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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
1,896565,767 (3.72)130
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.
  1. 40
    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. 10
    Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (amanda4242)
  4. 00
    The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks (LamontCranston)
  5. 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.
  6. 11
    Ringworld by Larry Niven (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Space Opera, updated. Strange mystery, assemble a crew of lively characters, go explore it. Sound familiar?
  7. 11
    Sundiver by David Brin (LamontCranston)
    LamontCranston: Space Opera, updated. Strange mystery, assemble a crew of lively characters, go explore it. Sound familiar?

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» See also 130 mentions

English (53)  Italian (2)  German (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Rydra Wong is a big Mary Sue and I love her. ( )
  being_b | Jan 8, 2020 |
Babel-17 is a standalone science fiction book from the 60’s, although I’m not sure I would have guessed it was from the 60’s if I’d read it without knowing that. It’s progressive in many ways, especially for its time. For example, the main character is an intelligent woman in a leadership role. It also plays with writing styles in a way that seemed very different to me than other books I’ve read from that era. I had mixed feelings about the book.

It's set in the far future. Humanity has encountered other races from other galaxies, some of whom are part of an Alliance with them and others who are enemies referred to as Invaders. The main character is a famous poet named Rydra who has some expertise in cracking code. She’s been asked to help crack the Babel-17 code, which appears to be a code used by the Invaders during acts of sabotage. At the beginning of the book, Rydra has already determined that Babel-17 isn’t a code, it’s a language. Her love of languages and her fascination with this particularly unique language leads her to get directly involved in seeking it out and learning more about it, and the rest of the story spurs off from there.

I thought the plot was pretty thin, and often the details about what was going on were obfuscated, at least for me, by the way the author experimented with writing styles and particularly in the way he expressed the internal thoughts of his characters. The book is at least as much about language as it is anything else. I enjoy occasionally learning a bit about language differences, and especially how a language reflects or affects the culture that speaks it, but language isn’t something I have much aptitude for or a particularly strong interest in, so this was a bit much for me. I prefer it in smaller doses.

There was some interesting world-building, though. It’s not at all a scientific science fiction book, but I enjoyed reading about how spaceship crews were formed and operated, as well as the various details about how this fictional future society itself operated. Some parts of it seemed pretty unique, especially considering how ideas from books published in the 60’s have often been re-used and feel like old hat when one reads them for the first time in the present day. I didn't get that feeling at all here. I liked the characters, but I wasn’t terribly invested in them. I think part of that was because the author’s style of writing their thoughts made me feel disconnected from them.

So, as I said, mixed feelings. There were a lot of interesting things here, and I think somebody who is more interested in language than I am and/or appreciates experiments with writing styles more than I do would probably like this more than I did. Either way, it’s a short and fast read and I don’t regret the time spent on it. ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Oct 27, 2019 |
Interesting book, although I didn't love it the same way so many others seem to have. For the length it starts off slow - so much time in spent introducing characters and world building elements we'll never see again. And then the second half, which is far more entertaining than the first half, rushes through the main plot way too fast. The entire main plot is wrapped up in only a couple of pages. However, there was enough good between the slow start and rushed finish to spike my interest, and I'll definitely be looking for more of this author's work. ( )
  Fardo | Oct 15, 2019 |
It was okay.

The beginning DRUG by for me, then it was a bit better. By the end I was mostly interested. Though, I did find it kind of weird that she constantly used his “name”. Like we were going to forget that he was the “Butcher”. When I’m talking to someone with no one else around, I rarely use their name. Just sayin.

In the end, I didn’t dislike it, but I cannot say I loved it, or will ever read it again. ( )
  Amelia1989 | Jun 10, 2019 |
When cryptographers cannot decode mysterious transmissions which appear to be linked to acts of sabotage, they recommend consulting the poet and former cryptographer Rydra Wong, who discovers the messages are not in code but in a unknown language. She deciphers enough of the message to discover where the next act of sabotage will take place and puts together a mission to foil it.

I liked the linguistics and Rydra's recruiting of her crew and their interactions. The space battles left me cold apart from giggling at the strategy names. The ending seemed very perfunctory, as if the author had been having too much fun and suddenly realised he had now got to end it somehow. ( )
  Robertgreaves | May 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (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--
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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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