Babel-17 (S.F. MASTERWORKS) Paperback – 29 Mar 2010
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In 1967, Samuel R. Delany was young, gay, black and possibly the hippest person on the planet. He was to write more perfect books than Babel-17, but it is perhaps the most delightful, clever and sensual of his works. Its set pieces--an extended wander through space-dock bars as poetess and code-breaker Rydra Wong assembles a crew for desperate adventures; a high society dinner that turns into mayhem; Rydra's subversion/seduction of the sinister Butcher, who cannot say, or think, I, me or mine--are glorious in their arrogant sense that no-one has ever been this smart before. Rydra is one of those protagonists whom the author loves because he identifies with her, whom we love because we are overwhelmed by his infatuation. And the plot? Invaders from another part of human space are using as code a language which cannot be broken, and Rydra must save the day. As a meditation on language and thought, this is as sharp as its decor. Most important, though, is the complex, polymorphous sexiness of the whole thing--its sense of surgical chimerahood, life after death, and clone assassins as just unbearably hot and really really cool. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The most interesting writer of science fiction writing in English today."-"The New York Times Book Review"See all Product description
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As a story it is almost classical with one 'super-being' (just how I envisage her, not how she is described in the book) and her adventures across the galaxy in search of her goal. The description of how she gathers together her crew are I think the highlight of the book. The make-up of the crew and how the ships are navigated are quite unique and take a little time to grasp and is really quite a clever idea. The build up to the ending also seems quite contrived and bears almost no relationship to the start of the book, giving me the impression that the author had a good ending, and good beginning and a good idea, but didn't know how to combine them into a flowing story.
Personal Summary: A good book for its time with some novel ideas, but I do not feel enriched or up-lifted after reading it.
This is a novel which sits securely as part of 60s science fiction. It steps beyond the boundless optimism of the 50s Golden Age, hasn't succumbed to the more recent obsession with simply trying to devise "cooler" technology, or shoot em up video game-like stories. This is a novel of ideas and as such is comparable to the works of Ursula Le Guin or Philip K Dick.
Babel 17 is based around the idea of the power of language, and it's symbiotic relationship with thought. Language is shaped by thought processes in one glorious section Delaney describes a race whose reproductive cycle is based around temperature, but who have no need for a fixed physical location, hence they do not have a concept of home, and need long paragraphs to describe it. Conversely, highly technologically advanced, they can describe complex equipment in very few words. On the other side of the coin, Delaney also sees language as capable of steering thought, going as far as to position it as a computer programming language for the brain.
This is not however a dry treatise, the exploration of linguistics is set within what often feels like a supremely pulpy piece of sci-fi, with space battles described in flashy, dynamic prose. With such flashiness, the book is a definite pre-cursor of the cyber-punks, not least in the space pirates whom Rydra encounters. I would also be surprised if the makers of the 2016 film Arrival hadn't read this. In her demand for context to understand a language, Amy Adams's character directly mirrors Rydra.
In the end the pulpiness meant that this felt a little lightweight when compared to LeGuin,but it is still an entertaining and interesting read.
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