Binti is an unexpected scifi novella – highly successful in Amazon’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Read subcategory – 4 1/2 stars with lots of reviews. Complaints center on the story being too short and readers wanting more!
Author Okorafor offers a tale of human contact with a strange (not anthropomorphic – hurray!) alien species, but centers on a real life human society that will seem alien to most Anglo readers. That culture is beautifully evoked and Okorafor is not afraid to interrupt action with beguiling descriptions.
While there is one violent episode, the story is about Binti’s enigmatic relationship with her own culture – honoring her heritage while moving far beyond to attend an interstellar university. The story abandons some of the “common wisdom” rules of fiction that dictate action and denigrate characters telling the reader anything – which proves rules are meant to be broken by talented authors.
MILD SPOILER ALERT
She encounters thoughtful alien adversaries and prevails through her own growth and sacrifice rather than bang-up violence. Her mathematical abilities, which are magical, make her uniquely suited to encounter this alien race. Her bravery and intelligence endear her to readers – and perhaps open our eyes to the customs of our own kin here on Earth today.
Binti shares her journey to a strange place. Thoughtful readers will enjoy this short (55 page) novella with a scifi flare. Scifi fans of the more common shoot-em-ups will find the story short enough to hold their interest in a setting with a different feel. Give this novella a try.
I must admit that I did not finish this book. It belongs to the “teens fighting in dystopia” science fiction genre like its more famous sister The Hunger Games. I think I’ve OD’ed on this genre for the moment, so my reaction may not be fair to Karen Bao. Her book includes two dystopias – one on the Moon and one on Earth. The idea of a Moon Base set up by people escaping conflicts on Earth is neat and I enjoyed reading about the base. The young-teen protagonist enters military service for an admirable reason: to earn money to save her family and especially her mother, who has been quarantined for expensive medical care.
Bao’s book is published by the Penguin Group, a well-established traditional publisher, so my comments refer to Penguin’s editing as well as Bao’s writing. I compared the book to a few of the bits of writing advice I keep running into.
- First is a trend I’ve read about to avoid or at least reduce descriptions of characters. The idea here is that modern readers want to create their own vision of a character. Bao bucks this trend (if it really is a trend) by including descriptions, though they are not detailed. For example: “awkwardly tall body resembles the skinny tree,” “eyes so dark I can’t tell where the pupils and irises meet,” “eyes the…shade of onyx,” “full cheeks and black hair.”
- A more established writing tip is to avoid saidisms – that is, avoid any words other than “said” or “asked” as dialog tags. Bao tags a lot of her dialog with action as the tip advises:”‘Ah!’ When he spots Tinbie, he hurries to the table.” Though, tips do advise avoiding exclamation marks. But she also uses quite a few saidisms: whispers, drawls, continues, cries, rasps, sobs.
- Show Don’t Tell, a well established tip to avoid narrative explanations. Bao “tells” quite a bit, especially about how her world works and its history.
So my bottom line is: a traditionally-published author and her publisher are willing to ignore some standard writing advice and still be fairly successful – three and a half stars from thirty-nine reviews on Amazon – a record I would be happy to have. And while I didn’t finish the book, if you are looking for a book in this genre, I’d say give it a try.
More of my posts on writing tips:
Successful Novel Defies Standard Advice – Never Let Me Go
Sphere: Hit SciFi Novels Follows Some Advice, Flaunts Other
Stephen King’s Writing Advice
Maze Runner and Writing Advice
“Star Wars is the ultimate example of Rule of Cool. None of the technology in Star Wars makes a lick of sense, but we love it anyway, because it is awesome.”
Sci-fi “guns” http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/sidearmintro.php
Writers’ Resource: Critiques Available