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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 second hand bookstore yesterday, I was optimistic I remembered thinking it was great when I was 14, so why not re read it But this time oh dear I clearly recalled finding this novel intelligent and sophisticated, but now it was, I hated to say it, naive The characters were flat The ending was ridiculous And, worst of all, the linguistics was all wrong Since it s a novel where language is absolutely central to the plot, this was a disaster Maybe the problem was that I just liked the book too much as a teen I thought Rydra Wong, the poetess linguist heroine, was so amazingly cool that I must have unconsciously internalized some of her valuations I think I became much interested in languages partly as a result of reading Babel 17 at an impressionable age, so really it had a very good effect on me How about that An SF heroine who s actually a positive role model for a teenage boy It was unreasonable to expect the book to work a second time I d used it up.I still love Rydra though I wonder if a bit of her went into Lisbeth Salander And I m keeping the four stars I originally gave it After careful consideration, I think my 14 year old self judges the book fairly than I do. A fascinating exploration of linguistics theory than a science fiction novel, Babel 17 leaves you intrigued but unsatisfied It is arguably a fantastic intellectual experiment, but the literary enjoyments are few and far between Still, while perhaps not a must read , it is definitely a should maybe read for fans of sci fi and those interested in gaining a broader understanding of the genre. 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 waged Humans on one side and humans on the other Humanity appears to have split in two the Alliance, who are Earth based and the Invaders who are pretty minimally described, but appear to control one or other galaxies outside the Milky Way.The invaders have somehow been mounting damaging sabotage attacks deep into Alliance territory, with only strange, coded radio messages giving any clue to how they are being carried out Linguist and renowned poet Rydra Wong is brought in to decipher the code, which she names Babel 17, and she gathers a crew and a ship to travel to where she believes the next attack will be On her travels she begins to suspect that Babel 17 is less a code than a unique language, a language that could be an extraordinarily powerful and profound threat to the Alliance.So far so good The execution of this story, however, really failed to float my reading boat.There are some interesting ideas in the narrative around language and the way that the structure of language profoundly influence the way we see and interact with the world but I found myself constantly distracted by elements of the story and its execution that didn t gel for me.I struggled to empathise with Rydra Wong, and her crew felt like a living tour around a weird future than a set of real characters Babel 17 feels dated too I usually don t mind the way that older SF this was published in 66 is often full of temporal markers that give away the era in which it was written I make a sport of spotting such markers characters reading paper newspapers on starships in the year 2500 for example, while they chain smoke filterless Camels.Babel 17, however doesn t just have a few markers it feels mired in them Characters refer to darkness as being like the inside of a coal scuttle a reference that was surely dated by the 60s, let alone in the distant future Characters play marbles They use reel to reel tapes They refer to punch cards.The overall effect is Thunderbirds than bright, technological future, hell, a heat ray makes an appearance at one point, and an evil character in a protagonist s past is un ironically named Mr Big.Still, I could look past all this if the story was engaging For me, it wasn t I ve enjoyed concept based SF many times before, and I loved China Mieville s Embassytown, a novel that plays with some fascinating ideas around language and culture Not so with Babel 17 I hauled myself to the end of this one out of duty, dragged along by the feeling that I should finish such a well regarded work Two spaceship eight track decks out of five. 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 wasreally 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 Delany in my future 3.5ish StarsRead on kindle. 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, Babel 17 is a colourful, clever book, but it s no Dune To be fair it is a very good book, but the language gets too flowery in places and the excitement of the plot waxes and wanes a bit too much, alternating between dullness, psychedelia and high drama It s almost as if the author is too clever for his own good.In the end, it was enjoyable enough There are some absurdities, especially concerning the oh so strange cast of characters, which I rather enjoyed If you re a Sci Fi connoisseur, you ll have to read this If you re catching up on the Sci Fi classics, ditto If, however, you re neither of the previous, you might consider reading the likes of Dune first.Note I do realise I am biased, since Dune is a personal favourite You might want to bear that in mind as well. 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 control thoughts and actions through the structure and content of the language itself, like brain washing than mind control or hypnosis The concept is based on the Sapir Whorf hypothesis which if I understand it correctly posits that ideas can not be thought of without words to facilitate them The theory has since been disproved so I wouldn t give too much credence to it Excellent basis for an sf novel certainly The weaponized language is the eponymous Babel 17 which is being used to sabotage the war efforts of The Alliance, the side of the war the story is narrated from whether this is the right side is not really dwelled upon in the book The protagonist is genius poet turned starship captain Rydra Wong, she puts a crew of some very odd people together to find the secrets of Babel 17 in order to put an end to the seemingly unstoppable sabotages Members of her crew are all genetically modified and some are actually dead but serving as a kind of high tech ghosts The dialogue concerning a language without the concept of I and Me is one of the highlights of the book The denouement at the in the last chapter is fascinating, though the actual ending is a little abrupt.While I found the ideas and concepts very interesting and thought provoking I also found the pacing to be a little uneven, a couple of chapters simply dragged, in a short novel like this I expected a tighter narrative The character of Rydra Wong is well developed, she is complex and believable, though I don t find her particularly appealing Given the short length of the book the other characters are at least adequately developed, but again I did not feel any emotional investment in them.I would recommend this book to sf readers looking for a short and thought provoking read Don t expect edge of the seat entertainment, but plenty of food for thought. 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 used to sabotage weapons and ships across the galaxy Delany s prose is beautiful and filled with energy, the plot also whips you along through huge drama and betrayals, but then there s also poetry and moments of reflection on societal norms and the self It s a clever book Definitely one for the linguistics students. &FREE PDF ☊ Babel-17 ↙ Babel 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 ThreatPaul Goat Allen 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 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 cleanly depicted and structured could get frustrated by it But I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take a surreal, entertaining, enlightening, provocative journey into a wildly imagined future. 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