Welcome to another installment of Two Book Tango: an ongoing series in which we pair two books we think go well together. Today’s pairing is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, and Spineless: The Science Of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald. Got an idea for a pairing of your own? Let us know in the comments section!
Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti is the story of a brilliant young Himba woman named Binti who leaves her family behind and boards a ship bound for Oozma University, the universe’s greatest institution of higher learning. The Himba people don’t typically leave Earth. They feel a spiritual connection with the planet and its soil, so much so that they wear a fragrant butterfat and ochre compound on their skin and in their hair.
Binti’s appearance attracts a lot of unwanted attention from the other human students aboard the ship to Oozma, but the things that make her different save her life when the ship is attacked by the terrifying Meduse: a floating jellyfish-like alien species equipped with deadly stingers. Binti, the sole survivor of the attack, is thrust into a delicate position as a peacemaker in a war that has already taken countless human and Meduse lives.
Okorafor’s Meduse are a fascinating alien species and a great change of pace from the thinly disguised humans that populate so many other science-fiction properties. It doesn’t hurt that real jellyfish — the inspiration for the Meduse — already seem so alien to us land-dwellers.
The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone
According to Spineless author Juli Berwald, jellyfish have been around for over half a billion years. That is longer than any other animal on the planet, including us. They’re as much a part of the sea as the salt itself, a fact undeniable for a species that is about 95 percent water. They can be beautiful to look at — hypnotically so — but a hazard for swimmers unfortunate enough to brush against their stinging tentacles. Chironex fleckeri, also known as the sea wasp, has a potentially lethal sting capable of killing a healthy adult, while many other jellyfish, like Aurelia aurita, are harmless.
Berwald, a former ocean scientist who took a break from her work to raise a family, returned to the seas to learn more about these enigmatic creatures and their relationship with human beings. Jellyfish have destroyed fisheries and shut down power plants thanks to a recent boom in population — one that we’re likely to have caused. Can we learn to live in harmony with these beautiful creatures and their ocean home?
Berwald’s journey of discovery takes her to some wonderful and surprising places. Readers will walk away from Spineless with a greater understanding and appreciation of these aliens on Earth.