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3.8 out of 5 stars
25
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Rydra Wong is a poet, fantastically successful across a human inhabited Galaxy. She is also a linguist with near telepathic ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. Earth is involved in a war with the equally human "Invaders" while various aliens look on. The military have intercepted messages in an impenetrable close, to which they refer as "Babel 17".

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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on 6 May 2015
Been looking for this for ages,and when the suggestion appeared,I realized that this was the title of my missing book. Fantastic read!
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on 10 December 2015
One person's classic is....
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on 1 December 2013
This is an intelligent work of Sci-Fi. Perhaps it may be a little difficult in places, but if you devote a bit more time to read it through, it is a very rewarding experience. I enjoyed this novel and it definitely deserves a 5-star rating
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on 27 June 2016
Interesting and different
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on 16 April 2016
Epic
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on 16 February 2013
I really wanted to give this 3.5 stars, but went to lower end because of personal preference. The story is good, and definitely different from most other SF (although I m sure I have read similar books in the past). It espouses the importance of understanding and communication when in a war. If I had not recently come across the field of psycho-linguistics (yes it really is a valid research field) I might have thought this book somewhat better.

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.
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on 1 October 2013
Full marks for imaginative use of the Sapir-Whorf linguistic 'hypothesis'. Otherwise the plot sort of fizzles out or goes obscure and the 'hypothesis' is badly mangled at times. I could not see how lacing the story with sexual deviance advances the literary merit of a story exploring alien-human linguistics and existential power struggles although I gather the author regards himself highly liberated in bonking men and women alike.
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on 14 March 2014
i am collecting these books, but am very picky about it being this particular edition - i want all the covers to match.

the info provided in the description was accurate, and the delivery was prompt.

i am very happy.
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on 14 April 2015
meh, It's probably worth a read if you're into the genre. The core concept is interesting, but I felt that the characters, factions and politics needed more definition.
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