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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.
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
This is my first Delaney, and I love it to pieces. The scene where Rydra recruits her crew is low on action but beautifully detailed. Read morePublished 4 days ago by Zygomorph
Rydra Wong, an ex-military cryptographer, a poet, and a linguist, has been approached by the military once again to help decipher the Babel-17 code used by the alien invaders in... Read morePublished 26 days ago by DabOfDarkness
What a difference 50 years can make. To think this novel won the coveted Nebula Award. Recognizable in this novel are those things that were coveted in science fiction back then -... Read morePublished 27 days ago by Michael Drakich
This is an amazing story of the future where star travel is commonplace. Delany introduces us to a gang of people who center around the main character as he does in his novel Nova. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Blain
Well. This was a really interesting book. The most interesting for me, was about how language can control you or at the very least determines your personality to a certain... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Diane Severson
Great story, great prose. The author's works are fun to read and well-received critically. Nova is also a favorite for me.Published 3 months 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 4 months ago by Doug M.