FICTION REVIEW: Binti

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Title: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Genre: Science Fiction/Afrofuturism
Rating:  ★★★★ (4/5)

Binti is the first member of her small African tribe to be accepted into the universe of the galaxy. She’s a harmonizer, a mathematics genius with a near-spiritual connection to the complex technologies and equations that under-gird the universe, and even though she’s terrified of leaving the red deserts in which she was raised, there’s nothing she wants more than to nurture her skills at the prestigious planet-sized Oomza university. But when her classmates are massacred by an alien species aboard the ship ferrying Binti to her new home, it will take every ounce of courage she has to survive.

This book drew me in right from the start and held my attention the entire time. The space travel elements felt fresh and organic, and the novel by and large avoided the old-school sci-fi tropes that give books that sterile, metallic tang. I’m not sure what else science fiction is better for than exploring what it means to be human in a galactic context, and Binti lovingly leans into themes of adolescent anticipation, cultural alienation, and trans-cultural identity.

I really liked Binti as a protagonist; she’s brave, willing to fight tooth and nail for what she loves, but ultimately, her strength is her compassion and level head for diplomacy. Her Himba heritage plays a huge role in both the plot and her character development. I love a book that teaches me something new about another culture, and one of the most touching moments in the book was Binti wondering if she was going to be able to find the right ingredients on her new planet to make the paste of oil and clay the Himba cover their skin and hair with.

At only 90 pages, Binti clips along at a short-story pace that kept me from ever feeling bored. However, because of novella length, I felt like I was robbed of the sort of worldbuilding and setting details that would have really made me feel enveloped in the narrative. The descriptions I was given were sufficient, but sparse, and character development jerked along at times, prey to the pace. However, Binti is the first in a well-received trilogy that’s setting the standard for the new wave of afro-futurism, and I’m excited to pick up books two and three.

Indie Book Radar: Hemlock

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I don’t usually have the patience for all the page-views and mouse-clicking that goes into reading webcomics, but I devoured Josceline Fenton’s Hemlock.

The series follows Lumi, a witch who spends her days hawking spells to townspeople, travelling through the land in the shell of a giant snail, and brewing up poisons to keep her monstrous husband in a soporific stupor. Lumi is a dry and plucky protagonist, and I so enjoyed learning about her entanglements with blood magic, Baba Yaga’s dynasty of witch-prince sons, and the ne’er do wells of the witching world. Every new character introduced into the story is beautifully dressed, morally ambiguous, and full of secrets, which is just how I like them, and the 19th century setting in the forests and icy wastes of Scandinavia is absolutely enchanting.

I read all four volumes of Hemlock in two days, and now I’m addicted. The bad news is that the comic remains unfinished, since Fenton is holding down a day job as a cartoonist and animator, but she does update regularly.

The great news is that if you hate squinting at your computer screen during the nail-biting bits of your favorite comics, you can purchase bound copies of all four existing volumes of Hemlock. This is a must-read for fairy tale enthusiasts and fans of Catherynne Valente’s Deathless.

Got any favorite fairy tale inspired books? Tell me about them so I can add them to my TBR!