“Then there was Heru. I had never spoken to him, but we smiled across the table at each other during mealtimes. He was from one of those cities so far from mine that they seemed like a figment of my imagination, where there was snow and where men rode those enormous gray birds and the women could speak with those birds without moving their mouths.” ― Nnedi Okorafor, Binti
This is the best science fiction novel (novella) I have read in quite a while. The author, Nnedi Okorafor is new to me, but has already won renown among science fiction fans as attested by the awards she has won.
The story could be called a futuristic coming of age story, as a young girl from the Himba ethnic group on Earth is the first from her group to be accepted into the prestigious intergalactic university, Oomza Uni. Her name is Binti and she leaves home boarding a transport ship to Oomza Uni. While in transit, the ship is hijacked by the Meduse, a jellyfish-like alien species that have previously been at war with the Khoush, another human ethnic group. The action rises as the Meduse murder all other inhabitants of the ship. Binti, however, is protected by a mysterious block of technology called an Edan and escapes destruction. The ensuing events on board involve her interactions with the Meduse as the ship continues toward Oomza Uni. The story becomes one both of Binti (and the reader) learning more about the Edan that protects her and of the developing friendship and understanding (of a sort) between Binti and the Meduse.
The author's style is superb and the story presents intriguing ideas as a familiar formula is played out in new and unconventional ways. The concise style was riveting as the story developed suspense along with surprising events that kept this reader interested. While this novella was short it succeeded in telling a compelling story while leaving the reader with a desire to find out "what happens next" both to Binti and the Meduse. I expect that I will pursue the two additional volumes of what has become a trilogy about the adventures of Binti.