Knowledge Comes at a Steep Price in Okorafor’s Binti

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • ebook/audiobook
  • 96 pages
  • Published September 22nd, 2015 by
  • Original Title “Binti”
  • ISBN0765384469 (ISBN13: 9780765384461)
  • Edition LanguageEnglish
  • URL
  • Series Binti #1


Hugo Award for Best Novella (2016), 

Nebula Award for Best Novella (2015), 

Locus Award Nominee for Best Novella (2016), 

Nommo Award for Best Novella (2017)

Image courtesy of

From the publisher, “Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first, she has to make it there, alive.”

“We prefer to explore the

universe by traveling

inward, as opposed to


– excerpt from Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti

Where have I been? Apparently under a rock because there is a bit of a Nnedi-naisance going on. Her work, whether short story, novella or full-length novel are everywhere and very well respected in the science fiction/fantasy community.

This story is pretty straightforward. A fish out of water tale. However, what is not straightforward is the depth of character that Okorafor created in such a short novella.

Binti is a 16-year-old girl from the isolated Himba region on Earth. She applies and is accepted into the prestigious intergalactic university Oomza Uni, and is the first person of Himba descent to ever be admitted let alone attend the prestigious school. Right away, we as a reader know that Binti is stepping way out of her comfort zone. Both culturally, physically and emotionally. Her people are very traditional and are not one to reach out to change. This in itself is a huge internal conflict for Binti that is artfully addressed throughout the story. While in transit, Binti’s ship is attacked and hijacked by the warlike Medusae people. A jellyfish-like species that has been at war with the Khoush aka other earthlings. The entirety of the ship’s inhabitants save for Binti, and the pilot is murdered with little regard. To escape Binti retreats to her personal living quarters after which she attempts to wait out the trip to make it to Oomza Uni alive.

“I swiped otjize from my forehead with my index finger and knelt down. Then I touched the finger to the sand, grounding the sweet-smelling red clay into it. “Thank you,” I whispered.”

– excerpt from Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti

In the process of trying to survive, Binti makes some startingly discoveries. First, the piece of technology that she brought from earth, called an edan, enables Binti to communicate with the Medusae. Something that had previously not been accomplished. Secondly, the red clay like substance that Binti uses from her homeland called otijza has healing properties to the Medusae. Binti tentatively coordinates a truce between the occupants of Oomza Uni and the Medusae averting a war and subsequently, makes Binti loved by the Medusae tribe and both esteemed and feared by other Oomsa Uni students. She then begins her mathematical studies at the university. That is the end of this particular novella, but not the story. Okarafor has gone on to write two additional novellas that flesh out Binti’s character even further.

“Tribal”: that’s what they

called humans from ethnic

groups too remote and “uncivilized”

to regularly send

students to attend Oomza Uni.” 

– excerpt from Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti

First, let’s address some of the high points of the story and writing style. Nnedi Okorafor is an authentic writer. In that, I mean she feels entirely at home within the prose of her words, and it reads comfortably. There are no forced situations or scenarios, every scene flows smoothly and transitions from one scene to the next. This is a rare trait in a writer, especially at a short story or novella length when much has to happen in a short period. Okorafor is an author that shows instead of tells. The technology that she has created naturally doesn’t exist, and its use in the story is a huge and essential plot point. Instead of just saying that the edan that she brought from her does this and that, Okanfur shows us. She shows us the machine, to the point in which we as readers can almost feel it in our hand. Lastly, I feel like I know Binti. Okorafor has described Binti so vibrantly that I feel like I could hold her braids in my hand, smell the red clay she coats her body with, and the electrical currents she can harmonize. Oddly enough, it has little to do with how tall Binti is or other physical features and entirely on the content of Binti’s character, quality of writing, and a feel for her as a person.

At the end of this novella, we learn that knowledge comes with a significant cost, a cost that Binti has to pay. The ending is both bittersweet, a punch in the proverbial gut, and an opportunity for her to become more. Well worth the read. Not only is this a feather in the cap of Afro-futurism, but of science fiction at large. This is a damn good story.

I listened to this on Scribd.

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian American author of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults and a professor at the University at Buffalo, New York. Her works include Who Fears Death, the Binti novella trilogy, the Book of Phoenix, the Akata books and Lagoon. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards and her debut novel Zahrah the Windseeker won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois. Learn more about Nnedi at


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    1. Beth Tabler

      Ohhh thank you! That means so much to me, you have no idea. I think with a new genre it’s always worth a try. Books get so pigeon holed that saying something is sci fi or romance or whatever oftentimes doesn’t do it justice. Like, this one seemed more mystical than anything else. There wasn’t anything really sciencey about it. Calling it fantasy doesn’t quite work either.

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