Wow, I was expecting so much more from this. It’s nominated for a bunch of awards, and won the Nebula, and I’ve heard Okorafor is a great writer, but this was not a good example of any of those things for me. I don’t know, maybe it’s a combination of her style, the format she chose to write the story in, and the story itself, but the result for me was rushed, simplistic and unsatisfying. And even more so because this story, executed differently, is one I very much want to read.
Binti is from a culture on a planet that is very isolated. She is a sort of math genius (the exact nature of what she does escapes me, because one of the things this novella doesn’t do is give us specifics), and will be the first of her people to ever go to the famed Oomza University, against the wishes of her people. She gets caught up in the conflict between an alien species and humanity. Seriously, this premise sounds so good. Classic fish out of water, culture clash, with added search for identity, plus spaceships and aliens, and galactic warfare. But it doesn’t work.
There was not enough room in this story for anything to connect. The worldbuilding is vague, the characterization is basic, even Binti’s emotional journey, which is supposedly the center of the novel, was so rushed I didn’t connect with it at all. This isn’t helped by the author’s style, which seemed really ineffective. She is constantly summarizing things and glossing over concepts and scenes that I wanted to actually see. One of the most important scenes in the novella, a turning point, is entirely summarized and told. “Show not tell” is a writing cliché for a reason.
As other reviewers have pointed out, the conflict between the Meduse and humans is solved in a ridiculously easy way, and SPOILER the murder of hundreds of humans is never mentioned again, one of the Meduse invited to become a student at the University whose people he murdered END SPOILERS. The sentiment behind this is admirable, empathy and peace and understanding. But how it gets there was entirely underwhelming and unbelievable. This story needed at least two hundred more pages, if not much more. It needed more dialogue, more detail, more everything.
Probably won’t read the sequel, which is set to be published next year.
ETA: This just won the Hugo last night, so what do I know.