Paperback, 173 pages

English language

Published March 26, 1966 by Ace Books.

OCLC Number:

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5 stars (3 reviews)

During an interstellar war one side develops a language, Babel-17, that can be used as a weapon. Learning it turns one into an unwilling traitor as it alters perception and thought. This is discovered by the starship captain Rydra Wong. She is recruited to discover how the enemy are infiltrating and sabotaging strategic sites.

18 editions

Part pulp, part high-brow

No rating

A confusing mix when it comes to tone, this story reads mostly as a pulpy space opera, except for those moments where it launches into complicated discussions of linguistics and grammar.

Rydra Wong is a poet with such a great knack for learning languages that it borders on telepathy (body language is a language too, after all), and she uses her talent to decode the messages of the Invaders who, as the name suggests, are at war with her society.

I'm not a linguist, but I believe that the scientific theories on which the premise of this book is based have been debunked , which didn't help my suspension of disbelief. Personally, I was much more interested in another idea Delany introduced: discorporate people. Basically, in the future we prove that ghosts do exist, we just haven't yet developed the technology needed to perceive them. Without technological intervention we simply …

Linguistic Sci-Fi

5 stars

Some fiction centers around plot, and while Babel-17's plot is truly captivating, the thoughts and ideas intermingled with it are what kept me reading the book and affected my thought process. Which is precisely one of the important themes of the book: how much does the language affect who we are? Could we imagine a language that when spoken or thought would change the way one perceives the world? As if this alone wouldn't be exciting, Delany bases off his work on Plato's Dialogues - making firm connection to philosophy.


  • Linguistics
  • Alien language
  • Espionage