Book Review: Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

I was elated for the first pages, the style, the rhythm, use of words, and Rydra Wong was enchanting along with all the deviations from the plot to explain details about languages. If only the book had continued on as strongly, this would be one of my favorite books. It didn’t. The middle part was like this long mess to find the plot and to make all that happened relevant to it. When I was about to give up, the book tied up all the loose ends and make it again enjoyable. The last pages once again felt like the story I had signed in.

And the story is about war, spying, languages, and terrorism twisted into this one exciting mess. Rydra Wong is a compelling character, a poet, scientist (linguistic), and spaceship captain (plus her hidden talents, but not going to spoil those for you.) And I initially liked her, but then little by little, her perfect appearance, manner, and the adoration of others lost the magic of her personality. It didn’t make more likable that her being a renowned poet was flung continuously at my face. I’m not sure why this annoyed me, was it because we never get past that when it came to her character and life or was it that her being extraordinary in everything made her flat and just a wish-fulfillment of someone’s imagination. Plot-wise, there is a reason for her attractiveness, but I won’t spoil the book for you. The only solace is that we readers get to hear her inner monologue, which makes her more real, yet, no. Beauty, youth, perfection is boring.

But past that, the book has merits that go beyond the plot and characters, and that is the play on linguistics. This mix of educating about languages through the scheme. I will not say more if you will read this book, but solely because of those little information nuggets, the book is something to read. Just prepare to wade through some parts, mostly the entire middle section. And before I finish this review, I have to say that despite the evident love and understanding for languages, the prose isn’t tricky and incomprehensible as some enthusiast for linguistics think prose should be. It is approachable and precise.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderfully profound day with lots of words stuck in the middle.

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