Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany


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 language and stop the alien threat. (Paul Goat Allen)

Details Babel-17

Release DateJun 1st, 1978
PublisherGregg Press
GenreScience Fiction, Fiction

Reviews Babel-17

  • 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 comp...
  • 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 seco...
  • Scott
    Heresy.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 w...
  • 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 contro...
  • 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, Bab...
  • Elizabeth
    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 use...
  • Anthony
    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 cle...
  • 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)[ some misogyny and body horror/experimentation. Fat shaming. Loss of a loved one. Psychosis. (hide 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 h...
  • Stuart
    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...
  • 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,...
  • Timothy Urges
    Until something is named, it doesn't exist.Does thought create language? Or does language create thought?A mind-opening sci-fi about language and its power.
  • Algernon (Darth Anyan)
    [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 specul...
  • Wastrel
    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...
  • Monica
    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.4 StarsRead o...
  • 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 w...
  • 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...
  • Rose
    The copy of this book that I borrowed from the library was so old and so rarely used that the dried husk of flattened bug fell out of from between the last few pages. According to the call sheet in the back, I think it’s been buried in my uni’s storage facility since 1998. Despite the age of this book, I found it to be amazingly contemporary, especially in how it explored the use of language in the expression of self and identity. Maybe I'm r...
  • Aubrey
    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 (ye...
  • Hank
    A 3.5 rounded to 4 because I like weird. This didn't feel like a book written in the 60's, it had some advanced bio-hacking and star flight concepts that still seem fresh today. Ultimately it was all about the myriad forms of communication and how one might exploit them to the fullest. If It was longer I probably would have only been a 3 star but just short enough to keep my attention throughout.I don't know if I would label it a classic but it w...
  • Jonfaith
    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...
  • Tamahome
    Jo Walton's take: "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 thin...
  • Sarah
    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 ca...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 tri...
  • Matt Weber
    "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 languag...
  • Peter Tillman
    It must have amused Delany (who is black, and queer) to see this cover on the 1982 mmpb reprint: girl in a silver bikini! I love it. Maybe he did, too.....
  • 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, thou...
  • Laf Lyons
    Certainly a strange read. I was swept up by the unique way of which Rydra perceived the world through prose and affect. Captivated by how perceived notions could be altered through language itself. Rydra's world was one of which was created, painted and layered by language itself and all interactions with that was subject to your ability to translate the very world around you. It created a wholly unique read with surreal fluidity and constantly s...
  • Jemppu
    Loved the concept of Babel-17 the language. And enjoyed the interactions and relationships between the characters. But somewhere along the line the overall plot just got lost on me. The writing seemed all over at times.Would gladly read of more linguistic ruminations, and learn all there is to know of the societal structures of this world, without the need for war or assassination plots.
  • 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. 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 o...