Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918Verdict: Not for me.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Novella

Published by tor.com, 2015

Find it on Goodreads.

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.

I think I will have to accept the fact that Nnedi Okorafor’s writing is not for me. This is the second book by her I tried to read after DNFing her earlier Who Fears Death. I want to like her books because I think she has fascinating thoughts on what she calls Africanfuturism and I like her social media presence a whole lot but I struggled with this book.

This short novella follows Binti, the first of her people (the Himba) to be accepted into Oomza University. Leaving her disapproving family behind, Binti starts her journey towards this university planet when her ship is attacked by a group of aliens called the Meduse who have been at war with other humans for ages.

In theory, I should have adored this. I like books about identity and Binti’s identity and her relationship with those around her are one of the foci of this book. But while I appreciated Okorafor’s ideas, ultimately I thought the exploration of these themes was pretty flat. Obviously, this might be due to the format of the story and possibly something that would be remedied if I read the rest of the series but of these pages I had, I was not the biggest fan.

Another problem I had, but one that is definitely a me-thing, was the way in which maths was used. Binti is a genius-level balancer and can solve complex mathematical problems in her head – and somehow that helps her solve her other problems? I am not sure I followed this train of thought at all (I haven’t done proper maths in years). This points to a problem I sometimes run into when reading science fiction: I want to understand the science or at least feel like it makes a reasonable amount of sense, something that I don’t demand of fantasy for example; magic does not have to be rooted in the real world.

Ultimately, this was just not a book for me. I wanted to like this so much because I have heard so many people rave about this and I do think that this is very much a case of wrong book for the wrong reader.

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I read this book both for Novellas in November and for Sci-Fi Month, both of which are run by people whose blogs I adore.

 

 

 

Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

31445891Verdict: fun premise, disappointing whole.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Published by tor.com, 2018

Genre: Alternative History

Find it on Goodreads.

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.

Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.

This was a terrible plan.

Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.

One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more novellas – and I tried, I really did, but I am not so sure the format works for me. Which is why you should take my rating maybe with a grain of salt because it might be a genre thing. But, I struggled here and if the book had been any longer I do not think I would have finished it – but the length itself is also possibly the biggest stumbling block I had.

This is an alternative fiction Western – a world where Louisiana imported hippos, both a source of meat and as a form of transportation. Winslow Houndstooth and his crew are running a scheme involving a crime lord and feral hippos. I like that premise but I don’t find it clever enough to sustain the weak plot. The plot never has time to breath as we rush from scene to scene and later death to death. The story is quite gruesome and there are a few running gags that did not quite work for me as a result.

The characters could have been fun but there is not enough room to get to know them and as a result their actions often come out of the left-field. I did like how diverse the crew was, but there could have been done so much more here. The characters never came alive for me in a way that would have made me root for them.

This is not the worst thing I have read and it did keep me moderately entertained on a plane but I will not be continuing with the series.

Mini-Novella-Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1) – J.Y. Yang

33099588Verdict: Immersive world building, interesting social structure, focus on sibling relationships = fantasy I adore.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: March 31st, 2018

Published by tor.com, September 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

This short little novella manages to tick a lot of my boxes: sociological worldbuilding, a focus on sibling relationships, interesting social structures, musings on gender, and a language that just transported me along.

This book focusses on Mokoya and Akeha, twin children of the ruler of their country, how they are used as pawns in their mothers power machinations but also how they find their agency in a world that does not want to give them any. While Mokoya develops rare prophetic powers their sibling Akeha is always in their shadows and will have to find their own place in the world.

Constricted by the length conventions of novellas, the worldbuilding obviously cannot be as intricately imagined as other works, but I actually thought this worked in the book’s favour. I had the impression that there was more to the world than we were shown and I loved that. The world felt lived in in the way J.Y. Yang described it and used it as their background noise to what was obviously at the core of their work: musings on gender and love and sibling relationships. These relationships were by far my favourite part of the book and I cannot wait where Mokoya and Akeha’s story goes next.

First sentence: “Head Abbot Sung of the Grand Monastery did not know it yet, but this night would change the course of all his days.”

Novella Mini-Review: The Murders Of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson

34417038Verdict: Creepy, compulsively readable, unputdownable

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: January 24th, 2018

Published by tor, 2017

Find it on goodreads.

Every time she bleeds a murderer is born. Experience the horror of Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne.

The rule is simple: don’t bleed.

For as long as Molly Southbourne can remember, she’s been watching herself die. Whenever she bleeds, another molly is born, identical to her in every way and intent on her destruction.

Molly knows every way to kill herself, but she also knows that as long as she survives she’ll be hunted. No matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks just like her?

I read this in two sittings. That might not sound impressive due to its shortness, but I hardly ever read books, however short, this quickly. But I could not put this down, I needed to keep reading, and I needed to see where Tade Thompson would take this story next. He takes an already brilliant premise and then manages to make the execution an allegory for growing up female in a way that I found surprising. He does not shy away from the most disturbing parts of his premise (like: what happens to the mollys born when Molly is very young?) and the phrase “a slow-growing molly” gave me actual chills.

I don’t read horror often (or at all) but this had me craving more which is quite possibly the highest praise I can think of. While not without its flaws (the novella format does limit the length), I cannot WAIT for the next book in this series to drop. I need to know more about this world and mostly about Molly’s mother, who I found highly interesting and not quite fleshed out enough.

This was a very good start for my forray into the world of novellas.

First sentence: “I wake into a universe defined by pain.”

 

PS: I did have nightmares because of this, make of that what you will.

Reading List: Novellas

Another one of my resolutions for this year was to read more novellas. And as quite a few of the ones I had been eyeing were fairly cheap for my Kindle, I decided to go ahead and purchased an unreasonably high number of novellas to read over the next couple of weeks. This approach has advantages: I love reading on my Kindle and the books were cheap. The disadvantage is that if I happen to love the books, I will want to have print books of them. I guess I am doing a good deed for the publishing industry here. So without much further ado, here is a list of novellas I am looking forward to reading (I did a similar list for my Science Fictions reads.)

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells

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This sounds so brilliant. A socially awkward murderbot? With an affinity for crappy TV shows? Sign me up.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

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I have previously tried to read a book by Nnedi Okorafor and did not enjoy this. However, I have heard nothing but great things about this trilogy. Also, this is only 98 pages, so I figure even if I don’t love it, I will be able to finish it quickly. It did win the Hugo Award, so I assume it’s brilliant. Also Nnedi Okorafor has the best hair.

The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion by Margaret Killjoy

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I added this a while ago because someone over at Goodreads whose taste I trust, reviewed this very favourably. I might be super scared reading this but sometimes I like that (and I did say I wanted to branch out in my reading). I will have to read this during the daytime though.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

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Again, I will be scared. But this book (and its brilliant cover) has intrigued me for months. I figured, I might as well go for it.

The Black Tides Of Heaven (Tensorate #1) by J. Y. Yang

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I heard nothing but amazing things about this. It sounds challenging and different and absolutely beautiful.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

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Two things: Alternative history. People riding hippos.

 

As you can see, I am going full on genre fiction here, two horror books, two science fiction novellas and two fantasy books. I am planning on getting to more literary novellas later this year, hopefully including a couple of classic German novellas then.

Have you read any of these? Let me know your thoughts! Also, if you have any recommendations for me, these are always welcome.