Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti just won best novella at the 2016 Hugo Awards, after having won the Nebula Award in the same category. I had no idea what the book was about, but based on the cover art alone, I knew I wanted to read it. It’s part of Tor’s new effort to publish shorter fiction through their Tor.com imprint, and they’d been advertising heavily on sites I frequent, so I’d seen the cover of Binti a few hundred times before I finally picked it up. It was a bit serendipitous, actually. I walked into a bookstore I’d never seen before near my house while my parents—who were visiting—explored shops nearby.
I love going to local bookstores and scoping out their genre fiction sections. More often than not, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are poorly represented, but Diesel books in Oakland had a lovely section in the back with a great selection. I pursued the section slowly and the cover I’d seen so many times caught my eye. I felt like I had to have it. I’m very, very glad I bought it.
Binti is one of the best pieces of short fiction I’ve ever read. It’s beautifully written, complex, and vibrant. It’s imaginative, human, and challenging. I hesitate to be so hyperbolic, but I think it’s a masterpiece. It certainly deserved its wins at the Hugos and Nebulas.
I enjoyed everything about Binti, from the living cephalopod spaceships to the rich cultural traditions, to the interfacing of the technological and the spiritual. So often science fiction falls into familiar trappings of external technologies, pale humans, cold hulls, and a deliberate disconnection from basic biological self. Okorafor integrates everything together with grace, while illustrating a fantastically large-scale universe from bits and pieces sprinkled throughout Binti.
But more than beautiful words and a beautiful message, Binti is a great story. The plot takes a hard right turn halfway through, which took me by complete surprise, yet ties up elegantly, leaving the eponymous protagonist, Binti, stronger and wiser. I felt stronger and wiser too, when I finished it.
Binti is absolutely brilliant. It’s about 90 pages long, and you should take the hour or two to read it. I imagine it’ll be used in short fiction master classes for years to come.