Babel-17 (SF Masterworks, #06)
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Babel-17 (SF Masterworks, #06)

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  4,731 ratings  ·  210 reviews
In the far future, after human civilization has spread through the galaxy, communications begin to arrive in an apparently alien language. They appear to threaten invasion, but in order to counter the threat, the messages must first be understood.
Paperback, 195 pages
Published 2001 by Gollancz (first published 1966)
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Nataliya
I have always believed that the language you speak determines the way you think. How else can it be, really?



I am a trilingual person who has quite a few monolingual family members, and I can't even tell you how many times in frustrated fascination I have contemplated the peculiarities of languages, the plays on words that are often impossible to translate, the confusing idioms, and the frustrating lack of certain concepts in one language as compared to another. So many times I realized that mer...more
Manny
When you revisit something after a long interval, you never know what you're going to get. A few days ago, I read The Story of the Amulet, the third volume in the E. Nesbit trilogy that starts with Five Children and It. I had been meaning to check this out since I was about 7, but somehow never located a copy. I was worried that I'd left it too late, but in the event there was no problem: it was terrific.

So when I saw a copy of Babel-17 in a second-hand bookstore yesterday, I was optimistic. I r...more
Megan Baxter
Only the second Delany I've read, and as with the first one, the thought that comes to mind is "what took me so long?" I've loved both - the first for its myth and poetry, and this for the ideas, the prose, the explorations of self and identity. These are hitting exactly in my wheelhouse. This is closer to straightforward science fiction than was The Einstein Intersection, but with a magic all Delany's own.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads po...more
Tamahome
Jo Walton's take: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/06/stil...


12.0% "Liked the kindle sample and picked it up. Seems much more likeable than Einstein Intersection. :)"
17.0% ""He was unkempt and towheaded and sapphire-eyed, but the only cosmetisurgery evident was the bright rose growing on his shoulder.""
35.0% ""The discorporate crew deperceptualized.""
50.0% "I'm swimming in language theory, and it's cool."
81.0% "Now it's being weird."


All done. I think I liked the first half better than the second ha...more
Apatt
Samuel R. Delany was on a short list of famous sf authors I have never read, the list includes Cordwainer Smith, Henry Kuttner, C. J. Cherryh, Stephen Baxter and Neal Asher. I will try to get to all of them next year, any recommendations concerning these authors would be welcome.

Babel-17 is a very short novel (too long to be a novella may be) about the power of language, a culture called The Invaders creates a language which can be used to control thoughts and actions through the structure and c...more
Lit Bug
Babel-17 is one of the greatest classics in the history of literary SF, and I now know why. Delany is a veritable genius - what we gush about today in Mieville is but a more sophisticated, more complex offshoot of Delany's ingenious conceptions of making the abstract concrete.

Language is what defines us, our thoughts, our perceptions. What separates our critical thinking processes is the perception of I as different from you, the awareness of an independent conscious existence

What happens when y...more
Dirk Grobbelaar
The linguistic issue introduced here is not entirely new. For example, in The Languages of Pao (Jack Vance) a similar theme is addressed. Babel-17, however, is considered a Science Fiction classic. It was released around the same time as Dune, with a year or so separating them. Therein lies the problem. Dune had become the new standard, or benchmark, against which all Space Operas were gauged. And it had set the standard pretty darn high. So, Babel-17 is a colourful, clever book, but it's no Dun...more
DoctorM
Samuel R. Delany was always one of the great wasted talents of sci-fi. In the very early Sixties, he was one of the first writers to bring a deliberately literary edge to sci-fi, to try to go beyond the hard-science, alien invasion, starship wars conventions of the genre. Delany's early books just turned genre tales inside out, and by the time he reached "The Einstein Intersection" and "Nova" at decade's end, he was writing beautiful, eerie, thought-provoking tales that let you feel part of new...more
Ben Loory
gets a little confused/confusing after the midway point, but delany's writing (at least on these early books) is so fast and fun and clear and smart, it's easy to overlook the flaws... this kind of space opera is so much more fun than the heavy realistic dune-type stuff that kinda took over the genre soonafter... there's so much more room here to feel and breath and enjoy things, it's really exhilarating... not as brilliant and expansive as Nova, maybe, but just as vivid and alive... makes you w...more
Algernon
[9/10] Spectacular. I can see whay it has won some literary prizes back in its day. It packs quite a lot of ideas for the number of pages it has. Most of those ideas relate to language and communication, but there is also weapon development, faster than light navigation, genetic enhancement, a bit of battle action and a memorable trip through a dystopian city peopled with oddball characters, both alive and incorporate.

Beyond the scientific speculations, I have to comment on the narrative style o...more
sologdin
Nutshell: intense translation thriller in which the military very rationally calls upon a poet to stop intergalactic invasion.

