Book Review: Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

‘Five, five, five, five, five, five,’ I whispered.

Sequel to Binti: read that first!

I have previously expressed a desire to buy everything that Nnedi Okorafor has ever written; this desire is only getting stronger as I read more of her work. Binti did incredible things in ninety pages. Binti: Home does equally incredible things in one-hundred-and-sixty-two. It is a fantastic gem, packed full of imagination, sharp observation, creativity, and a rollercoaster of emotion. The world, skillfully set up in Binti, expands into more detail (and spaceship fish spaceship fish spaceship fish!)

Binti has been at Oomza University for a year now, and she is heading home accompanied by Okwu, who is part of a species that has been at war with parts of humanity for ages. Binti has changed, and as she travels she wonders who she is now, if she is the same, if she is still human, if she is still Himba.

Now, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but maybe the question she should have been asking was whether she was ever who she thought she was… I loved every second of this sequel! It followed up, it answered questions that I had at the end of Binti, it developed and it went to unexpected places. It left me with a burning need to read the next in the series, and it again showcased Nnedi Okorafor’s skill at touching on big issues without sacrificing story. About the only problem I had was that the pronouns for Okwu seem to change randomly and I couldn’t quite tell if they were meant to or not. Sometimes they were ‘it’ sometimes ‘him’ and I think in the first book they were ‘she’ at one point, but the way it’s done it almost seems like a mistake rather than a deliberate choice. I got along fine, and headcanon that Okwu changes gender.

So, read this book. Wonder if you ever really know who you are…

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Review: Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam

This is the first story in the Gods and Monsters season from the Booksmugglers, and it is a wonderful offering. I’ve just finished reading it – a quietly beautiful story about the goddess Thrift, who makes a bargain with a thief in order to leave the temple where she waits with her bickering sisters.

The writing is deceptively simple, and the relationship between Thrift and the thief develops slowly. I enjoyed the attention to detail in Thrift’s point of view; the way she experienced things without being corporeal. And it was a pleasing journey, with a few surprises along the way. A lovely little tale; a bit sad and a bit happy. Recommended.

 

Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison TamPublished 6/13/2017 I am Thrift and I want to leave this place, and see the far ends of the universe, and never spend another moment in stasis ever again. Take my hand and bring me with you… On a lost planet in the depths of space, goddess-sisters Beauty, Glory and…

via Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam — The Book Smugglers

Book Reviews: announcement and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I have read a lot of books recently, however I’m struggling a bit to find time to write “proper” reviews of them (super busy with work and writing a new story). So I thought I’d do a series of bite-size reviews of around 250 – 300 words each, just until I have more time again. I’m sure there will be some longer ones mixed in there! I hope you enjoy 🙂

Let us begin!Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

I powered up the transporter and said a silent prayer.

This is an incredible book. Short, at ninety pages, but full. Bursting, almost, with ideas and skill and craftwork. I believe I described the other Nnedi Okorafor title that I’ve read, The Book of Phoenix, as being a cataclysm. This is a quieter book, but no less powerful. Binti is of the Himba people, and she is leaving her home and her planet to attend Oomza Uni, which flies in the face of tradition. Please note that I am not knowledgeable about the Himba people, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of the representation in this book.

It’s hard, really, to know what to say because there is so much contained in this slim volume. Binti is a fantastic protagonist; completely believable in her characterisation. From the first sentence I am drawn in and intrigued: I want to know who she is, where she’s from, where she is going and why. And I empathised with her, to the point of snarling “what the f*ck?” under my breath when a stranger in a public space touched Binti’s hair without asking (which I know is a real problem, and a whole other subject deserving of lots of space because it’s so not okay, ever, to grab a stranger’s hair!) and yelped out loud, and swore some more at other distressing points (this is me trying to avoid spoilers) and cried when Binti lost her friends. Messily. There was snot, people. The world building was also excellent, and very impressive; creating such a real science-fiction world in a mere ninety pages must, I imagine, have been quite hard (also one spoiler: spaceship fish!). I cried at the end as well, because this is such a beautiful novella and I want more. Luckily there is more, and I’m just waiting on my next payday to buy the sequel.

