Author: Samuel R Delany
Details: (c) 1966 Ace Books Ltd; Pub Ace 1978; ISBN 0-441-04595-2
Verdict: Babel-17 has some brilliant elements but falls just short as a whole.
Reasons for reading it: I absolutely adored Triton, so when I found a book by the same author that deals with language themes, I pounced on it.
How it came into my hands: Second hand bookshop in Berkeley, though I bought it last year and I've forgotten which exactly by now.
The opening sections of Babel-17 really lived up to my expectations. The world-building and sheer imaginative reach are just awesome, and the way it's doing real hard SF with linguistics as the science is delightful too. I particularly loved the SF version of ghosts. Then it sort of tailed off into a space opera thingy; I laughed at myself when I realized I was getting annoyed with the book for being too exciting. I didn't want to read about a highly dramatic space voyage cum murder mystery, I wanted to explore the cool shiny world more! I think part of the problem is that the action part is just too fast paced; there isn't time to appreciate the full emotional impact. Then it got weird. Some of the weird part worked, some didn't; I found the denouement unsatisfying in a way I can't really put my finger on.
In spite of those criticisms, Babel-17 is unquestionably a good read. I really liked Rydra Wong as a heroine (though her name sounds as if it's on the edge of being a bad pun, somehow). Of course, she's impossibly beautiful and has way too many superpowers, but I wanted to be her far more than is usually the case for that kind of overpowered protagonist. As a character she's believable, even if her abilities are not.
It seems like each individual element of Babel-17 is superlative, but it doesn't quite work as a whole. Which is a shame, because if it coalesced I think it would be my ultimate SF experience (The player of games would come a close second, I think).