Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kicking it Old School: Babel-17

I've got another read here that falls into the Kicking it Old School category of things.  This time around, I went for Samuel R. Delany's Babel-17.  I've been wanting to read something by Delany for a while now, but Dhalgren seems too intimidating and Triton seemed less accessible as a first read for an author who is new to me.  So I settled on Babel-17.

In Babel-17 there's a very basic plot dilemma going on;  The good guys, also known as the Earth People's Alliance, are losing a war to alien invaders.  The tricky part is that the aliens are capable of communicating in a language that only they can understand, which makes it really tough for the good guys to defend themselves and plan for their enemy's next moves.  Enter cosmic poetess, aikido blackbelt, star captain, and master of languages, Rydra Wong.  The Earthpeople's Alliance enlists Wong in hopes that she can learn the alien language, and thus help her people win the war.

In order to do so,  Wong puts together a crew to man a starship, and travels the stars dig up bits of the language and piece together meaning in hopes of helping in the war efforts. Along the way, she discovers that Babel-17 can actually alter the way a person thinks, thus making those who hear it engage in acts of sabotage and destruction.

It was pretty interesting to read Babel-17, after reading China Mieville's Embassytown, as they are both novels that explore language and how language makes people think and act.  It was also interesting to see how each author took very different approaches to exploring language.  It was also interesting to see how each author, despite taking separate approaches to exploring language, failed to capture my interest in the topic at hand.

I guess I'm just not all that into reading about language.

Though most of the best qualities of this book were overshadowed by the dullness of the subject matter, Delany did have some cool ideas.  Wong wasn't my favorite character ever, not by a long shot.  She was just too damn good at everything.  It was kinda annoying.  Perfection isn't really something I find all that interesting.  Delany's vision of an intergalactic future was pretty cool though.  Many of the humans all had significant body enhancements, which made them resemble human-animal hybrids, which I though was pretty cool, and body enhancements are probably a few logical steps away from tattoos and piercings.

Wong and her crew also got caught in some sort of space-time slipstream where they traveled on the edge of reality, which I found absolutely was sorta a hard concept to understand though and, if you couldn't tell from my description, hard to describe.  But still, I enjoyed trying to wrap my brain around the concept.  Delany also wrote some pretty well orchestrated action scenes, and delivered some tense moments, so even though I didn't totally enjoy this book, I have a good feeling I might click with one of his other works.

I think I'm done reading books that explore language for a while though.

Before I wrap this one up, I just want to point out that ridiculous cover.  How awesomely bad is that?  I'm pretty sure that his meant to Wong, and one of her crew members, but Wong wasn't a blonde-haired white woman, and I didn't really picture the altered humans looking that goofy.  Anyway, this was one of my least successful Kicking it Old School reads, but I'm up for some more Delany in the future.

Grade:  6.5 Teddy Ruxpins


Bryce L. said...

I have Dahlgren on my shelf, but it's way too intimidating. This makes it even more so. And yes, awesomely cool cover, I don't know what your problem is. :D :D

Ryan said...

Yeah, I'm not so sure I'll ever get around to will depend on how Triton goes for me. Which will hopefully go better than Babel-17

Leigh Ann said...

I've never read anything like this before, I'm not sure if it would be my cup of tea but I may have to try it one day. I am a new follower from over at Book Blogs! I have an author interview/giveaway up at my blog if you'd like to check it out and/or enter. I hope that you have a great weekend! :)

Leigh Ann
MaMa's Book Corner

Ryan said...

Hi Leigh Ann! Thanks for stopping by. I often find that when I try a book that's outside my usual comfort zone, it turns out to be a very rewarding experience.