Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delaney
A version of this post originally appeared on March 11, 2023.
Samuel R. Delaney is one of the pioneers of modern science fiction. He's garnered critical and popular success in his long career, an especially impressive achievement given his race. Black authors are still rare in science fiction, yet Delaney won his first Nebula in 1966.
Wanting to correct this gap in my SF knowledge, I started with Babel-17, in no small part because it is narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, whose voice improves any story. In this space opera, the main character is a pilot turned poet, and she is a major celebrity, because in this universe, poetry is a big deal. (This is difficult to believe, but science fiction requires us to accept outlandish ideas.)
The military has hired this poet to break the code of Babel-17, the language used by the enemies in a protracted intergalactic war. And thus we get a story with lots of space battles punctuated by discussions of phonemes.
While I didn't fall in love with the book, I admired it, and I'd like to go back and read more of Delaney.
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When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.