Mathematics is something of a theme, as Binti primarily got into Oomza Uni with her incredible mathematics score. I really struggle with maths, but the novella is still completely readable and enjoyable and I actually found myself thinking things like “Hmmmm, maybe maths isn’t so bad, maybe I should go learn more maths”. And aliens and friendship and and and and I have to shut up now or I’ll just squeee.

So to conclude, brilliant main character, excellent writing, excellent story about growing up and making choices (and lots of other things) and more to come!

Rating: read this book, learn about equations.

Book Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman

planetfall-emma-newman

Every time I come down here I think of my mother.

This is a striking work. It’s the only thing I’ve read by Emma Newman – a standalone science fiction novel about exploration, grief and god. Unusually for me, I had to take a break from reading it in the middle rather than just reading through. This is because the point-of-view character, Renata “Ren” Ghali, has a deeply seated anxiety issue that, although far more extreme than my own experience, managed to trigger some of my anxiety. Nevertheless, I came back and finished it because it is brilliant and I needed to know what happened.

Planetfall is written in the first person, so we are intimately entangled with Ren’s fears and feelings. And she has a lot of them, relayed to us with utter precision. Ren is the primary 3D printing engineer on a colony on an unknown planet, and the facts about the colony are drip-fed to us in a way that feels very natural; they are people who came here looking for God, following the Pathfinder Lee Suh-Mi. They are the only inhabitants of the planet, or they should be, and their colony is built at the base of a huge organic structure that they refer to as God’s City.

And then a man arrives: Sung-Soo, a stranger and the grandson of Lee Suh-Mi. To most of the community, this is at minimum a cause for celebration and at most a sign from God that soon Lee Suh-Mi will return. For Ren, it is the cause of gutwrenching anxiety and fear because she has been keeping a secret ever since planetfall, and Sung-Soo’s presence may just unravel everything.

This book is a study in narrative tension; we know there is a secret, but not what it is. We know that Mack, the charismatic ringmaster, is the only person other than Ren who knows. But what happened? And how? And, just as importantly, does Ren even remember? And how can Ren cope with her anxiety and her mental health when, at the core of it, is a secret so big that she can barely think about it? The plot is unwound through the present, but also through memories of family and friends, of leaving Earth and arriving on this planet. It’s a fragmented portrait of a fragmented person, written with skill.

As I said, I had to take a break in the middle of reading this, so the beginning and the end are a bit disjointed in my head. Against all the odds, I actually found it uplifting by the end (but perhaps that’s just me). Planetfall is inhabited by well-observed and realised characters, in a detailed and believable world. And I loved it, despite the fact that I kept having to take breaks to go and cry and once nearly had a panic attack because Emma Newman’s description of Ren having a panic attack was too accurate. It’s a tense, tight mystery that encompasses grief and guilt and lies and was, at it’s heart, wonderfully human. I highly recommend it, although perhaps step with caution if anxiety is an issue for you.

Rating: enjoy this book, but remember that trying to find God never ends well in science-fiction.

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

SPOILER WARNING! Do not read this if you have not read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!

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Feed Source: Galactic Commons Department of Citizen Safety, Technology Affairs Division (Public/Klip) >Legal Reference Files>Artificial Intelligence>Mimetic AI Housing (‘Body Kits’)

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Node Identifier: 3323-2345-232-23, Lovelace Monitoring System

I love this boooooooooook!

Some of you may have read my very excited review of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: this book is the sequel and I am just as excited about it! I’m currently reading it for the third time, and I am more in love with it than the first time.

The worldbuilding is wonderful and detailed, building on the set-up established in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. The story takes place in two different timelines, with two different POV characters: this certainly has the potential to be confusing, but in practice was handled very smoothly. The two characters were Pepper, who we met in the previous book, and Sidra, who is (sort of) new… In the present-day timeline, they live together, and it’s wonderful getting the interaction between their points of view: I love how Becky Chambers is able to present differing points of view and opinions in which there is no villain. It’s all just people trying to muddle through. I loved the perspective given by the different timelines.

And really, I’m hard pressed to know what else to say. I love this book, and I could just list all the things I enjoyed but that would involve a list of everything that happened in the whole book!

