My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed the SF novella. Okorafor immediately sets the tone, a mix of fear and isolation along with longing and hope. How well does she capture the Himba people's culture? I can't speak to that as it's far outside my own. I only know of the Himba through educational shows but what little I do know fits. They are fairly isolated and insular group.
That is the core of Binti's fear. She has run off from her people, realizing that no one will welcome her back (or at least that is her firm belief). Binti is a math genius and she's been offered a position at Oomza University on a distant planet. Her math skills are such that she's a 'harmonizer' something left a little vague but obviously rare and important. Binti's people, however, are so very linked to their homelands that they rarely venture from them even within Africa, let alone go to space. Binti is automatically set apart on the space shuttle with her fellow students with her jangling jewelry and with her body coated with Otjize, a red ochre-butterfat mix used as sunscreen, protection and body wash (In a land of hot sun and no water). The Himba cover themselves and their hair with it. (I liked the detail of Binti plaiting mathematical sequences into her hair).
Binti's shuttle is waylaid by the Meduse, a jellyfish like alien race out to kill humans and destroy the university. Over the course of a few days, Binti's math skills and even her dedication to her customs and the Otjize play a role in whether or not she'll live and in her abilities to discover why the Meduse are so violent and war-like and what they actually want.
Which might not be what any expected. As a novella it works. As with most novellas, in my experience, you're left wanting a bit more but that's the nature of short works. I very much liked Binti as a character. While you learn what drives the Meduse, it's a little harder for me to forgive their actions on the shuttle (which those at the universe do without blinking). I'm curious to see what comes next.
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