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Babel-17 (1966)

by Samuel R. Delany

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,143665,481 (3.72)134
Winner of the Nebula Award: In a war-riven world, saving humanity will 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)
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» See also 134 mentions

English (62)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
The idea is really interesting, but I found the story just too abstract and hard to follow. ( )
  grandpahobo | May 16, 2021 |
Read as part of 'Babel 17/Empire Star' trade p/b omnibus ( )
  fmc712 | Feb 18, 2021 |
Delany is such a clever writer (I've loved him ever since finishing 'Dhalgren', now one of my favourite novels). Babel-17 was a very exciting narrative for such a short span of pages, and I love anything concerning the philosophy of language so particularly enjoyed this text.
  booms | Jan 24, 2021 |
I like languages - my TBR-pile still has more than a handful of such books, which are less easy to read than a fiction novel - and how they are constructed, how the meaning of words changed over the centuries, and so on. It's therefore all the more fun to read a novel in which language is a key factor. Babel-17 is one of those classics one must have read, as many lists continue to "preach". I know, lists don't preach, those who create said lists do, with all due respect, of course.

With a lot of interest, I started this adventure in space (preceded by a foreword by [a:Adam Roberts|23023|Adam Roberts|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1222988832p2/23023.jpg]), one about one population battling and invading the other and language playing a role in trying to comprehend the whys and hows. Rydra Wong is a famous poet; she's written several texts that gained her popularity across the galaxy. She's also an excellent strategist, though with some psychological issues.

What is Babel-17? She wants to understand, as a linguistic expert, and therefore embarks on a mission, taking on two major tasks: deciphering the code behind Babel-17 and fighting off invaders, though the latter was not originally planned, if I read correctly. Where the excellent (in my opinion) [b:Flowers for Algernon|10464340|Flowers for Algernon|Daniel Keyes|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1297700319l/10464340._SY75_.jpg|3337594] goes from a person not being able to properly express himself to perfect expression (and back, sadly), here it's a similar (d)evolution, with the critical elements 'I' and 'you'. You'll also read a few times: "The I is lost in me.", which is part of the lyrics of In Flames's song 'In Search for I' (Soundtrack to Your Escape, 2004) (YouTube-link).

As a reader, you get to read about language, about its characteristics, its DNA, how other people express themselves, so to speak. (See also [b:Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation|16001554|Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation|David Bellos|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1347291100l/16001554._SY75_.jpg|16364404] by [a:David Bellos|15926|David Bellos|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1311694554p2/15926.jpg] - my review)
Whether or not all of the information in this story is true and scientifically correct, I'll leave that in the middle. The information does encourage you to find it out for yourself or dig deeper into the secrets of languages. Bonus points for this, which probably also was one of the main reasons for this novel.

The story itself is not really coherent and contains quite a few gaps. With only 192 pages to read (my copy), Mr Delany couldn't/didn't want to/... elaborate on the matter, I guess. Published in 1966, it has aged pretty well, though there is mention of obsolete technology, like punch cards.

Oh yes, there's also a little love story hidden (well, not exactly) in this "tale". A wee bit too quick to have happened, but again, only 192 pages, one has to move fast.

In short: I found it an entertaining read, if only for the linguistic contents. The story itself was ok, though nothing out of the ordinary. It may be a classic SF-novel, but today I wouldn't consider it indispensable. ( )
  TechThing | Jan 22, 2021 |
Great writing and story although it ended a little too quickly and neatly. However, that didn’t diminish the joy of the story for me. Wonderful to see strong female character in scifi from the 1960s, showing once again the falseness of the claim that sexist scifi novels were just a product of their times. ( )
  drew_asson | Dec 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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 (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuel R. Delanyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Montanari, GianniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podwil, JeromeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Important events
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Epigraph
Dedication
--this one, now, is
for Bob Folsom,
to explain just a little of
the past year--
First words
It's a port city.
Quotations
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
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Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

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Wikipedia in English (2)

Winner of the Nebula Award: In a war-riven world, saving humanity will 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.  

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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.
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