Orion,_battle_spaceship
This is a 2016 Hugo Finalist in the Best Novella category. It was published by Tor.com.

Binti is of the Himba people, and a mathematician. Her father manufactures electronic astrolabes and Binti has learned to be a harmonizer through working with him in his workshop. Without telling her family, she has applied to Oomza Uni, a school in another part of the galaxy and has been accepted. She slips away during the night and takes passage on a living starship. Everyone on the ship but Binti and the pilot die when the ship is overrun by Meduse, aliens that look like jellyfish. Binti seems to be protected by her edan, an ancient artifact that she found in the desert. She hides in her quarters and the edan translates for her. She finds the Meduse are making war on Oomza Uni because scholars have stolen their chief’s stinger. They also want Binti’s otjize, a cosmetic made from oil and clay, which they realize from touching her has healing power on their flesh. They negotiate, and she offers to harmonize the situation with Oozma Uni. The Meduse agree to let her try. Can she make this work?

On the surface the tale looks like science fiction, but none of this is at all supportable in SF terms. In other words, it’s about magic. The main theme seems to be cultural appropriation. The Meduse are making war because they want the stolen stinger back, and Binti is offended by the Meduse’s demand for her otjize. There are also strong themes about leaving family behind to follow your dreams, and about respecting alien races. On the negative side, this moves slowly and repeats a lot. Okorafor could have easily made the same points in a short story. It was an interesting look at Himba culture, but more sentimental than thought provoking. Still, I’m going to bump it up half a point for its optimism.

Three and a half stars.

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