SAMUEL R. DELANY – Babel-17. Ace F-288, paperback original, 1966. Reprinted many times, including: Bantam, paperback, 1982, with minor deletions restored. Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year.

   Rydra Wong, a poet with a gift for languages, is given the task of deciphering Babel-17, a language apparently used by the invaders during their attack on Alliance installations. It is actually a weapon capable of taking over the thought processes of those who understand and use it.

   A brilliant display of strange characters and unusual science-fictional ideas, set in a realistic but mind-warping universe. Babel-17 itself enables one “to move through psychedelic perspective (page 108); is a “flexible matrix of analytic possibilities” (page 112).

   The night spent in Transport Town gathering a space crew is as effectively weird as any in horror fiction, with discorporate beings, including an active succubus, and cosmetically altered humans (the psychological implications of which are discussed on pages 51-52), combining to form a distinct world of their own.

   Later, the scene between Rydra and the Butcher as she teaches him the words “I” and “yes” is superb in both semantic and psychological interpretations. Delany includes himself in this universe, as Muels Araslyes, who once tripled with Rydra.

   An outstanding work, but his best is yet to come.

Rating: ****½

–November 1967