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Babel-17/Empire Star

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  1,129 ratings  ·  90 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)
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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 08, 2012 Nate D rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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!
Samuel Lubell
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
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
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
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
Randolph Carter
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
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.
Jaysen Elsky
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
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.
First, let me say that I didn't read the entirety of this book, only the "Babel-17" portion. I read it because I'm reading all the Nebula Award winning novels... eventually.

It begins with poet Rydra Wong being enlisted by the government to break a code. This code ends up being the language Babel-17. This language is a weapon used by "the Invaders" to learn those who learn it into traitors.

That's the basic premise of the book, I think, which I only puzzled out by reading several things about it
Christian Bauman
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
An extremely creative book that has stuck with me despite the fact that I was not smart enough to understand most of it.
Jun 28, 2014 Sunil rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
Jon Carroll
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
Jakob Goltiani
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
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This Hugo Award nominated and Nebula Award winning novel has some very creative and unique elements. While it has the format of a space opera, it's fairly short and compact. I like how it starts off right in the middle of the action. Overall the prose is some of the most compact I've read. Nothing is wasted, no rambling passages. It's only the second book to bring a tear to my eye. I really cared about the characters and this novel is a study of characters, our language and how it influences the ...more
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
This science fiction novel describes a society involved in an interstellar war. Recently, there have been a series of episodes of sabotage, all of which were proceeded with radio signals containing what is presumed to be a coded message.

The book starts with the military enlisting the aid of a linguist to help decipher the code -- which, as she discovers, is not a code at all, but a complete language.

The plot moves along well; if it has a weakness, it is that the ending wraps everything up too ne
Brian James
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
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
Dec 10, 2011 Michelle rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Finally have the new edition with Empire Star included. Not sure whether to reread it now, or wait till I can convince my book group to read it- but we are "booked" through early summer, so I guess I will have to get into it now.

Fascinating book so far! I don't have the new edition with the short story included, but will hopefully buy that soon. Haven't finished this, but it's really intriguing-- "linguistic/anthropological sci fi" or whatever you want to call it. Looking forward to finishing i
I gave it a 3 because of the ideas and the experimentation, not because of its literary quality.

The good:
The linguistic ideas.
Some of the imagery.

The bad:
The author spent a great deal of time experimenting with language. The irony is that the non-experimental dialogue was just dreadful, unrealistic and unnatural.
The story was rushed. After working through so much logistical infrastructure the reader deserves a bigger and better story.
Flat characters.
Dec 17, 2012 Jason added it
Shelves: read-2009
Essentially a book about words trapped inside of a cheesy sci-fi plot and set to motion to an acid trip. Babel 17 is the most efficient language; so much so that it's essentially mind control. Through the tripy novel that introduces the reader to the discorporate, triples, unusual space travel, telepaths and many, many more things, Delaney uses unusual turns of phrases to convey the power of words.

In the end, it turns out not to be so satisfying for the characters. He is not interested in develo
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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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