Binti and Recovering Apollo 8

audiobook cover of binti by nnedi okorafor illustration of african woman with red clay-based makeup

I’m mulling over my reaction to reading somewhat similar (at least in one way) novellas that I read back-to-back over vacation. Recovering Apollo 81 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an alternate-history space drama. Apollo 8 malfunctions and goes tumbling into interplanetary space. Superlative billionaire Richard Johannsen makes recovery of the capsule and bodies his life’s mission.

Binti2 by Nnedi Okorafor features a young mathematical genius from an isolated culture who runs away from home to go to college. On the way, she becomes involved in an interstellar war between two species that don’t understand each other.

I’m mulling over some of my reactions and double-standards regarding the superlative first-person protagonist. Johannsen makes money so brilliantly that in the alternate universe he employs Bill Gates. Binti tells us she’s the best mathematician among her people, the first to win an invitation to a prestigious galactic college. Both plots develop from the protagonists being the only person who can solve the problem. Science Fiction wonderkinds are nothing new.

But while Johannsen is something of a cliche, Binti stuck out for me. I suspect I’m falling into the trap described in this article by Liz Bourke. That is, I noticed Binti as exceptional largely because Binti reflects a fair bit on what being a prodigy means in relationship to her ethnicity, culture, and relationships with the other sentient species. I think Binti is a better character and Binti a better story overall. But I gave Johannsen a bit of a pass because he was a cliche of the billionaire genius.

Overall I enjoyed Apollo 8 (picked up as part of a bundle) so I’m not bashing Rusch here. Just noting a difference in perception.

  1. Rusch, K. (2010). Recovering Apollo 8 and other stories. Urbana, IL: Golden Gryphon Press. 
  2. Okorafor, N. (2015). Binti. New York: Tor.