2016’s Binti is the first volume in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series.
Early one morning, young Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka packs her things and leaves her home. None of her family is awake. None of them would approve if they knew she was leaving. And why she was leaving. Binti is abandoning her Himba community to accept a scholarship at university.
And not just any university. Oomza Uni is on another world. Binti is not just leaving her homeland of Namib behind. She is leaving Earth.
Despite being the only Himba on board, Binti soon finds new friends. On Earth, the Khoush youths traveling with Binti would snub and mock her. Within the living spaceship, their common ties — humans on their way to an unfamiliar school on an alien world — bring the students together.
And then the murders begin.
There is a long standing enmity between Khoush and the alien Meduse. In the past, this led to war. Currently, there is a tense peace. Or there should have been peace. The fact that the Meduse on board the spaceship suddenly swarm and kill every Khoush on board suggests that the peace has ended.
For some reason the attackers have spared Binti (she is not Khoush, but the Meduse cannot be expect to understand that all humans are not the same). If she is to survive, she must discover why the Meduse attacked, why she was spared, and what she must do to stay alive.
I don’t recommend reading the Binti books in order 2, 3 and then 1, which is how I did it. The books build very nicely towards their conclusion, but only when one encounters the narrative in the order intended. Learn from my fail.
This book’s terrestrial setting is entirely African. On Earth, the conflict is between the dominant Khoush and the more reclusive Himba. Off Earth, it’s shaped by the unpleasant history between Khoush and the Meduse. There is no place in this story for some gratuitous white savior. The absence of whites is not genre normal, but it is actually real world normal. Most of the inhabited earth is neither North America nor Europe. Nor Australia or New Zealand.
Because this is part of a longer story that Okorafor had clearly envisioned before she published the first volume, this book raises mysteries that are solved only in later books. I did not find this distracting. Okorafor tells the reader what they really need to know: how Khoush and Himba see each other and how Meduse and Khoush have clashed, as well as the unique strengths Binti brings to the conflict. Anything not explained in the first volume is simply enticement to continue with this intriguing series.