Some of my personal favourites were:

  • The POV of an artificial intelligence trying to cope with the “wrong” body.
  • Tak, wonderful Aeulon character who smoothly changes genders all the time!
  • Pepper Pepper Pepper I love Pepper.
  • This one line on a page near the beginning that reads “…looked like it had been pulled from the ‘Human’ example in an interspecies relations textbook: brown skin, black hair, brown eyes.” yes.
  • The character interactions are so brilliant.
  • Everything. Everything in this book!

So to conclude, reading this book sort of feels like sinking into a cuddle. Bad things happen, difficult stuff occurs, but it’s all handled with warmth and thoughtfulness and honesty.

Rating: read it, re-read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, drink hot chocolate.

Book review: The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

the-book-of-phoenix-cover-art

Nobody really knows who wrote the Great Book.

If asked to describe The Book of Phoenix in one sentence, I would say that it is a cataclysm in the form of a book. Like the protagonist, the pages seem to burn and burn and burn until they are etched onto the heart. Every page is full; every page breathes life and death and rage and love, and I finish it feeling scorched and elated.

I could talk about the story, that of Phoenix Okore who was a genetic experiment and a captive, who became so much more (fugitive, villain, lover, sister, goddess, beacon, rogue) and who both escaped and accepted everything that she was. About the characters, a wonderful cast of people who are so very real even when they are able to eat metal, walk through walls or grow wings. About the fact that every time I was forced to put this book down, I found myself thinking about colonialism and racism and exploitation and modern slavery and what it means to be complicit; about all the ways in which we find ourselves accepting the unacceptable so long as we do not have to see it. About the world, which was simultaneously very different from ours (a mixture of magic and science-fiction) and so close that you could cut yourself on it. About the relationship between technology and nature. About the nature of stories.

I could talk about those things and I could talk for hours because The Book of Phoenix is an exquisitely crafted tale that holds all of those things (and more) together like a spiderweb. But I’m not going to, because this is a book that needs to be felt. It needs to be read and absorbed and allowed to shake you all the way down your spine. And then, then it needs to be talked about, and I don’t know quite how to do that on my own.

So, read this book; it is a beautiful and original piece of speculative-fiction full of all kinds of fire. It is the first thing I have read by Nnedi Okorafor, and I have every intention of finding all of her other work and reading it too, because if it is anything like The Book of Phoenix it will be worth my time and my money ten times over.

Rating: burn the house down and start a revolution.

Just finished the Imperial Radch Trilogy

covers for Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy

So this is not really a review… It’s a sort of, kind of review. The Imperial Radch Trilogy consists of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. I wrote a review of Ancillary Justice here.

It took me ages to get around to reading Ancillary Mercy, so by this summer I though ‘eh, what the hell, I have time, I’ll re-read the first two books and then read the last one’. Now let me tell you, that was one hell of a ride! I had forgotten how absolutely amazing Ancillary Justice was, and reading Ancillary Sword again straight after was brilliant. Ancillary Mercy blew my mind. Just, completely blew it. I was finishing it while on a train home from Glasgow, and I nearly missed my changes twice – this is quite a big deal as I am obsessive about not missing my stops on trains. I was literally sat on a platform in Cheltenham, about twenty pages from the end, weeping while I read, happened to look up and realised that my train had just pulled in and had to sprint to get on it. I should point out at this point that I had one enormous rucksack, a handbag and a canvas bag full of books, so sprinting was a bit of a challenge.

Of course, I went right back to reading it and cried some more (mainly happy tears) and nearly missed my home station. I cannot actually imagine a better end to this series – it was wonderful and perfect and brilliant. So if you haven’t done it already, go forth and read this series because it is beautiful, clever, heartfelt and so so so good. I’m not sure I can say anymore without accidental spoilers…

Also, I recently discovered fanart for this series, and lost about five hours of my life to tumblr… Go check it out, there is some lovely stuff there.

If you have read this series and want to chat about it, go ahead and leave me comments! I may be slow to reply, but I will reply and I’d love to talk about it 🙂

Ciao!

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