Nnedi Okorafor: Binti

I am increasingly of the opinion that we are experiencing a renaissance of the SFF genre; a renaissance that was spearheaded a few years ago by authors like Elizabeth Bear, Jo Walton, Catherynne Valente and Susanna Clarke (to name but a few) and has led to a great number of fascinating authors popping up in recent years, authors like (to name but a few more) Hanna Rajaniemi, Genevieve Valentine, Nina Allan, Ann Leckie, Kameron Hurley, Octavia Cade, N.K. Jemisin.

And, of course, Nnedi Okorafor, who has written several novels for children, adolescents and adults and gained some fame (and award nominations) with her novel Who Fears Death in 2010. While I’ve had my eyes on here for a while, Binti was not really what I had planned reading first; but I happened to stumble across it on Amazon, and as I liked the cover and it was comparatively cheap, and as it was also rather short (it’s part of the new line of novellas Tor.com is releasing, a project that looks very promising so far), I found I had bought and read it almost without noticing.

Well, not really, because it is hard to imagine how one would read Binti without noticing because it is such a vivid and colourful affair. It may be YA, as the protagonist is a teenager, the basic plot fairly simple and the ending just a bit too pat and frictionless (this the only real issue I had with the novella), but while I tend to be somewhat about that particular non-genre, in this case I did not care because Binti is just so irresistibly brilliant and utterly, jaw-droppingly awesome in the way it manages to apparently effortlessly to turn such a simple story into such dazzling a fireworks of language and ideas. And yes, I’m aware that I’m gushing, but that seems like the only adequate response to this novella which has such a freshness and transmits such enthusiasm that one could think Nnedi Okorafor had just invented the whole SF genre all on her own. I’d have to go back to the early novels of Samuel R. Delany to think of other works that left similarly exuberant.

And Okorafor’s writing does indeed share some traits with Delany’s – there is the colourful language, which may not be quite as metaphor-drenched as Delany’s but of a similar vividness; there is the incredible amount of original SFnal ideas both of them are throwing around like they possessed a never-emptying cornucopia of them; there is the multiple layering of their tales, which Delany often achieved by making his plots echo Greek mythology while Okorafor uses African myths and tradition (the Himba people Binti belongs to actually do exist, and they do use otjize) to add a resonance beyond the immediate story. But most of all, what both authors share is their sheer exuberance, the delight they take in their writing and their inventiveness and the joy they transmit to the reader. Not to be misunderstood – both Delany and Okorafor are quite unique in the way they write, and it would be impossible to mistake one for the other – Nnedi Okorofar is emphatically not anyone’s epigone but very much her own woman. And Binti will most certainly not be the last thing of her I have read. As it is both cheap and a short read, I strongly urge you to go out, buy and read it right away – trust  me, you will thank me for it.


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