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.)