Read: Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is of a tribe and family that is protective of its own – their customs, their heritage, and their Otherness. She is also a prodigy at mathematics, with her future as her father’s successor in the family business already decided for. When she receives a stipend to attend the most prestigious university in the known galaxy she stealthily chooses to go against her whole family, none of which has ever travelled outside the planet and some not even outside the village, yet purporting to know everything about the world outside.

She doesn’t make a conflict about it – she just prepares without telling anyone and then slips away in the night to catch the shuttle to the space port, knowing that she by this will be rejected by her culture, never allowed to come back.

In many ways Binti – the novella, not the person – is an anthropological journey, echoing of Ursula K LeGuin and her work. I’m reminded of novellas such as the ones collected in Worlds of Exile and Illusion, but also LeGuin’s work as a whole – exploring and examining cultural and societal constructs, from the perspective  of the Other.

The person Binti – who is a Himba of the Namib, looked down on by the Khoush people that holds power over the economy and institutions on her Earth – is both perceived as Other and encounters the Other, both the known other, the other from allied but alien planets, and the Other with whom they are at war with.

The story is intriguing, and a fast read, but in the end I think it would had benefited from getting more meat on it’s bones. As now it felt much like a story outline, which was good up until the resolution. Until then the format worked well: the story is told in tight first person, in snippets but well crafted and holding together, a credible telling of a series of events. The resolution continued in that style but the ease with which a disoriented minority teen manages to resolve a long standing conflict simply by being able to talk to both parties stretches my belief a wee bit too far. A bit like those detective stories aimed at preteens were two smart kids who seemingly never goes to school and whose parents are conspicuously absent manages to outsmart both the villains and the professional police investigators.

I did like the tone and style in which Okorafor tells the story. Despite, or perhaps because of, the short length of the story she manages to instil empathy for a girl whose cultural veneer is very different from my own, conveying the idea that humaneness is intrinsic, and maybe not even exclusive to humankind. An idea examined by many authors before her but not less honourable an endeavour for that.

Despite the slightly disappointing ending I am going to seek out more of Nnedi Okorafor‘s works, and should you find Binti on a shelf close to you – don’t hesitate to read it. At 89 pages it will not take a lot of your time.

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Read: Visitor, by C.J. Cherryh

Book no. 17 in the Foreigner series. You’d think it would slow down, or peter out, or, well, just plain diminish in quality. Thankfully for us who follow the adventures of Bren and his aishid the opposite is true: Visitor is not only a good addition to the series but a very good one.

The Visitor picks up the thread just as the kyo – mysterious and secretive space-faring, and, in general terms, neighbours; neighbours who are engaged in war with another neighbour, as yet unseen – are approaching Alpha station. Bren spends his time worrying over his ability to communicate with the kyo, much the same way we all every now and then worry ourselves senseless at living up to expectations, and suddenly the Other are over the doorstep, pursuing an agenda no one knows about and everyone suspects… I’ll not delve on specifics; the spoilers would be too great. Suffice to say that one of the “what if’s” that I have been entertaining actually came true, and the resulting drama is simultaneously forthright and subtle, if such a thing is possible. But I really want to save that particular surprise for anyone who have yet to read the book.

Instead I will talk about the general.

The Foreigner series balances between sitcom and drama, in written form. At times it touches on interpersonal relations, political intrigue, personal feelings and insecurities… all the ordinary stuff. But looking not at one part at a time but at the over-all story you can see broader themes, such as the interplay between language and culture, or the debilitating effects of fear of the foreign.

In many ways the series offers a looking glass through which we can observe ourselves through the Other, from the outside; a means of analysing the cultural constructs and societally predicated behavioural norms that in/forms our everyday interactions. That can be a very uncomfortable place to be but Cherryh manages to masquerade it behind a screen of ordinariness, making it look like suspense rather than societal critique (which I’m not even sure she’s consciously offering – it’s in the eye of the beholder).

To me both aspects are enjoyable but it also means that you the reader has to analyse and interpret on your own. There’s no large writings on the wall telling you how to think. The many layers lets you chose what layer of the story that captures your personal interest.

Not everyone is up for that.

I, however, can’t wait for the next instalment, or for, well, anything from Cherryh’s pen and imagination!

 

Zombies? No thanks.

Today at work we got to talk about zombies, and I realised that’s another area were my willingness to suspend my disbelief is not enough. Why, you ask. Are they too scary?

On the contrary. Zombies are up there with werewolves and goblins as so totally unbelievable as to make me laugh. I just can’t take them seriously. Maybe that’s why the only instance when I find them acceptable are the Discworld books, because most things in there are not what they seem but more importantly they’re set on DISCWORLD, which is the opposite of our world, and thus a mirror, nothing else.

Zombies in OUR world? Excuse me. Just don’t believe.

Not that I find wizards any more believable. Possibly that’s the reason I just can’t stand Urban Fantasy. I need real good world building, High Fantasy style, to believe anything beyond FTL (Faster Than Light) (which by the way also is quite unbelievable but I want it to be a possibility, so humankind can go to the stars some day. And NASA’s putting money that way, so maybe??? *holding thumbs*).

So, no, while some of my colleagues at work seemed to think I Am Legend was a good film I don’t think I’ll watch OR read it.

And no, I don’t think Dracula or Nosferatu, in any incarnation I’ve seen or read, are scary, either. They’re interesting, though, especially when contemplated besides each other, for the different views they afford us on how we’ve handled the Other through time.

This might be the reason why such stories are so popular – a manifestation of our collective need to come to grips with the fact that large parts of the world is NOT like me and you, whatever ‘me’ is. These stories provide the tools to disseminate and analyse and channel, however unconsciously, our fear or distrust of the other. A need that grows more pressing in times when we are supposed to like and embrace that which is not like us.

At least, that’s one way to look at it. This don’t make me like zombies any better, though ;-)