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Babel-17/Empire Star

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  1,341 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
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 wi
Paperback, 311 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by Vintage Books (first published January 1st 2001)
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Suzanne I don't think it makes a huge difference if you read them in any particular order, as the events are separate. But Babel-17 mentions Empire Star as a…moreI don't think it makes a huge difference if you read them in any particular order, as the events are separate. But Babel-17 mentions Empire Star as a work that exists already at the time Babel-17 is taking place, so I guess Empire Star would make more sense to read first. (less)

Community Reviews

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Eddie Watkins
Jun 30, 2008 Eddie Watkins rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
Empire Star is the "short side" of Babel-17, flip Babel-17 upside-down and over and there's Empire Star, ready to be read. It's apparently the way Delany originally wanted it published but it never happened.

With Empire Star I can see more clearly the rollicking, adventurous, humorous sides of Delany's writing. It's a coming of age type of novella starring Comet Jo on his journey to deliver an important (though as yet unknown to him) message to Empire Star (which ends up being the sort of mystic
Nate D
Aug 03, 2012 Nate D rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: linguists in space
Recommended to Nate D by: perfect analytic radio chatter, overheard during a sabotage attempt
Problems of linguistics, translation, communication, cast into sharp relief by a future expanded beyond only earth's human languages and a protagonist whose pattern recognition skills, particularly in human interactions, border on telepathy. This is always at its best when riffing off of the major thematic concerns of language and meaning, which are fortunately well-worked into the fabric of the novel, as the very speech patterns and off-handed body-language descriptions of have key plot-points ...more
Apr 20, 2009 Pat rated it did not like it
If I could give this 0 stars, I would have. And to think I suggested this to our book club. I was embarrassed. I never was into sci-fi and thought this would be a great first entry because it was about language. Oh, it was so bad!
Mar 14, 2017 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: nebula
Updated review: please see the last paragraph for a review of the Empire Star portion of this book!

Babel-17 opens a new universe in the midst of intergalactic turmoil. There's starships, space pirates, genetically modified people, totally alien folks, and, of course, a poet. It's basically what I imagined a sci-fi world would be, but somehow it's all a backdrop for the main action on the interaction between thought, identity, and language. It's an energetic read and will engage those who are int
Ernest Junius

This is pretty crazy. I thought I was going to have a lot of fun reading this book, apparently I was wrong. Babel-17 reads more like a work of thesis than a work of entertaining sci-fi. I'm not sure whether I completely understand whatever Delany wrote in this book. I don't think I do. This is the kind of sci-fi that you must read again and again to understand completely, because everything inside the book is so outrageously new that it is so hard to relate to all of it within a single r
May 06, 2014 Trevor rated it really liked it
That's 3 stars for Babel-17 and damn near 5 stars for Empire Star, averaging out to 4 stars.

I had low expectations for this book after suffering through the pretentious mess that is Dhalgren. I'll admit: When I cracked open Babel-17 and read the opening line, 'Here, fumes rust the sky, the General though...' I nearly threw the book out the window. The General didn't think that. No General would think that.

But, cringeworthy dialogue and ponderous figurative language aside, there's a lot to like
Randolph Carter
Oct 12, 2012 Randolph Carter rated it really liked it
Put together like the old Ace double-headers you get both the novel and the novella (mentioned in the novel!). Self-reference is everywhere and Delaney is a remarkably complex writer. I'm still not sure exactly what it was all about but it reminded me of Dick without all the psychotic baggage. It's remarkable that Delaney could toss off Empire Star in just five days. I've read some of Moorcock's rush jobs and they just don't even come close.

I'll have to breakdown and read Dhalgren I guess since
Samuel Lubell
Oct 21, 2015 Samuel Lubell rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf, book-club
I had to read this one twice. I think it a transitional novel between sf pulp and sf literature. The main character Rydra is asked by the military to decipher a code, Babel 17, heard over the radio shortly before incidents of sabotage that benefit the Invaders. She puts together a crew and goes into space.

There are elements of the earlier pulps as Rydra is a starship captain and there is a scene where she fights enemies by literally going outside the ship without a spacesuit. But at the same ti
Jaysen Elsky
Apr 16, 2011 Jaysen Elsky rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
Just finished Empire Star, the novella published with Babel-17.

By itself, I would give it 4 stars. Excellent, thoughtful read dealing with an interesting caste system and the complexities of Time.

Delany's control of prose is masterful, although I didn't realize it right away--Although, considering this piece, that only makes it more obvious. I am glad this was the first of his works I finished. Now, I only want to read more.

