“Babel-17” by Samuel R. Delany Review



Author: Samuel R. Delany

Release Date: May 1966

I had high hopes for this novel because it tied “Flowers for Algernon” for the nebula award and came out the same year “Dune” won the Hugo. Unfortunately, there’s a reason those are remembered as classics and most people have never heard of this one.

“Babel-17” tells the story of a poet who is recruited by the military to decode a message that arrives whenever the alliance is attacked. The poet was formerly in code breaking and is a genius when it comes to language. A lot of the plot revolves around different languages not having words for certain ideas and thus the speaker not being able to imagine concepts. That part, and the surprisingly progressive cast of characters were both appreciated.

Unfortunately the book goes off the rails at the end with the introduction of “the butcher” a man with no concept of “I” or “me” and his role in the secret of the alien language. The book also rushed through the explanation of who was the traitor on board and the happy escape ending that felt lazy to this reader.



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