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Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 (1966)

by Samuel R. Delany

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,733485,913 (3.73)114
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» See also 114 mentions

English (45)  Italian (2)  German (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
It's been a long time (apart from Too Like The Lightning) that I've read a novel that felt so tailored to me like **Babel-17**. I mean, it's a queer polyamorous scifi novel where linguistics are key, even to winning space battles, which there are plenty of. I have no words. It's also been the first time in a while that a novel brought me to tears.

This is absolutely what scifi is supposed to be like. It's rapid, and fun, and deep, and thoughtful, and introduces alien concepts and human behaviour, and …. I can absolutely see why it won the very first Nebula Award – even though I was very surprised to hear it's as old as 1966. It doesn't feel aged at all. ( )
1 vote _rixx_ | Aug 30, 2018 |
Finished up tonight.

Very strange read. I feel like I must have missed about half of what Delany was trying to do here. But the half I did catch was alternately interesting and frustrating. I felt some of his stylistic and metaphor choices kept pulling me out of the story and into a critical sphere where I was intellectually analyzing the story rather than staying involved in the story. I'm interested to dig up some reviews or other responses to the book to see what others thought.

One of the "big ideas" behind this story is that language controls and limits and shapes the ability to think. That language is a program that runs the brain, the individual, and the society the way that a computer language runs a computer. And therefore a poet in that language is the ultimate programmer. But it's not really that simple - the brain isn't just a mechanism and the linguistic theory behind this approach hasn't really held up over time.

Still, there are some aspects of the story I'll continue to mull over in my brain for a while.

( )
1 vote kbellwether | Apr 16, 2018 |
As a linguist, it's hard for me to buy into Babel-17 as a plot device, simply because the strong form of linguistic determinism (AKA Sapir–Whorf hypothesis) it depends on has been soundly debunked for decades. Still, it's an interesting concept for fiction, and Delany's world-building is vivid without being exhaustively described. Also, bonus points for actually using phonetic features and manners of articulation accurately, for the most part. ( )
1 vote Lindoula | Sep 25, 2017 |
“And on the worlds of five galaxies, now, people delve your imagery and meaning for the answers to the riddles of greatness, love, and isolation.”

“Drop a gem in thick oil. The brilliance yellows slowly, ambers, goes red at last, dies. That was the leap into hyperstatic space.”

—Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

More of a mixed bag than I was expecting. The myth of the Tower of Babel was just as mixed, linguistically. And maybe that was the point of the book. Lots of ideas condensed in a short amount of space (one-hundred and seventy-three pages in my Ace edition)—which I normally prefer for genre fiction. However, I think this would’ve benefited from, not so much exposition, but the breadth that that normally demands to give this novel more staying power. Sci-Fi is one of three mainstays I’ll default to if I don’t have a book loaded in the chamber. (Yes, books are bullets. You’ve never had a novel blow out half your brain? May I suggest “1984”?) And I really dig the “golden age” variety. But one problem that surfaces fairly regularly with that era is the predilection for, or addiction to, inventing devices and painstakingly explaining how they work—all to the detriment (or at least the suspension of) the narrative. And nothing will make Sci-Fi seem more outdated than missing the prediction on future technology; at best, it’s quaint. So, this book, too, is quaint. Nice passages of literary invention wedged between hurried action and expository dialogue. Oh, well, you can’t have it all. Not always. And I’ve read better by Delany. “The Einstein Intersection” was brilliant, as I’m sure “Dhalgren” will be when I finally get to that.

And mixed bags. What’re up with them? Can’t we get that shit sorted properly before we put it all in the goddamn bag? Come on, writers. It’s the least we could do. Actually, that would be in not writing at all . . . and I prefer packing my shit in boxes anyway. So, yeah, a mixed box but with some kind of order that doesn’t waste its space and not make it a bitch to unpack. Like the best of books. This isn’t one of them—despite the “Best SF Novel of the Year—Nebula Award” starburst on the front. Maybe it was a lean year. Maybe in 1966 self-inflating chairs were absolutely unthinkably fucking cool. My review, however, remains . . . well, mixed. ( )
1 vote ToddSherman | Aug 24, 2017 |
Good book. Nebula winner.

I'm not a real Delany fan. I have read a couple his books before and decided I didn't care to much for his style of SF.

This one is similar to, but much better then, his usual stories. I wanted to get back to it to see what happened next. I would have given it 5 stars but the ending was disappointing compared to the book as a whole.

I will try more of his books. ( )
  ikeman100 | Jun 20, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (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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--this one, now, is
for Bob Folsom,
to explain just a little of
the past year--
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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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.
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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)

» see all 2 descriptions

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