On to Babel-17.

Occasional places where I was surprised the language go
Nov 02, 2015 HeyT rated it liked it
The thing about this book is that it's not so much about the plot but a kind of treatise on ways that language and thought go together on one side and how complex thought and ideology go together. Plus time travel. I had a good enough time reading it but the end of empire star made me mad because it's like if you didn't see where this is going you're an idiot and I hate that kind of condescension. Unless I'm being too lol!sensitive and it's just a joke? I hope its just a joke. Anyways, I'd proba ...more
Feb 01, 2015 J. rated it it was amazing
Babel-17: this is Delany swinging for the fences, even though it is his early work. Queered relationships, hardcore linguistics, strong female protag, poetry, and something that doesn't show up much in his later work--action scenes. Well written action scenes, at that. Of all his works, this is the one that could become a movie most easily. HIGHLY recommended.
Jul 30, 2015 Macartney rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pre-1983
In 50 or 100 or 200 years, The Complete Works of Samuel R Delany will be as important a tome as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is today.
Jan 09, 2008 Stephanie rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, sci-fi
An extremely creative book that has stuck with me despite the fact that I was not smart enough to understand most of it.
Dec 26, 2016 Richard rated it it was amazing
Two excellent works, with Babel-17 being near prefect. (My only real complaint: the reveal of Wong as a credentialed captain is jarring, and doesn't fit the reader's first impression of her. You'll probably find that part a bit forced.)

Read "Empire Star" first. The reason isn't a major one, but you'll see why.

Both works are concerned with how language and thought shape one's perceptions of the world, including what aspects of that world one is able to perceive and grasp in the first place. Both
Mar 17, 2017 Joe rated it it was amazing
Babel-17 is perfect. I wish I read this before Dhalgren. Much more accessible than his longer work.

Empire Star was merely great in comparison, but definitely worth reading alongside babel-17.
Sep 07, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sci fi fans, Delany fans, linguists
Recommended to Michael by: Serendipity
This is a duel- reader publication, which includes two works for the price of one: the 1966 novel Babel-17and (flip it over) the novella Empire Star from the same year. Empire Star appears as a fictional novel or series in the course of Babel-17, so it’s possible that it is a kind of “meta-sci-fi:” science fiction that was conceived as a sci fi novel that would appeal to people of the far future. It’s also just possible that Delany didn’t have that in mind when he wrote it, but needed a name for ...more
May 16, 2014 Sunil rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, 2014
My introduction to Grandmaster of Science Fiction Samuel R. Delany came in a fun little package: the novel Babel-17 that flips over to become the (tangentially related) Empire Star!

Babel-17, as its name suggests, is about language. I've gathered that Delany is well known for tackling heady, complex topics in his writing, and here he designs the entire story around an examination of how language and thought/conception are inherently connected. Rydra Wong (a polyamorous bisexual non-neurotypical A
Jon Carroll
Jan 04, 2015 Jon Carroll rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
This is a really difficult book to review for a number of reasons but I'll give it a go.

First off there are two very different stories contained within this volume: Babel-17 ( a short novel that shared a Nebula award with Flowers for Algernon in 1966) and Empire Star ( a novella that was supposed to be included with the former in an Ace double). If you are looking for generic science fiction in the typical American pulp mode both are going to disappoint you.

Babel-17 is concerned with the eponymo
Mar 01, 2015 Minyoung rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
Note: The book also came with the novella Empire Star, also written by Samuel R. Delany, but I only read the Babel-17 portion of it.

I finished Babel-17 a little over three months ago but neglected to write a review until now. Mainly due to work and other circumstances, but also because I was so put off by the book. I can't say I've ever read an award-winning science fiction novel that disagreed with me as much as Babel-17 (I absolutely loathed Forever Free by Joe Haldeman but that wasn't an awar
David Nelson
Jul 26, 2015 David Nelson rated it really liked it
Confession Time: Until very recently, it had somehow totally escaped me that Samuel R. Delany was both gay and black. On the one hand, this makes me feel like a big dope, since esp. in this post-Information Age, basically *everyone* knows that Delany was gay and black, since he is a famously gay black SF author. On the other hand, I don't feel like such a dope, because his work--while really fascinating--really draws into question the wisdom of having sections in the book store dedicated to an a ...more
H Watkins-Gultiano
I was very happy to experience adventure through the mind of a cool intergalactic linguist, especially a female one, as I was long turned off from the macho boys' club of sci fi. Out of the few Delany stories I've read, this one was the most engaging to me, but that might be biased by my personal linguistic interests and love of self reference. The protagonist of Babel-17 being the author of Empire Star put me from engaging in one level of the story's universe to being fully tied up in it. Readi ...more
Jul 31, 2010 Joshua rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi, hugo-nebula
The plot and writing style of this book was pushing me towards giving it just three stars, which is what I would give to most quick sci-fi reads that are fun but not overly inspiring. However, the linguistic concepts in the book offer enough food-for-thought that, overall, I'm very glad I read this book and so I decided to give it four stars.