I’m starting to think that there’s nothing in Mieville that wasn’t first in Delany. I’ve not read Embassytown, so it’s not the linguistic stuff. Rather, the remade bodies, the lyric prose, the high-minded philosophy, the leftwing politics. I guess if Delany is SF’s James Joyce, Mieville will be content to be SF’s Pynchon.

Antecedent to Scott Bakker to the extent it lays ou...more
Outis
I don't get this book.
Worse, I don't buy its setting. If it was comedy or possibly allegory, fine. But it seems to be Big Idea SF. Or is it? It's so preposterous and baroque (it's even got ghosts) that I'm not sure. I don't find it particularly funny anyway.
Still worse, the ending is painfully bad. Exposition! The mysteries are revealed! Lots of books are like this but this time we get preached bad science and plain nonsense. The final clever trick theatratically revelead to the reader involves...more
Rob
...Babel-17 certainly deserves its status as a classic of the genre. Although a linguist would probably have a field day pointing out all the errors in Delany's novel, and the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is currently considered disproven, Delany has managed to build a very good novel around these concepts. It is a novel that does what science fiction ought to do, provoke thought on scientific theories and concepts that are packed into a good story. It's obvious why this novel ma...more
Tudor Ciocarlie
Wonderful book! I don't care that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the idea that language shapes perception to such an extent that thinking in a different language gives you a different perception) is now disproved. SF is all about the scientific method. And Delany exploration of a fascinating world in which the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis works and his journey into the human condition, is science-fiction at its best.
Steven
“Abstract thoughts in a blue room: Nominative, genitive, elative, accusative one, accusative two, ablative, partitive, illative, instructive, abessive, adessive, inessive, essive, allative, translative, comatative.” Delany's work is always intriguing, and I enjoyed this more than The Einstein Intersection, which dealt more with music than language. Rydra Wong and her ragtag crew of cosmetically altered misfits fly in the ship Rimbaud, named for the legendary French poet, on a mission to find the...more
Andreas
Linguistics, yay! You know, I've studied linguistics besides of computer science. So, this important work of mixing SF with linguistic motives was interesting 20 years after university.

When Babel-17 was published in 1966 and won the Nebula Award, Linguistic relativity - in short: language structure forms the world-view - was a valid theory and Delany embraced the idea masterfully.
There are other linguistically oriented SF works, as well - check out the earlier The Languages of Pao or The Embedd...more
Maree  ♫ Light's Shadow ♪
The discussion of communication in this book was fabulous. How language shapes us and our impressions with incomplete meanings and how some words are simple to one culture and incomprehensible to another. I realize that in the context of this book, we're talking about alien cultures, but really, this could be applied so close to home it's not even funny. We've gotten better in recent years as we've come closer to single uniting language, but English (or French) is still not perfect for exact exp...more
Gabriel
To read something so playful in language, so inventive in language, is a treat. To read something so intelligent regarding language, to decide what language is important and how it becomes important and why different languages may possibly lead to different cultural ideas (and vice versa) is also a treat. To have it wrapped in a wonderful bundle of book full of spies, "pirates", Galactic War, far-flung trips through space, aliens, futuristic foods and body modification ... goes beyond the richne...more
Virginia
Well, that was quite the head-trip. I do not know if I am smart enough to understand even half of what went on in this book. Delany wields words at times like a surgeon - precise and meticulous, and at other times like a bludgeon. I barely understood what was going on, but the images! They swirled in and out and kept changing when new words and concepts were added in.

At times, I even felt as if this were a linguistics treatise (and it is, kind of...). I lacked the vocabulary to make sense of it...more
Conor
This book totally rocked my world. It's a sexy and intelligent kind of space opera that keeps you guessing. So much to like here... Delany isn't afraid to jump back and forth between dense dialogue and thrilling conflict. More than anything this is a psychological novel, one that explores the nuances of communication, identity and love. There is a lot of sci-fi out there that "sounds" the same, but Delany's voice here is startling. Babel-17 is comprised of engrossing action, romance, and ideas.....more
Hakim
Babel-17 is an incredible book and a superb achievement for Samuel R. Delany. Let's quickly recap what the author accomplished here.

- He created a majestic, intelligent, compelling and totally badass protagonist and incredibly endearing secondary characters.
- He makes the reader think throughout the whole book - not necessarily about the plot, which I think is pretty minimal, but about the incredible power of language and its role in human relationships.
- He managed to make language less esoter...more
Sarah
I'm wavering between three and four stars, but I think this gets the benefit of the doubt. Three stars for the fact that the ending - and the last section - felt a little rushed. Four stars for the complex and competent female protagonist (somewhat unusual in SF of the time), the fascinating systems of travel, and the examination of language.
Oni
This is my first Delany novel, and certainly will not be my last. It is not an easy ride, I stalled in some places, but in the end, it is a very good book, and a thought provoking one.

