Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Babel Seventeen (Babel-17) (S.F.Masterworks…

Babel Seventeen (Babel-17) (S.F.Masterworks S.) (original 1966; edition 1999)

by Samuel R. Delany

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,431345,260 (3.73)92
Title:Babel Seventeen (Babel-17) (S.F.Masterworks S.)
Authors:Samuel R. Delany
Info:Gollancz (1999), Edition: Re-issue, Paperback, 193 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:language_fiction, ling, nebula, read, sf, sfmw_l, space, x8mj, african-american

Work details

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany (1966)

Recently added bybpagano, private library, marie82, InezGard, seite, jasmataz, Mr_sausage, auntmarge64, jcarles
  1. 30
    Embassytown by China Miéville (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Both these books take the relationship between language and thought as central themes. They explore it in different ways but with a similar thoroughness; both really explore just how 'other' alien can be.
  2. 30
    The languages of Pao by Jack Vance (burschik)
    burschik: If you are interested in the linguistics, that is.
  3. 00
    The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: The same ephemeral beat prose. And of course Space Opera, updated. Strange mystery, assemble a crew of lively characters, go explore it.
  4. 11
    Sundiver by David Brin (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Space Opera, updated. Strange mystery, assemble a crew of lively characters, go explore it. Sound familiar?
  5. 11
    Ringworld by Larry Niven (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Space Opera, updated. Strange mystery, assemble a crew of lively characters, go explore it. Sound familiar?

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 92 mentions

English (31)  Italian (2)  German (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
A book that both scares me and leaves me grinning hugely? No question about it, this can only mean I've been reading Samuel R Delaney's Babel-17 yet again. Rydra Wong, ex-refugee, 26 year old poet (famous across five galaxies), translator and code breaker is hired to crack Babel-17, an unknown language recorded in snatches during Invader sabotage episodes. When I first read this book in my early 20s, I was quietly terrified by the possibility that language could do that. It's still a scarily interesting concept. (Not telling! Just go read the book.) And the reason for the grin? Space opera: interstellar war, aliens, space battles, hugely advanced weapons, space pirates, extreme body modification. And if that scares you? As the Customs Officer puts it: “I saw a bunch of the weirdest, oddest people I had ever met in my life, who thought different, and acted different, and even made love different. And they made me laugh, and get angry, and be happy, and be sad, and excited, and even fall in love a little myself... And they didn’t seem to be so weird or strange anymore.” ( )
  Bernadette877 | Apr 7, 2015 |
In the far future, the galactic empire is at war with the Invaders, and the military turns to beautiful, accomplished, slightly telepathic poet Rydra Wong to help with a new code the Invaders have developed to aid their sabotage efforts; however, the code is actually an artificial language, Babel-17, with frightening properties.

This was a fun, short read, but I think a little dated now. It is remarkable for having a female lead character who is not treated like window dressing, something sadly lacking in other classic science fiction from the same time period. The big idea regarding the power of language to manipulate thought and experience is pretty interesting, although I wish it had been more fleshed out. I also found most of the characters other than Rydra to be fairly underdeveloped, and there seemed a lot of jumping from action scene to action without taking the time to fill out the transitions, making the story slightly dissatisfying. For its time, it's a fun action-adventure story that hits all the right notes, but modern sci-fi readers demand more.

Read for the SFFCat in 2015. ( )
  sturlington | Feb 15, 2015 |
Simply great science-fiction that reminded me why do I like the genre.

In a far future, language becomes a weapon and humanity defenses end up in the hands of a poet. This future universe is nicely hinted in details everywhere, setting a rich and interesting background without losing track of the real story.

Awesome reading. ( )
  ivan.frade | Jul 8, 2014 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 1998. Spoilers follow.

While I’ve read a few short stories by Delany before, none really impressed (though I think he has a knack with titles); however, I liked this novel.

My initial question, right at the opening of chapter one, is how much Delany influenced William Gibson and the other cyberpunks (I don’t recall him listed as an influence). Like the famous opening of Gibson’s Neuromancer, this novel opens with a port city and technological/industrial metaphors describing the color of the sky. Delany’s spacemen are a flamboyant subculture given to extensive body modifications just like Gibson’s cyber cowboys.

The central theme of this novel is communication. One version of this is Rydra Wong’s telepathy, rationalized somewhat cleverly, as a modulation of the very weak radio signals (I have no idea of this is true or not) given off by the human body and picked up by the miles and miles of nerves serving as antennas. It is a talent few have. Another form of communication (explored earlier in Frank Herbert’s Dune and, I believe, A.E. van Vogt) is the precise reading of people’s intents and emotions via body language. Rydra Wong, the novel’s hero, is a charismatic character sufficiently multi-talented – a poet, black belt in akido, starship captain, and very talented linguist – and charismatic for a space opera. (Everybody who meets her loves her, and I suppose the idea of an Oriental woman as a book’s hero was somewhat novel for 1966.) Her work as a writer leads to passages that are, I suspect, Delany exposing his own philosophy on writing: to not be mystical and very realistic in details, to mature it is necessary to not imitate or respond to others, to say what others can say for themselves.

