So something that I really liked about this novella is that there is almost no world building. This will come up in another review I will be writing later too. Too often, a new inventive world is described in a too detailed way where simply telling the story and setting up what we need to know as we go will be much much better, and there’s a more satisfying story that way.
And so this one does.
The only real issue I have with it is that there’s level of derivativeness here which doesn’t mar it so much as limit it.
The novella is about a young woman from Earth, and part of a more oppressed or less supported culture group on Earth who gets accepted into a prestigious intergalactic university. En route the entire crew and passenger list is killed by an invading force called the Meduse. Binti is spared because of a rare artifact she has that allows her to communicate with them. She comes to understand their perspective on life and why they committed the acts that they did.
She forms a kind of bond with them and works to achieve their demands on the university.
The writing is good and the story is perfectly good, spelling out some of the anxiety a colonized person might feel going to a university run by the colonizers and how that freedom and access won by that educated is potentially compromised. In addition, the novel’s creation of the Meduse as a kind of indigenous people is also interesting.
There’s a lot of Octavia Butler in this one….possibly 10% too much for comfort.
So basically I think these Binti novels are good, but kind of just good. I will read and review the third one before too long as well.
In this novel, we do get some interesting explorations of an idea that happens a lot in sci-fi and fantasy and that I think about a lot, but since so much of this novel is much more about broader issues, my favorite aspect of what this novel explores is a small part.
How come no one ever really talks about how life-shattering and crazy the kinds of existential changes that happen to characters in sci-fi novels is on their everyday lived experience. Too often what we have is a human as our base character, right. And then what happens next is that something truly crazy or life-changing occurs. Then, they might address it but rarely do they truly spend time with how it changes and affects them. I am thinking particularly how Lois McMaster Bujold writes an entire (and long) novel–Memory–dealing with the main character’s trauma both emotional and physical of dying and then coming back after a terrible accident. But then in other novel, like a whole species will be wiped out and their one remaining member will be like “No! I’ll show them!”
Here, the main character goes through some body-horror level changes to her sense of self and being, and finally, finally someone from her home town says “Umm, why the fuck would you do this?” There’s a lot more going on, but I was happy to finally have some one do something like that.
More than anything I would love for this series of novellas to be the launching point for a tv series. It could be great for a lot of reasons. For one, the series is “complete” so there’s none of that issue of the writer of the show and the writer of the books being at odds, or worse the writer of the books being involved so much in the production of the show that they lose track of the books. Not that I have anyone in mind for that!
So here’s how it works. These three books more or less take up the first two 10-12 episode seasons of the show. Then, because these leave us with so much more story to be told (yes, I love college and boarding school novels in fantasy and sci fi — think The Name of the Wind and Harry Potter for sure) and so there’s so much more. Also these books are so much exposition and character development and world-building, but I would argue there’s not a lot of storytelling going on.
For me it’s like an inverse of Into the Badlands, where the storytelling episode by episode is pretty good, but the world-building feels arbitrary and weak. Same thing happens for me when GOT the tv show outpaced the books…the richness and pacing died quick deaths in service of the story. Here, the story needs fleshing out, but the world doesn’t.
That’s not a review so much as an idea.
Here’s my review: The name of this one is dumb.
(Photo: Colleen Durkin)