Samuel R Delany
Completed 2/20/2018, reviewed 2/20/2018
I really like Samuel R Delany’s prose. He’s an excellent writer, with wonderful word choices and flowing sentences. Some of his stories, however, are space opera-ish. My loyal readers know I have a love-hate relationship with this sub-genre. Babel-17 is a space opera with a twist. It’s about the deciphering of a language that is associated with guerrilla attacks during a war between the Alliance and the Invaders. It made the plot more interesting, but was still space opera.
Rydra Wong is a poet, translator, and space ship captain. She’s assigned the duty of deciphering Babel-17, originally thought to be a secret code, that is picked up shortly before every guerrilla attack on the Alliance. Rydra discovers it’s not a coded message, but a language, one that does not use the pronoun “I” or any of the first or second personal pronouns. Rydra, along with her crew, meets up with a person only known as the Butcher who cannot speak in first or second personal pronouns, and has amnesia. Is he related to Babel-17? Can she figure out the language before the next attack?
As I stated at the beginning, the prose is marvelous. There are some sections which are simply a pleasure to read. There’s even a Faulknerian sentence that goes on for several pages that’s simply astounding. The only thing that gave me trouble reading this book is that it was boring in parts. Not the sections on the language, but the rest of the plot. I think it was because it had to do with a war and I had trouble keeping my mind focused on that.
The character development was really interesting. The navigator of the Rydra’s ship is a trio of people in a polyamorous relationship. There’s also a trio called the Eyes, Ears, and Nose which is comprised of dead, or discorporate, people. The Butcher is also very interesting. Delany does a remarkable job not writing in first or second person. Rydra takes the initiative to try to get the Butcher to speak using I and you. The Butcher tries, but he ends up confusing the two. Delany goes on for several pages with this and it’s astoundingly complicated.
Despite the space opera story line, I give this book four stars out of five. It’s the prose and the character development that pushed it above three stars for me. If I used half stars, I’d give it three-and-a-half, but I don’t, so four it is.