It’s kind of amazing just how much Nnedi Okorafor packs into this little book: so much bigger on the inside than the outside. The basic bones of the story look familiar to anyone who’s spent even a little time with myths and fairy tales: girl leaves home, girl encounters terrible tragedy, girl encounters strangers, girl saves the world. But the rich details make it so much more than just a coming of age tale, from Binti’s hair care regimen to the jellyfish-like Meduse (Okorafor thanks our own earthly jellyfish for their inspiration).
Binti is a mathematical genius, and the novella opens as she sneaks out of her home, to set off on an interplanetary journey to Oomza Uni, the first of her people – the Himba – to do so. Her family doesn’t approve, and her appearance – dark skin, plaited hair, and steel anklets – sometimes gets objectifyin curiosity. Binti boards the space ship and heads off to uni. Before she can arrive, the ship is attacked by the Meduse, and almost everyone is killed; Binti is saved by the edan, a mysterious piece of technology.
The Meduse are angry with humans because of a sort of Museum theft that makes the British Museum look almost benign. Although initially saved by luck, Binti uses her brain to find a solution that will avoid further killing, and also sees her start her studies at Oomza Uni with the Meduse Olwu. Although she now has very differeny hair…
And there’s two more novellas in the trilogy!