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3.78  ·  Rating details ·  8,927 Ratings  ·  535 Reviews
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 Invade
Mass Market Paperback, 219 pages
Published April 1973 by Ace Books (first published May 1966)
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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
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one science fiction’s classics and I can see why. Delany’s writing is magnificent. It’s very literary compared to a lot of SF and actually a lot of the plot is to do with language. It centres around a woman called Rydra Wong who is a gifted poet and linguist in a far future where an alliance of humans and aliens is at war with other aliens. She is approached by the military to decode a strange language that appears to be being used to sabotage weapons and ships across the galaxy. Delany’ ...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
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
Ben Loory
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Megan Baxter
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Matt Weber
Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Ruby and Python are on display this evening." This is, unfortunately, the line that will probably most stick with me from the book -- in a book written in 1966, that compares natural and computer languages using the examples of Fortran and Algol, how can you not love this? (Ruby and Python are wrestlers in context; the line is a throwaway. It's just such a fantastic coincidence.)

Beautifully written, obviously, but the idea of weaponizing language does fall a bit short of its potential, and ther
Book Riot Community
I picked up the Babel-17 audiobook because I thought it was a recent release. And as I listened to it, I had no other reason to think otherwise for the first few chapters: The hero — poet and space captain Rydra Wong — is on the autism spectrum. Her friends are in polyamorous, non-binary relationships, and are very much into body modification. Coding is a part of the plot. Then I heard some dated language and looked the book up: it was published (and won the Nebula) in 1966.

I don’t want to tell
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up after attempting to read The Death Of Grass, a misogynistic turd of a book, which Babel-17 did a lot to can only call something 'dated' up to a point. Also, i went to see Rogue One (soooo good!!) and fancied some sci-fi. So, this novel has a supercool female poet/spaceship captain protag, a bunch of non-hetero-normative characters, and is space-culturally diverse in a way that few science fiction books even are NOW, let alone in 1966. That automatically makes Delany ...more
Aug 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3-3.5 stars. Some really interesting concepts and lovely prose - introduced me to some linguistics terms I was unfamiliar with prior to this novel, which was nice! My only real issue is that it felt like it was over just after it'd started. I feel like I would have liked to see more of the world (or universe, rather) explored further; 192 pages didn't quite feel like enough time to really get into everything. Idk. Need to think about this one some more.

Might write out a longer review later. Prob
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.

At the time Babel-17 was published in 1966 (and won the Nebula Award), Linguistic relativity - in short: language structure forms the world-view - was considered to be a valid theory. I don't want to bother you with details like the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or absence of pronouns. Just let me tell you that I
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: afrogeek
Critics and fans tend to divide the work of Samuel R. Delany into two periods: pre-and-post Dhalgren. The argument is that Dhalgren marked a change both stylistically ( non-linear narrative, postmodern techniques) and subject matter (eroticism, power differentials, and liminality).

While Babel-17 does have a more straightforward, genre-cognizant plot, the trippy, mind-fuck aspects of his later work are very much in evidence. The story concerns a poet/linguist/starship captain(!) and her attempts
Feb 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it
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
James Chatham
Babel-17 is a classic far-future science fiction novel revolving around language and communication. It opens following a military official, General Forester, as he searches for a famous poet, Rydra Wong, to ask her to translate a message broadcast in an alien language (Babel-17) alongside an Invader attack.

I loved the exploration of the themes of language and the differences between languages and how different peoples communicate; however, I felt that the philosophy of language and communication
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
...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
Michael Burnam-Fink
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2017
Babel-17 is basically strong Sapir-Whorf, the novel. A series of attacks on Alliance military bases are preceded by strangely coded messages, and when polymath poet, linguist, and space captain Rydra Wong discovers that the Babel-17 messages are a language not a code, and one of incredible precision and expressive power, it's up to her to find the source and start a dialog.

Delany is a master of eyeball kicks of language, of strong self-indentity and beautiful decadence. Wong puts together a fasc
Brilliant! I really enjoyed this.

I love the cast of characters. The spaceship crew are wonderful and unique, and I wish they had more page time. Rydra Wong is very intelligent, a genius with languages and can read people almost like she is reading their minds. Everyone loves her, and she is maybe a little too perfect snowflake but I still found her likeable anyway.

The story moves fast and is full of action and intrigue, spaceships and fights. It's very original and still feels modern even thoug
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, 2017
I sort of can't believe how young Delany was when he wrote this. And how it can be both descriptive and so very concise. It's intensely experimental, lyrical, clever and ahead of its time in so many ways, and managing to say clever things about both war and language without sounding didactic.
Jim Parker
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the 2nd book by Samuel R. Delany that I have read. The first was his classic science fiction work, Dhalgren. Babel-17 is very different from Dhalgren, yet the prose and poetry are still far above most literature in this genre. To say that the world of Dhalgren is dystopic would be an understatement.

Babel-17 is on the surface a space battle but the underlying them is language. The female protagonist of the book is a combination poet, space captain, and linguist. Anyone who cares for scie
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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...
“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 . . .?”
“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.” 17 likes
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