The idea of communication is also in the close triples that transport people sometimes form, unions of sex, business, and profession, intimate bonds. I liked the parts where Rydra, unaware of her telepathic abilities, knows the thoughts of others (part of this is due to her reading of body language) and can express them though not always her own. This struggle for communication is set up right at the beginning with General Forester wondering at the quiet inhabitants of a port city who have suffered periods of embargo and resulting riots and cannibalism but now they seem ordinary. There is a gulf between the subculture and quasi-families of Transport crews (with the younger members literally kids patented by surrogate fathers and mothers).

The book’s core and most obvious variation on the theme of communication (and reason for its fame and acclaim) is its linguistic speculation. Delany tackles the classic linguistic question on whether language shapes or reflects our thoughts, that is can we think a thought for which we don’t have a word. Delany takes the view that we can not. There is a short, but interesting, passage about how the language of aliens shapes their behavior to the extent that some alien races are seldom seen. The alien Ciribians have a language so precise they can describe a vast “solar-energy conversion plant” precisely enough in nine words to allow its complete reconstruction.

The main invention of Delany’s, and it’s as plausible and interesting as many of the speculations of hard sf, is Babel-17, a language designed for battle and sabotage; where one word stands for entire categories of thing which somehow facilitates a very fast analysis of battle patterns of offense, defense, and enemy intent; whose lack of a singular personal pronoun facilitates unwitting sleeper agents (how these latter two things are effected exactly is never explained but then it’s too much to expect of Delany or any writer to explain how a new language affects thinking, processes. Babel-17 is a language more analytic than English and also capable of generating more logical paradoxes. How this is true with a language of such seeming imprecision is not explained.) and sabotage. Delany grafts these linguistic speculations on an essentially a space opera plot. (I understand his early finesse with space opera garnered his reputation.) Space travel (never really explained but half-rationalized with some nice poetic language) is reminiscent of the ocean with talk of currents. Unwitting sleeper agents, genetically engineered saboteurs and assassins, some nifty weapons in the mansion of Baron ver Darco, and a space war. Granted, the subornation of the TW-55 was expected as was the revelation that Butcher spoke Babel-17 and (I liked the modification of Babel-17 into the more useful, less bellicose Babel-18) would turn out to be connected with the sabotage incidents, but I still found the novel fairly exciting. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Aug 21, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
If Babel 17 were published now as a new book, I think it would strike us an great work that was doing wonderful things and expanding the boundaries of science fiction. I think we’d nominate it for awards and talk a lot about it. It’s almost as old as I am, and I really think it would still be an exciting significant book if it were new now.
added by paradoxosalpha | editTor.com, Jo Walton (Jun 23, 2009)

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel R. Delanyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podwil, JeromeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
--this one, now, is
for Bob Folsom,
to explain just a little of
the past year--
First words
It's a port city.
A language, however, has its own internal logic, its own grammar, its own way of putting thoughts together with words that span various spectra of meaning. There is no key you can plug in to unlock the exact meaning. At best you can get a close approximation.
If there's no word for it, how do you think about it? And, if there isn't the proper form, you don't have the how even if you have the words.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
The commander of the Earthpeople's Alliance journeyed into the bizarre depths of Transport Town to seek Rydra Wong, the cosmic poetess whose words reached across space and whose mind could perceive the meaning of all the world's tongues. And his request placed her into the heart of the vile interstellar war between the Alliance and the Invaders.
The new weapon of the Invaders was Babel-17, a menacing hum clogging up Alliance space communications. Rydra had to decipher the communications power of Babel-17 before it could lead to intergalactic defeat. And to do that, she would have to be the target of the next outer-space attack. a fascinating tale of a famous poet bent on deciphering a secret language that is the key to the enemy’s deadly force, a task that requires she travel with a splendidly improbable crew to the site of the next attack.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553201565, Mass Market Paperback)

Author of the bestselling Dhalgren and winner of four Nebulas and one Hugo, Samuel R. Delany is one of the most acclaimed writers of speculative fiction.

Babel-17, winner of the Nebula Award for best novel of the year, is a fascinating tale of a famous poet bent on deciphering a secret language that is the key to the enemy’s deadly force, a task that requires she travel with a splendidly improbable crew to the site of the next attack. For the first time, Babel-17 is published as the author intended with the short novel Empire Star, the tale of Comet Jo, a simple-minded teen thrust into a complex galaxy when he’s entrusted to carry a vital message to a distant world. Spellbinding and smart, both novels are testimony to Delany’s vast and singular talent.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:38 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In a war-riven world, why will saving humanity require . . . a poet? At twenty-six, Rydra Wong is the most popular poet in the five settled galaxies. Almost telepathically perceptive, she has written poems that capture the mood of mankind after two decades of savage war. Since the invasion, Earth has endured famine, plague, and cannibalism—but its greatest catastrophe will be Babel-17. Sabotage threatens to undermine the war effort, and the military calls in Rydra. Random attacks lay waste to warships, weapons factories, and munitions dumps, and all are tied together by strings of sound, broadcast over the radio before and after each accident. In that gibberish Rydra recognizes a coherent message, with all of the beauty, persuasive power, and order that only language possesses. To save humanity, she will master this strange tongue. But the more she learns, the more she is tempted to join the other side . . . This ebook features an illustrated biography of Samuel R. Delany including rare images from his early career.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
1 avail.
40 wanted
2 pay

Popular covers


Average: (3.73)
0.5 1
1 3
1.5 1
2 13
2.5 12
3 65
3.5 35
4 117
4.5 23
5 46

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 99,708,124 books! | Top bar: Always visible