I keep meaning to read Okorafor’s work, but Who Fears Death was a bad fit when I picked it up, and my copy of Lagoon has gone AWOL. Which left this as my introduction — maybe not a bad thing, because it’s fairly bitesize, without being truncated. I wasn’t sure what to think of it until I was talking with Robert from my book club, though, where he noted that at the start of the book, things begin to happen due to Binti’s merit. She gets herself into university, and she’s brave enough to leave her family and set out into the unknown. After that, though, it’s luck: she couldn’t know that the things she took with her would be useful, had no idea how to make them useful, and basically just happened to survive and do well because of her background.
It feels almost like message fiction: sometimes, someone from an unprivileged background can make good because they bring new tools which other people wouldn’t consider. That’s not a bad message, and the story and world-building is reasonably entertaining… but. The conflict essentially ends by 20% in — after that, Binti no longer has to rely on her own resources. She just happens to have the right things with her.
That’s a bit of a simplification, but it does weaken the story for me. It starts off strongly, and the world is interesting — Binti’s people, the way things are set up, the aliens — but then… I began to feel as if it would turn out okay because Binti was special somehow. Having a special protagonist who is insulated from harm makes suspense and intrigue difficult.