Babel-17 • 1966 • SF novel by Samuel Delany


Meta: isfdb. SF Master works #6. SF novel published in 1966.

Linguistics, yay! You know, I’ve studied linguistics besides of computer science. So, this important work of mixing SF with linguistic motives was interesting 20 years after university.

At the time Babel-17 was published in 1966 (and won the Nebula Award), Linguistic relativity – in short: language structure forms the world-view – was considered to be a valid theory. I don’t want to bother you with details like the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or absence of pronouns. Just let me tell you that I think that Delany embraced the idea masterfully.

He was not the only one embedding linguistics into SF, for example check out the earlier The Languages of Pao or The Embedding. There even is a Goodreads list for Science fiction using linguistics as plot device.

The novel is not only about linguistics but also a great space opera – with interstellar fighting, space pirates, telepathy, body modification and future family constructs like triple marriage.
Delany presents a very dense setting and manages it to build a complete world view within 160 pages!

That’s where China Miéville should have learned from for his Embassytown but failed (cf. this article).

A nice coincidence is that this week Delany was elected as a Grand Master of SF.

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