I read Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: Home, sequel to the award-winning Binti, in a doctor’s waiting room. It may be that my attention was distracted, but Binti: Home strikes a less forceful impression than Binti itself—still full of wonder and incident and the difficulty of navigating between cultures which all possess their own biases, but less of an immediately striking unity than its predecessor. That might be because Binti: Home ends abruptly, more like a section in a novel than a standalone novella. The third Binti novella is coming, and should resolve this—Okorafor is usually rather good at endings—but meanwhile the experience of reading Binti: Home rests without the expected narrative catharsis.
Mind you, it’s damn good: Okorafor’s prose is brisk and energetic, and Binti’s voice remains compelling. The difficulties she faces here are less mortal, perhaps, than in Binti, but require her to negotiate her altered relationships with her family and her birth culture, the Himba people, and also to negotiate her place inside hierarchies of privilege when she meets her grandmother—a member of the “Desert People,” whom both the Himba and the Khoush (who look down on the Himba as backward) consider to be uncivilised. Binti’s is an interesting journey, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.
The Adventure of the Incognita Countess by Cynthia Ward is a brisk novella from Aqueduct Press’s “Conversation Pieces” line. It’s… I’m missing at least half of the references, because it draws deeply from the well of 19th and early 20th century speculative literature. In that much, it reminds me no small part of Penny Dreadful. It has the same gleeful delight in its own references, the same playfully gothic geekery.
On a Titanic whose steam boilers are powered by Martian heat rays, a young Miss Harker—half-vampire, half-human, all secret agent for the British crown—is tasked to protect an American major and the plans of the advanced submarine Nautilus that he’s carrying from foreign agents and other dangers. But on board the Titanic, Harker encounters a vampire from a foreign power: the Countess Karnstein, travelling incognita after her presumed final death. (Karnstein may perhaps be better known as Carmilla.)
Harker is torn between her attraction to Karnstein, and her belief that vampires can only counterfeit human emotions, and that it is her duty to end Karnstein’s existence. Her dilemma is only compounded by spies, thefts of papers, and an inconvenient iceberg…
There’s a really entertaining gothic intensity about this story, although it hews a little too closely to the style of its influences at times for my preferences. I remain, however, deeply amused by the Martian heatrays, and by Harker’s eventual abrupt realisation that she’s spent her short life believing things just because authority figures told her it was so.
Aliette de Bodard’s The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is probably already familiar to some of you: it made an appearance on the Locus Best Novella shortlist in 2015, and now de Bodard is releasing it as a standalone book. Set in the same universe at On A Red Station, Drifting, it’s a gorgeous meditation on family and duty, revolving around the heart of an imperial court. And also weird science, and sentient spaceships, and the nature of time. The prose is gleamingly sharp, and it’s just… I really enjoyed it. I’m not entirely sure I can articulate why, but there’s something about it that really works.
What are you all reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.