Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

binti: home BY nnedi okorafor

reviewed by jim hepplewhite


"No, I'm from Iowa, I only work in outer space."
        - Captain Kirk.

Binti: Home is what I come to science fiction and fantasy for.

Living spaceships giving birth, future societies and good old fashioned prejudice. Binti: Home is the middle part of a trilogy of novellas from award winning writer Nnedi Okorafor, featuring a female Namibian college student, Binti. The first novella in the series, Binti, won the Hugo and Nebula award for best novella.

Like many college students, Binti returns home changed. Unlike many college students, Binti returns home after surviving an alien attack at the hands of the Meduse (who look like very large jellyfish) which killed every other student on the ship. Binti has trouble acclimating to the change. Who wouldn't? But. She's gotta go back to Earth and the past ain't through with her.

"Everything went black, again. And when things came back, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop seeing Meduse stingers tearing through bodies with surprised faces. Heru, Remi, Olu…I could not force myself to inhale and get air into my lungs. My chest was burning when I finally gave in. I 'slipped into the trees' and dropped into meditation.
The numbers flew, split, doubled, spun like the voice of the Seven.
And soon they were everywhere and everything.
I grabbed at Euler's identity, e^{i x π} +1 = 0, and I went from plummeting to gently floating down a warm rabbit hole with soft furry walls and landing on a bed of pillows and flowers. When I looked up from this fragrant quiet place, the narrowed telescopic view made things above clearer. I was on the Third Fish, a peaceful giant who was like a shrimp and could breathe in outer space because of internal rooms full of oxygen-producing plants that served as lungs. The violent death of many had happened on this ship, of my teacher, my friends, but not for me. No, not for me. I'd lived. And I'd become family with the murderous Meduse."

Understandably, the PTSD from surviving the attack is severe, and the twitching Meduse tentacles on top of Binti's head are an unavoidable reminder she's different and learning to live with it. It's to Dr. Okorafor's credit that Binti can't settle back into a comfortable spacefaring routine.

Despite not reading the first novella, I fell into the story easily. I could fake my way through the beginning (how did she unite the two warring peoples?), and once Binti landed on Earth, the mood was familiar: Home can't acclimate to the change, either.

"'Don't do that, you'll get all dirty before you're even on the ship' someone said from behind me as strong hangs grasp my shoulders and gently pulled me back. It was Haifa, a Khoush student who was also studying weapons with Okwu. 'Let me help you.'
'All the way to the shuttle station?' I said, with a laugh.
'I've been studying all day,' she said. 'I need the exercise.' She was wearing a tight green body suit made of a material so thin that I could see the bulging muscles on her long graceful arms and legs. Her astrolabe was attached to a clip sewn into her suit. As with the strobes of almost every student in my dorm, I'd turned up its design and performance and now hers shined like polished metal and operated in a way more suited to her meticulously plodding way of thinking.
Haifa was much taller than me and one of those people who found motion so easy that she couldn't resist moving all the time. The day I met her, after asking me many questions about my okuoko, she'd told me that though she'd always been female, she'd been born physically male."

       A Himba woman.  Photo credit.

       A Himba woman. Photo credit.

Binti left Earth and her tribe (Himba) on bad terms, and in the middle of the night. She returns a hero and cannot avoid the attention she dodged in leaving. Binti: Home is about the weight of everyone else's expectations on persons thrust into Great and Dramatic Importance. Everyone sees Binti differently, and few charitably. Dr. Okorafor deftly balances what the story is about with who is in the story. Home isn't as dangerous as outer space, but it is difficult to navigate. Binti returned a hero, but even heroes can't avoid the judgments from family and tribe to settle down, to take the "correct" path or the tribe's disappointment that the culture's status denoting braids are now tentacles. (I don't feel qualified to say much more beyond that.)

One of the reveals at the end rang false in my opinion, and the cliffhanger could be better, admittedly, but that doesn't stop me from wanting the third novella very soon. I suppose I've got another what, twelve, eighteen months to wait, but since I arrived in the middle, I can now begin my search for the first novella.