Binti is Himba. Her people still live in the desert, using the desert clay and oils to wash themselves, rolling their hair in clay and braiding it in patterns. Her father makes the best astrolabes anywhere, and Binti, a mathematical genius, is to be his heir. She has also been accepted in Oomza University, a place where only the best are allowed to go. Her people do not leave their home. She has left, and in space encounters a hostile alien race and finds herself in an odd standoff where she is called to use every one of her resources.
Nnedi Okorafor packs a lot of world-building into Binti. In fifty short pages, she introduces four separate cultures and provides enough detail for readers to see them as separate groups and understand their conflicts. Binti, especially, has a rich heritage, and though she is defying it in some ways, she still loves and keeps most of her people’s practices. The alien Meduse remain alien, but as Binti learns of them, so do the readers, and they develop a background of their own. There are a couple of points where things seem to move a little too conveniently, but this is balanced out by the tension in the plot and by the interpersonal relationships.
Okorafor sets the novella in a future where machines and biology have come together, and where people have learned to create biological ships full of wonders and with a university anyone might run away to join.
Binti is a chance to read of a future that is at least as diverse and rich as the present. It’s also the chance to read a strong, suspenseful story where the heroine has to use her wits if she is going to survive.