This novella is the second installment in the Binti series, and in an unusual turn of events for my recent reviews, I’ve actually already read the first one (and loved it). In fact, I loved the first one so much, I kind of held off on reading this one, because what if the sequel didn’t live up to the high standards set by the first one? I knew this was a baseless concern; Nnedi Okorafor’s writing has always delivered in terms of quality, earthiness, and beautifully unique worldbuilding. Binti: Home, I think, actually exceeded the first book in terms of quality.
I follow Okorafor on Twitter, and I’ve seen her describe the arc of this trilogy (indeed, there is a third novella coming out this fall and I am very excited for it) as “girl leaves home, girl comes home, girl becomes home”. I like that arc. It’s a really solid foundation for a more fantastical world and characters, and I think that foundation is really important. There’s a Thoreau quote that I’ve always really liked that I think applies here: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Not put the foundations under them.” Knowing Thoreau, he was probably talking about like… farming and philosophizing, and not science fiction stories about aliens, but I think it works equally as well.
Binti: Home picks up about a year after where Binti left off. Our eponymous protagonist has spent a year at the far-space Oomza University, being tutored in the exceedingly advanced mathematics of this world and recovering from the trauma of what happened on her transport ship from Earth to Oomza. She’s decided, at this point, to go home. Oh she’ll be back, of course, but she needs to see her family again and walk the land she knows. She brings her unexpectedly good friend Okwu along with her, which is bound to cause conflict – his people, the Meduse, were at war with the Khoush people of Earth only recently.
This much, I could’ve expected from the “girl comes come” part of the aforementioned plot arc. Everything after that is where things get weirder and better and more powerful, as Okorafor’s stories usually do. I think one of her real strengths is in subverting your expectations. In this case, we expect Binti to be welcomed home, to be joyfully reunited with her family. Well, not so much. What follows is a literal voyage through the desert, connecting with her ancestors, and learning more about her real origins. We get a deeper sense of coming home than just the “superficial” return to Earth. Coming home, after all, can very much include redefining just where and what (and who) home is in the first place.
I really enjoyed Binti’s growth here, and the sense that she’s not done growing. After all, she’s a 17-year-old girl, and no one is done growing at that age, if you feel that people are ever done growing at all. I liked the handling of her PTSD and panic attacks after the events of the previous book; I felt it added a layer that wasn’t there in the previous installment – the repercussions. Where the first book mostly presented the ending neatly tied up with a ribbon on top, there was still a very real sense of continued action after the book ended, and I like it when there’s actual stakes and consequences for the protagonists. It wouldn’t have felt right, really, for Binti to have come out of the absolute terrors she faced before completely unscathed, and the handling of her mental health was well-done here.
I like Okorafor’s vision of the future, too. The mathematics, the development of existing Earth cultures, the spacefaring and alien races – it all works together very harmoniously. It’s clear that a great deal of thought is given to the impact of certain developments or technologies or events. Everything ties into everything else in a way that you don’t always find from other science fiction writers. Sometimes a writer will just say “hey, what if x exists” without actually considering what has to happen for x to exist and what happens because x exists, but that doesn’t seem to happen here at all. It’s especially striking given the comparative lack of “space” in these stories; they are novellas, after all.
And of course, Binti: Home ended on a huge cliffhanger, which the previous one didn’t. Like, enormous. A freaking big cliff, and we’re all just left… waiting for September. Impatiently twiddling our thumbs until we can find out just what the hell happened. The next one is called Binti: The Night Masquerade, a title which didn’t make sense to be until I read Home, but now definitely does. I’m really interested to see the “girl becomes home” part of the described plot arc, and I am no longer concerned that it won’t live up to the standard set by the first two. That leaves me plenty of room to be concerned for several important characters’ lives, though.