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Babel-17 / Empire Star Paperback – January 8, 2002
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From the Inside Flap
Babel-17," winner of the Nebula Award for best novel of the year, is a fascinating tale of a famous poet bent on deciphering a secret language that is the key to the enemy's deadly force, a task that requires she travel with a splendidly improbable crew to the site of the next attack. For the first time, Babel-17 is published as the author intended with the short novel Empire Star, the tale of Comet Jo, a simple-minded teen thrust into a complex galaxy when he's entrusted to carry a vital message to a distant world. Spellbinding and smart, both novels are testimony to Delany's vast and singular talent.
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Top Customer Reviews
Rydra discovers that codename Babel-17 is no mere cipher. It's a language instead, with its own words, grammar, and lethal internal logic. Rydra chases Bable-17 in a trail of sabotage across the star-streams, learning bits and pieces of the language as she goes. Every fact that sheds light on the language only darkens the real mystery: who speaks this language? And why?
It's a slim book, but dense. Fast-paced adventure pulls the reader along, with plenty of worthwhile characters along the way. Delany's writing is so good that we really care about that mousy little bureaucrat who approves Rydra's star flight. We also get a genuinely sick chill from the head of the weapons lab - as well we should, from the hypocritical genteelness of a man so dedicated to death en masse.
There's an extra in this book, like the flip side of an old Ace Double. That's Empire Star, a novella with many themes of personal becoming: slavery ending, an urchin rising from the gutter, and a princess seeking her birthright. The storytelling is highly nonlinear, a fact that explains much but becomes apparent only towards the end. I never found a satisfactory resolution within this story, though. Although Babel-17 is truly memorable, Empire Star is not.
Babel-17 instantly became one of my favorites when I first read it. A new reading, years later, shows why. I never know whether an old favorite will live up to my memory of it, but this one certainly does.
Inside, around, and terminally intermixed with this nominal space opera is the quest to define the relationship between language, symbol, object, and thought process. A quest that flows around surgical body-form manipulation, the senses of the discorporate, succubi , the revival of the dead, love triples, starship pilot wrestling, a society and personality types split between Customs, Transport, and military. All told with Delany's inimitable sense of the English language, with the admirable support of excerpts of Marylyn Hacker's (Delany's then wife) poems.
Delany has developed this theme of language as the controlling factor in a person's world map in several books, but this is the only one that I can think of by him or any other author where language is not only a weapon but the main driving force behind the plot. In making his point, he almost goes too far, giving powers of understanding to Babel-17 that stretch the boundaries of believability, although he makes the very relevant point that some concepts cannot (or only with great difficulty) be expressed in some languages, while in other languages the same concept can be expressed very precisely in just a few words.
The characters of this book are far more normal than the typical set of Delany people, which is not to say that they are not extremely interesting, engaging, and well presented.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great story, great prose. The author's works are fun to read and well-received critically. Nova is also a favorite for me.Published 11 days ago by Doug McCann
An outstanding book! Author did an excellent job putting up some different new concepts, and making you think about them. Book could have been longer, was a great read.Published 1 month ago by Doug M.
If I had something approaching the main character's total verbal recall, I would tell you of the wonders of the language used to tell the tale, and something of the author's... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Moderan
This book was such a fast enjoyable read that brought in a lot of interesting understanding about linguisticsPublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Delany is brilliant -- and this work shows all that brilliance, from the fascinating language (and the fascination with language) to the depth of worldbuilding to the spark of... Read morePublished 2 months ago by S. Schwartz
Tedious. Hyper-cerebral. I found this difficult to complete. This book felt more like a reading assignment. Not due to dated concept (key punch cards and tape recording). Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
From the first page I was blown away. My version of the book had a foreword which talked about Delaney the person and how he was so young when he wrote this. Read morePublished 3 months ago by arcarc_reviews