I took my anklets off, except for two on each ankle. Enough to jingle with each step.
I was the only Himba on the ship, out of nearly five hundred passengers. My tribe is obsessed with innovation and technology, but it is small, private, and, as I said, we don't like to leave Earth. We prefer to explore the universe by traveling inward, as opposed to outward. No Himba has ever gone to Oomza Uni. So me being the only one on the ship was not that surprising. However, just because something isn't surprising doesn't mean it's easy to deal with.
The ship was packed with outward-looking people who loved mathematics, experimenting, learning, reading, inventing, studying, obsessing, revealing. The people on the ship weren't Himba, but I soon understood that they were still my people. I stood out as a Himba, but the commonalities shined brighter. I made friends quickly. And by the second week in space, they were good friends.
Olo, Remi, Kwuga, Nur, Anajama, Rhoden. Only Olo and Remi were in my group. Everyone else I met in the dining area or the learning room where various lectures were held by professors onboard the ship. They were all girls who grew up in sprawling houses, who'd never walked through the desert, who'd never stepped on a snake in the dry grass. They were girls who could not stand the rays of Earth's sun unless it was shining through a tinted window.
Excerpted from Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Copyright © 2015 Nnedi Okorafor. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a novella but such a good read that I did not feel cheated. I cannot wait to read the next book.
Having just finished this novella, I am breathless, with tears in my eyes for the sheer beauty of this story; the world-building is haunting and convincing, and the African future culture elements and reflections on racism and identity are fresh and moving, and not in the least doctrinaire* I am eager to read more from this author--I can't remember the last time I was this delighted to discover a new voice in science fiction*
This world is so fun and interesting. The writing is beautiful. I wish this book was longer. I would love to learn more about each character and their background. Nicely done!
Binti is like Ripley, having to deal with death and drama but in a really clever way that drinks from the pool of who she is. It’s a beautiful, heady, a bit scary, and ultimately fulfilling piece of fiction that made me cry in its last paragraph because of its hopeful, uplifting ending.
this was the story i needed to read in 2017. if you like nk jemisin's stories, you will love this one.
Please read this.
"Binti" is the next journey in Nnedi Okorafor's growing list of remarkable novels! This novel is fantastical! Well done!
Absolutely loved it. Okorafor's writing is always a treat and the story itself is fantastic... if a bit short (it is a novella, after all). I need to know what happens next!!! In all seriousness, it's a great story that leaves you wanting more. On top of that, it features a really well-written young woman protagonist, which literature could always use more of... There is so much moral ambiguity (value differences, prejudice, etc., instead of simple good/evil)... and the tension between tradition and aspiration, while honoring the value of tradition within an aspirational character is excellent. What a great story!
I rated this book 4 stars for one reason only. This book is actually a short instead of a full novel. However, there is no indication of this on the description or preliminary reviews. I am not sure who gave this book 1-2 stars. However, those ratings are ridiculous. This is one of the most engaging books I have ever read. I hope this book series gets turned into a Netflix series. In terms of the story, I thought it was engaging, horror-like, fantasy fiction, with thick description, and a great original story. I look forward to reading this series and watching it unfold. This book is worth the read.
This was what science fiction needed and had lost. A good story told from a different point of view with a mindset different from what us accepted as normal. Importance in the story was given to background, history, feelings, and mindset in relation to how one acts in reaction to others and the unknown. No arrogance, no sneering about an "other". This was the kind of storywriting lost to the current generation that i enjoyed from the greats like Andre Norton, and Anne McCaffery, like Larry Niven , and Steve Bear. Not the hard science in the story, BUT THE STORY OF "Strange new worlds" that when it gets to the meat of it is relatable to the workd one recognizes. This story was worth reading and passing on. The writer has gained a new fan who will now search out and read all she has to write. I dont want to ruin it in the telling, but instead recommend it a a good and different spin on first contact,... done right.
Just the right pull to keep me reading. The story ended to soon.
I think I've found a new favorite! This is sci-fi at it’s best, IMO. It is described as a coming of age story, and for the most part that is a turn-off for me. I usually find coming of age stories boring. They are focused on the romantic … a young woman comes of age in terms of her attraction to and for the opposite sex, and so many books and movies have been there, done that. As such it feels like those stories focus not as much on the main character but on how she relates to other people. Binti is not so mundane. Firstly, the book is wholly Binti. She is a resourceful and brilliant young woman who is leaving home for the first time. Her mathematical abilities are unmatched and she has been accepted to a prestigious school on a different planet. Her coming of age focuses on that journey, her sense of self, and her attachment to her culture and family traditions. How is she able to reconcile her desire to experience the universe and challenge her mind with her need to remain attached to her land and people? I simply loved Binti. The author is able to create this gem of a character in just 90 short pages and it is a remarkable feat. I can’t wait to read the other novellas in this series. There is a hardcover edition coming out in July. If I can get my hands on a signed copy, oh that will be a happy birthday to me! I fully recommend this book. It’s a jewel.
