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Book Ramblings

Long winded reviews

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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin


Babel-17 - Samuel R. Delany Samuel R. Delany was on a short list of famous sf authors I have never read, the list includes Cordwainer Smith, Henry Kuttner, C. J. Cherryh, Stephen Baxter and Neal Asher. I will try to get to all of them next year, any recommendations concerning these authors would be welcome.

Babel-17 is a very short novel (too long to be a novella may be) about the power of language, a culture called The Invaders creates a language which can be used to control thoughts and actions through the structure and content of the language itself, more like brain washing than mind control or hypnosis. The concept is based on the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis" which (if I understand it correctly) posits that ideas can not be thought of without words to facilitate them. The theory has since been disproved so I wouldn't give too much credence to it. Excellent basis for an sf novel certainly.

The weaponized language is the eponymous Babel-17 which is being used to sabotage the war efforts of The Alliance, the side of the war the story is narrated from; whether this is the "right" side is not really dwelled upon in the book. The protagonist is genius poet turned starship captain Rydra Wong, she puts a crew of some very odd people together to find the secrets of Babel-17 in order to put an end to the seemingly unstoppable sabotages. Members of her crew are all genetically modified and some are actually dead but serving as a kind of high tech ghosts. The dialogue concerning a language without the concept of I and Me is one of the highlights of the book. The denouement at the in the last chapter is fascinating, though the actual ending is a little abrupt.

While I found the ideas and concepts very interesting and thought provoking I also found the pacing to be a little uneven, a couple of chapters simply dragged, in a short novel like this I expected a tighter narrative. The character of Rydra Wong is well developed, she is complex and believable, though I don't find her particularly appealing. Given the short length of the book the other characters are at least adequately developed, but again I did not feel any emotional investment in them.

I would recommend this book to sf readers looking for a short and thought provoking read. Don't expect edge of the seat entertainment, but plenty of food for thought.