Sunday Musings: Review Rut
Normally, when I read a book, I’m already writing the review in my head. Last year, for whatever reason (and there were many valid ones), I just wasn’t in the right mind set to do so. I thankfully still was able to get in the right mind space to read or listen to books, but I just couldn’t get any thoughts onto paper about them. Today (which is actually January 31–hurray for scheduled posts), I’ve managed to churn out a whole bunch of reviews, starting small with these little guys, and moving on to more significant coverage. It’s a nice feeling. That is to say–I’m back, yo! So stay tuned for more bookish thoughts from me. And many thanks to my beautiful, wonderful, inspirational co-bloggers for carrying on the torch in my absence. Being a part of the Bibliosanctum team continues to be an honour for me.
Who’d have thought I’d enjoy a book about math. Okay, Binti isn’t really about math, but it does incorporate mathematics and science into its trek across space. I am always thrilled to read interesting ways that authors use magic, and that was no less the case here, although, despite the grounding in math and science through the protagonist, Binti’s, upbringing, there was a feeling of trying too hard to connecting magic with science and math, and then letting it fall away. As in, when it came down to Binti seeking to understand how her newly discovered abilities worked, she and all those around her seemed content with “I don’t know” as the answer.
The story focuses on this young woman who has been accepted into a prestigious university light years away and who, against her family’s wishes and traditions, abandons everything to pursue her dream. Throughout the story, Binti’s courage is at the forefront, but no more so than when she gives up everything she knows and loves to follow this dream. Unfortunately, her dream is tragically and violently interrupted by the arrival of the Meduse on her ship. The Meduse are a race of beings who have been at war with humanity for a long time, but something about Binti makes her not only immune to their attack, but also allows her to eventually communicate with them through the power of “I don’t know.”
I really liked this book and particularly loved Robin Miles’ narration. Miles is a master of dialects and, when I so often read and listen to books about British or North American protagonists, it’s a thrill to hear Miles strong, confident voice speaking Binti’s words with an African accent. Okorafor also does not waste any opportunities to define her worlds and her characters as something far more than what is too common in the genre, with particular focus on Binti’s hair and the otjize with which she covers her body. These distinctive cultural elements become key factors in the story.
But the story itself, despite being so promising, falls short. It wraps up too easily and perhaps too unrealistically. Without giving away any spoilers, I will simply say that it left me wanting more, which is both a good and a bad thing, in this case, depending on whether or not Okorafor ever decides to revisit Binto and her world.
The easiest way to describe this book is that it’s an amusing family road trip… in space.
I’ve come to adore Heinlein’s dry sense of humour, which often appears in one or two characters in his books, but here, we have a whole family of smartasses. From Captain to Doctor, to grandmother, to daughter, to entrepreneurial twins, and a determined little boy with typical little boy stubborness. Oh and flat cats, which are best described as, well, tribbles, but flatter.
The description of this book focuses on the twins, but Castor and Pollux are nothing without the support of their family–and what a supportive family it is. Even when their father is threatening to shove them out of an airlock, or their mother is quietly rolling her eyes at their antics, this is clearly not the dysfunctional family they seem to pretend to be. They are a tight knight group where loyalty and love is evident, even through the sarcasm and idle threats. The Stones are what every family should aspire to be like, and this book was what every family trip wishes it could be (though maybe without the deadly diseases and other critical threats of interplanetary travel.