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3.77  ·  Rating details ·  12,303 ratings  ·  887 reviews
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the la ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published June 1st 1978 by Gregg Press (first published May 1966)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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 ·  12,303 ratings  ·  887 reviews

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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
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
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction

That’s what disliking a book with the reputation of Babel-17 feels like. This novel is a recognised classic, re-printed many times, including as an SF Masterworks edition, and it has been rated highly by reviewers whose tastes I share and whose opinions I trust.

I’m a fan of classic SF, and I expected to like Babel-17. Sadly, I feel this novel hasn’t aged well.

The underlying story is pretty interesting.

An intergalactic war is being waged. Humans on one side and… humans on the other. Human
Aug 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
A fascinating exploration of linguistics theory more than a science fiction novel, Babel-17 leaves you intrigued but unsatisfied. It is arguably a fantastic intellectual experiment, but the literary enjoyments are few and far between. Still, while perhaps not a 'must read', it is definitely a 'should maybe read' for fans of sci-fi and those interested in gaining a broader understanding of the genre.
I liked this one. I found it to be quirky, weird, fascinating and unexpected. Another arrow in the Galactic secret agent quiver quest. The exploration of language as an ultimate tool for conquering and domination was...really interesting. This one was dated, riddled with anachronisms and some retro slightly offensive views on race and gender. Not uncommon for a book conceived and written in the 60s. There is more Delany in my future.

3.5ish Stars

Read on kindle.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, a-nebula
Surprisingly fresh for a SF novel written in 1966. It has a lot of interesting ideas, the main one being the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. In fact, the whole story is based on the development of this idea and those passionate about linguistics will find a real gem within its pages. It is even more surprising that Delany was only 23 years old when he wrote it.

The writing is quite enthusiastic and lyrical – the main character is a poet, after all. It’s also an exploration into the human mind. It lacks
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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 encounter
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
Trippy, invigorating, delightful, and beautifully written, this book is totally original, and the fact that it was written over 50 years ago by a 24-year-old young man makes it all the more amazing. I needed to have my head and heart stirred and stimulated in precisely the way that this book did after reading a couple of stolid, predictable books recently. It’s certainly not for everyone; I can imagine folks who want something a little more cleanly depicted and structured could get frustrated by ...more
Timothy Urges
Sep 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Until something is named, it doesn't exist.

Does thought create language? Or does language create thought?
Mind-opening science fiction about language and its power.
Allison Hurd
Well, that was wholly unique! This is not so much a story as a poet-linguist's exploration of the significance of language.

CONTENT WARNING: (view spoiler)

Things to love:

-The language. I mean, that's really all there is. Every way we communicate (and I mean every way) is mentioned and symbolized. He then messes with all of it so that you have time to think about what it would be like if
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow, Samuel "Chip" Delany wrote (at the ripe young age of 23!) an amazing new-wave SF space opera about a starship captain, linguist, poet, and telepath named Rydra Wong who is desperately trying to solve the mystery of what Babel-17 is and how it is being used by the Invaders against the alliance. It explores the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of language and how it shapes personality, thought and actions, and spins off dozens of other fascinating ideas and images in just under 200 pages.

Anybody who i
Wow - I was expecting something sprawling and odd, like Dhalgren, or something tragic like Nova, but got a tightly-plotted, smooth adventure in space with some meaning of war and thought and language. Awesome surprise! ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
[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
Ben Loory
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Seema Singh
Sep 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Space Opera September - Challenge 2.
I enjoyed it but didn't quite understand or like the end.
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There are two types of codes, ciphers, and true codes. In the first, letters, or symbols that stand for letters, are shuffled and juggled according to a pattern. In the second, letters, words, or groups of words are replaced by other letters, symbols, or words. A code can be one type or the other, or a combination. But both have this in common: once you find the key, you just plug it in and out come logical sentences. A language, however, has its own internal logic, its own grammar, its own way ...more
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m giving it three stars because ultimately I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Rydra Wong is a poet and something of an expert in language. The Alliance needs her help translating the language of the Invaders, what they refer to as: Babel-17. They believe transmissions of this language coincide with attacks and assassinations happening around the galaxy. Rydra gathers up a space flight crew and sets out to gather as much information as she can about Babel-17.

I don’t want to say the plot is a mes
A lively, interesting young novel that is very clearly written by a very young man, who is very impressed with himself. I found I wanted to like it more than I actually did - because I like what it is trying to do, both ideologically and artistically, but I'm not convinced by how it's actually done. Overall feels rather light and stilted, and I found it particularly annoying how Delany would happily lecture his readers on any subject that came to hand, despite being monumentally and disintereste ...more
Megan Baxter
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was so much fun! Part of me wants to re-read it right away to figure out what things I may have missed the first time around.
There isn't a word out of place in this book. Delany created a whirlwind of a plot that is delightful in its strangeness but at the same time allows for quiet scenes that capture and vibrate with longing and sadness.
Anyone who loves books that play with language should absolutely read this.
Peter Tillman
It must have amused Delany (who is black, and queer) to see this cover on the 1982 mmpb reprint:
White girl in a silver bikini! I love it. Maybe he did, too.....
Oleksandr Zholud
This is the second book by Samuel R. Delany, which I’ve read, the first being The Einstein Intersection. Both books won Nebula Awards, both are with clearly 60s feel in them, a bit trippy and clearly poetic, but I liked this one more.

The story follows Rydra Wong, an extremely capable linguist in her search regarding a new and strange language, labeled Babel-17, which is presumably linked to sabotage and attacks against the Alliance – her side in eternal intergalactic battle. The book never menti
16th book for 2020.

Well that was a surprise. Given this book's reputation I had been expecting something much more interesting than what was on offer. The plot is paper thin; the characters even more so. Delany plays around with the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis, but it's so poorly interpreted to be almost unintelligible.

The only thing going for it was a strong female main protagonist, something rare in 1966.

2-stars—probably closer to 1.5.
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
Jo Walton's take:

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
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short very imaginative 'New Wave' novel published in 1966, by Samuel Delaney, who was merely 23/24 years old at the time. Like PKD, the crew are an extremely odd motley of misfits, including revived dead people who operate in a sort of ghost-like form (I love scifi for this reason, you can get away with almost anything as long as you can sorta justify it).

Like van Vogt's "World of Null-A" (1948), this book is based on a linguistic or semantic theme (in this case, the disproved, "Sapir–Whorf hy
I've a bad habit of going big or going home when it comes to various authors, one that is bad if only for how the history comes back to bite me when I go after their less monumental works. The Golden Notebook made for a less striking The Good Terrorist, The Second Sex resulted in a piss poor The Mandarins, and I haven't even tried the smaller respective compatriots of Infinite Jest or Almanac of the Dead for fear of being less than blown away (yes, I technically read DFW nonfiction post-IJ, but ...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
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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 7th Av ...more

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