I decided not to read any of this trilogy until they were all released. I think that was a good decision. I bought the first two novellas and preordered the third right after Christmas. In the years since Binti came out I had heard a lot about it but somehow did not entirely understand what it was about. I knew that she was a girl from Africa who was going to university on another planet. I thought this was going to be the story of her schooling. It isn't. Binti takes place almost entirely on the ship on her way to the university. Binti comes from a insular culture. Family and tradition are of the highest importance. At the same time they are very technologically advanced and make advanced devices for everyone. Binti is most comfortable working with mathematical formulas. They help her focus and relax. She can manipulate electrical current through formulas. Sheis a harmonizer who can bring disparate things together. She's supposed to take over the family business. Instead she runs in the middle of the night to go off planet. This is an ultimate betrayal of her family and culture. Every time I read a Nnedi Okorafor book what stays with me is the imagination in the fine details more than the plot. It starts with Binti's faulty hover technology that she uses to move her suitcases. It extends to the interstellar ships that are actually live animals that look like shrimp. They like to travel and are fine with taking passengers along. This whole series is an exploration of what it means to be uniquely "you". Does Binti lose her identity when she leaves her family or is she changing into an expanded version of herself? Is it right or wrong to change in that way? The women of Binti's tribe wear a mixture of clay and oils on their skin to protect it from the desert. It marks her as an outsider from other cultures on Earth but it saves her when the ship is attacked. She is the only survivor and has to learn to use her gift for harmonizing to help stop a war.
Wildly inventive and brilliant. Unlike anything else I've read.
Binti is one of those unexpected stories that handle complex ideas in a sophisticated and clever way. Nnedi Okorafor exposes us to a vision of the future that's very different from traditional science fiction - rather than a Eurocentric or Asian dominated world, we're introduced to an African vision of the future. The novella follows the story of Binti, the first of her family and group to leave her planet and enroll in a prestigious off world university. We are treated to an exploration of her cultural norms, her experiences of xenophobia and class divisions, and her ability to leverage her unique heritage to bring about an end to conflict that's quite unusual for the genre. While most science fiction writers would have chosen to weaponize Binti's heritage in some way, Okorafor chooses to make it a bridge. I fully expected the situation on the ship to devolve into open conflict, or for conflict to become inevitable upon arrival at the university. Choosing to resolve that tension with radical acceptance and trust of the unknown rather than allowing the story to turn into a war was an unexpected and brilliant choice. The resulting novel is more about joining, building trust with the other, accepting one's own identity, and respecting the experiences and values of others than anything else I've read in the genre. I strongly recommend this novella, and look forward to Binti's reunion with her family in Home.
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars This deceptively simple tale is a fast paced yet compelling journey of strength, sacrifice, self-awareness, and ultimately homecoming. Absolutely worth the afternoon you give up to read it. The opening scene of the story lures you in with its sharp descriptions that fully convey her urgency in the moment. Will she make her shuttle? You're immediately invested in the success or failure of her endeavor. With simple, but pointed word choices, Okorafor reveals both Binti's inner-most thoughts and the essence of her people through concise, yet vivid storytelling. The by-play between those internal musings and the external conversations of those around her captures not only the depth of her feelings but the social mores of her people. This is as story richly anchored in time and place. You come away with a deep understanding of the homeland Binti leaves behind and the space beyond Earth into which she travels. You quickly come to realize, along with Binti, that where you're from and who you are may just be vital to keeping you alive...even if it can't keep you whole. With few words, Okorafor invokes a subtle conscious-raising commentary on prejudice, provocation, perception and societal progress. Binti's travels imparts an understanding of her father's motivations and her people's beliefs that mirrors real world struggle between wishing to maintain one's cultural traditions while simultaneously advancing one's self. She weaves various concepts of community and juxtaposes them against notions of commonality. Her writing has an attractive cultural sensibility that is highly relatable and extremely evocative. This story begins as joyous quest for knowledge and ends as a heartrending lesson in understanding. more comments on shelfenvy (dot) com
Spectacular main character with rich world-building.
Read this in one sitting. Beautiful. This might be Okorafor's finest work yet. So creative.
It's a new take on the Space Opera genre! Definitely a good read.
I really wanted to like this book, but clearly the author didn't know what to write. She mentions in the acknowledgements she asked her 11 y/o daughter & even if this was a child's book it was so poorly written. There's too many questions & you have no idea what is going on.