The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Rydra Wong, a poet and linguistics expert, is asked to decipher mysterious transmissions in a code called Babel-17. The transmissions are picked up in conjunction with sabotage attacks by the Invaders, who have been at war with the Alliance for twenty years. Rydra determines that Babel-17 is not a code but a language of unusual analytic properties.

She recruits a starship crew to seek the location of the next attack. In Earth orbit, her ship is sabotaged, knocking out all external navigational sensors. Via Babel-17, she solves the problem of fixing the ship’s position by using the physics and mathematics implicit in that language’s description of great circles. Rydra comes to believe that one of the crew must be an Invader spy.

At their destination, the Alliance War Yards, Rydra and her crew are invited to an elaborate dinner party by Baron Ver Dorco, who is in charge of weapons research. During the party, the baron is assassinated by a genetically engineered spy/saboteur designated TW-55. Rydra and crew escape, but their ship is sabotaged once again. Rydra’s crew blacks out.

They wake aboard an interstellar privateer, the Jebel Tarik. Again using knowledge of Babel-17, Rydra helps Jebel and his lieutenant, the Butcher, win a battle against an Invader ship. Afterward, she uses the language to discover a plot against Jebel and the Butcher.

Rydra also discovers that the Butcher does not have the concept of...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Babel-17 Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bartter, Martha A. “The (Science-Fiction) Reader and the Quantum Paradigm: Problems in Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.” Science Fiction Studies 17 (November, 1990): 325-340. Argues that Delany’s well-known interest in contemporary literary theory extends also to an interest in contemporary scientific theories. The essay primarily concerns itself with Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) but discusses other novels and presents information concerning Delany’s wide interest in science.

DeGraw, Sharon. The Subject of Race in American Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2007. Discusses Delany’s representation of race and compares his work to that of Edgar Rice Burroughs and George Samuel Schuyler.

Delany, Samuel R. “An Interview with Samuel R. Delany.” Interview by Robert F. Reid-Pharr. Callaloo 14 (Spring, 1991): 524-534. Delany provides extended answers to all Reid-Pharr’s questions, which place particular emphasis on the author’s political and theoretical positions.

Delany, Samuel R. The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965. New York: Arbor House, 1988. Extensive and revealing memoir of Delany’s life from his graduation from high school in the Bronx to his subsequent move to...

(The entire section is 439 words.)