Let me start with a complaint so I can get it out of my system. I hate this emerging practice in Science Fiction to slice novels up into novellas and drip feed them to us.
I hated it with Murderbot and I hate it with Binti.
I was blown away by the first novella, “Binti” It deserved the Nebula and Hugo awards it won. It was a startlingly innovative novella about identity, about us and other, about fear and harmony, about how defining what it means to be alien also defines what it means to be human. “Binti” worked as a standalone, self-contained story.
It took two more years for “Binti Home” to reach us and, very disappointingly, it does not work as a self-contained novella. It’s a sequel, so it can’t be standalone but I did expect it to be self-contained. What I got is the second act in a three-act play.
It turns out it’s a very good second act in what I’m sure will be an excellent novel but I wish the publishers had had the integrity to wait until the whole book was ready before publishing it.
Ok, complaint over.
There are lots of good things in this middle act of Binti’s story.
It retains the freshness of the original novella. It doesn’t reprise any of the previous action but carries straight on from where “Binti” finished.
It keeps the humour as well as the drama of the previous events and uses both to explore being alien. Here’s what happens when Binti persuades Okuwu, an alien shaped like a massive jellyfish that moves through air rather than water an is always referred to as “it” to put cover its tentacles with otjize, a mix of mud and oil that Himba women cover themselves with:
Covering them with so much otjize, Okwu told me, made it feel a little intoxicated.
“Everything is . . . happy,” it had said, sounding perplexed about this state.
“Good,” I said, grinning. “That way, you won’t be so grumpy when you meet everyone. Khoush like politeness and the Himba expect a sunny disposition.”
“ I will wash this off soon,” it said. “It’s not good to feel this pleased with life.”
“Binti Home” explores the issue of self and other from a new angle by following Binti’s own physical and spiritual evolution from the Himba tribal girl she thought herself to be into something other and more than that.
The tension builds. Revelations are made. Threats are introduced. Then the novella ends. Well, actually, it just stops.
So I’m going to stop as well. I have to go and read the third act, “The Night Masquerade”, which I’ve just downloaded from the Kindle Store for the princely sum of £2.63.