I might be a bit biased, because I tend to love novels which are using linguistics as theme (also read Snow Crash and Un Lun Dun). It is a nice reminder that linguistics is also part of science, and it plays a great deal in defining ourselves as human.

The plot in this novel, merely serves as a tool for conveying th...more
Cathy Douglas
Ah, I was about ready for a wee shot o' old-style science fiction, with craploads of intriguing ideas hitting you one after the other. Not much development, but the book gives the reader's imagination plenty to play with after the book is put down. The way Rydra uses language, especially body language, to decode underlying meanings is fascinating, though I thought swinging this ability all the way over to ESP was a little cheesy.

Rydra Wong--a name that gets wedged in your ear if ever there was o...more
Zare
Idea of language used as a weapon is very fascinating. Main character is a linguist and a poet, simply put a prodigy when it comes to communication on any level. Now she is sent to investigate a mysterious form of communication - universal language, codenamed Babel-17 by the military - used by mysterious invading forces that are slowly crawling into space controlled by humans.

Author's style is, mildly put :), unique. First few chapters (when the main character is on a search for the ship crew) f...more
pierlapo  kirby
Babel-17 è un linguaggio e che cosa sono i linguaggi? Non sono solo lo strumento attraverso cui esprimiamo i nostri pensieri, concetti, idee. Al contrario, le parole e le regole sintattiche servono a creare quei pensieri, quei concetti e quelle idee.
Alcuni pensieri semplicemente non potrebbero esistere se non fossero espressi da quelle parole.
E se la lingua in questione è quella utilizzata da una civiltà altamente progredita, ecco allora che cercare di comprenderla vuol dire soprattutto aprire...more
Pvw
Now this is a special novel. It has a great main character, the poet Rydra Wong. She is fluent in most Earth and non-Earth languages, is the most popular poet in the universe, is incredibly beautiful and charming, has great psychological insight and knows how to captain a space ship. Okay, she is larger than life, I have to admit. But if I want the tale of an ordinary person, I'll just go to the bar next door and listen to one of the drunks' life story.

Delany used creative fantasy to stuff his u...more
PinkieBrown
I have no idea why I rated this three stars. I struggled to remember the book at all but I know I read it ten years ago-ish. This is a brilliant book. There is poetry both literally and in every line and between the lines. There is an intellectual dissection of language and the mechanics thereof. For instance a character who has lost his conception of self and can not use the words I or me. The weaponised Babel-17 itself an alien language capable of complex concepts in short bursts of speech. Ho...more
Jim
There's a fascinating quality to "vintage" sci-fi. Maybe it's because there weren't as many subgenres of sci-fi back then; no cyberpunk, no steampunk, no tedious pedants arguing whether "hard" sci-fi or "soft" sci-fi was the truest expression of the genre. Vintage sci-fi, at its best, feels like the writer has a whole universe awaiting them, and that no idea is too outlandish, no territory is too strange to tread. Vintage science fiction feels like anything can happen the next time you turn the...more
Tina
It's always much more difficult to write a review of something that you loved than of something you didn't. Nothing proves it as much as this book.

The first thing that drew me in was the way it was written. The writing is simply beautiful, and Delany uses vivid, elegant descriptions to paint a picture of his world. It's hard for me to put the feeling of his writing into words, but I can try with this comparison:
We spend a part of our summer by the seaside, in a small village. At night, the sea...more
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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
More about Samuel R. Delany...
Dhalgren Nova The Einstein Intersection Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand Babel-17/Empire Star

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“ABSTRACT THOUGHTS in a blue room; Nominative, genitive, etative, accusative one, accusative two, ablative, partitive, illative, instructive, abessive, adessive, inessive, essive, allative, translative, comitative. Sixteen cases of the Finnish noun. Odd, some languages get by with only singular and plural. The American Indian languages even failed to distinguish number. Except Sioux, in which there was a plural only for animate objects. The blue room was round and warm and smooth. No way to say warm in French. There was only hot and tepid 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. Imagine, in Spanish having to assign a sex to every object: dog, table, tree, can-opener. Imagine, in Hungarian, not being able to assign a sex to anything: he, she, it all the same word. Thou art my friend, but you are my king; thus the distinctions of Elizabeth the First's English. But with some oriental languages, which all but dispense with gender and number, you are my friend, you are my parent, and YOU are my priest, and YOU are my king, and YOU are my servant, and YOU are my servant whom I'm going to fire tomorrow if YOU don't watch it, and YOU are my king whose policies I totally disagree with and have sawdust in YOUR head instead of brains, YOUR highness, and YOU may be my friend, but I'm still gonna smack YOU up side the head if YOU ever say that to me again;
And who the hell are you anyway . . .?”
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“Sometimes you want to say things, and you're missing an idea to make them with, and missing a word to make the idea with. In the beginning was the word. That's how somebody tried to explain it once. Until something is named, it doesn't exist.” 8 likes
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