The book is an exploration of linguistic relativity, the theory that the language one speaks shapes the way one thinks. This idea has been around for a whil
Samantha (AK)
Never before have I read two books quite like these (Well... one book, two stories). Samuel R. Delaney's writing style grabbed hold and did not let me go until the end.

Babel-17... in many ways, is the subject of it's own plot. (By this I mean the book itself as well as the titular code/language). It is a book of ideas, and not characters, but the world is so very vivid and complex, colorful and strange to the eyes. Little time is wasted in explaining the details of this world, but the reader is
Brian James
May 24, 2010 Brian James rated it liked it
In my experience, Science-Fiction as a genre tends to emphasize plot and concept over character, which is one reason I don't read as much of it as I would like. I love the concepts, but as a reader and a writer, I'm drawn to character. Thankfully, Samuel R. Delany doesn't follow that mold. Babel-17, though heavy on concept, never loses track of the need for a intriguing character to be the heart of his story. Rydra Wong is a great protagonist, trying to solve the mystery of herself as intensely ...more
Dec 10, 2015 Jefferson rated it it was amazing
Delany’s novel Babel-17 is packaged in the same volume with the novella Empire Star, with the back cover of one as the front cover of the other, upside down. I was reading at a restaurant the other day and a woman at the next table kept giving me a strange look. I was, like, “What, lady, you’ve never seen anyone read a book before!?” Later I realized she could only see the back upside-down cover, so it looked like I was some weirdo reading a book the wrong way. Oh well.

Babel-17 was my first fora
Nov 26, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Michelle by: the alternative world
4.5 stars, brought up to 5 by the spectacular novella included as a b-side in this edition.

space opera is usually all about intergalactic wars and badassery, flying planet to planet all full of derring-do, and there's plenty of that here: a beautiful adventurer with all of the panache of Buckaroo Banzai swaggers her way through dive bars and the morgue assembling a star crew of delightful misfits, then sets off to save the universe.

'babel-17', though clothed as space opera, is additionally a n
Aidan Nancarrow
Delany is my favorite SF writer.

His writing is vivid and poetic, like a neon tattoo on the brain, or tiny psychedelic whorls in the minds eye.

In some ways, he is a successor to Alfred Bester and both Babel-17 and Empire Star have certain similarities of style and technique with the aforementioned: the less-is-more style of world-building, a narrative that moves relentlessly forward, a general irreverence about the science part of 'science fiction.'

But Delany is his own man, he has his own voice
Christian Bauman
Dec 28, 2014 Christian Bauman rated it really liked it
This was not my intended holiday read, but I got it as a gift (from Kristina and Logan) and shifted over. Glad I did. Haven't done the Empire Star side yet, but will; finished Babel-17 last night. As a writer, here's the part that shuts me up: this was Delany's sixth completed novel, and he was 23 when it was published. I didn't write my first novel until I was 29...this guy was cranking them out when he was 19. You just have to love that. He's un-degreed, and now runs Temple's MFA program. Have ...more
I liked Empire Star more than Babel-17, though I did enjoy both. Babel-17 has a great setup: an interesting and involving plot, half-science fiction and half-mystery, and a focus on linguistics that's both unusual and appealing. (Delany's take on linguistics is also, technically speaking, wrong, but if you're comfortable letting the Rule of Awesome gloss over the scientific inaccuracies for you, then you should be golden.) I loved several of the characters, and the setting is flawlessly and exci ...more
Jun 11, 2013 Luke rated it really liked it
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Samuel Ray Delany, also known as "Chip," is an award-winning American science fiction author. He was born to a prominent black family on April 1, 1942, and raised in Harlem. His mother, Margaret Carey Boyd Delany, was a library clerk in the New York Public Library system. His father, Samuel Ray Delany, Senior, ran a successful Harlem undertaking establishment, Levy & Delany Funeral Home, on 7t ...more
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