Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Book Review: Babel-17 by Samuel Delaney

Sometime after reading Embassytown by China Mieville, I started to look into Mieville and what he's all about. I quickly learned that the Golden Age SF writer Samuel Delany has been a huge influence on his writing. And he's not the only one; I constantly hear Delany associated with some of the best SF written to date. That's what led me to him, and of course I went for his most popular novel, Babel-17.

Babel-17 is not an easy book to read. Samuel Delany has a very difficult writing style. His prose is very descriptive, but can be hard to understand because he has a very large vocabulary. For readers like me who favor a more sparse and straight-forward style of writing, it can be very easy to tire of a Delany novel. Babel-17 is my first Delany novel, and the first novel I'v read where I had to continuously reread paragraphs, even entire pages.

This would be a good point to mention that I failed to finish the novel on either of my attempts at reading it. That's not a good sign, especially when I'm not bothered by not knowing the ending. At the same time though, I am truly impressed by Delany's writing despite it not being for me. The man clearly has a great mind. His ideas are fascinating and incredibly thought provoking. Unfortunately readers like me are left feeling left out because the prose eventually gets on their nerves. I like knowing the settings and appearances of the characters, but not to the point where the authors telling me how many pores are on a persons face.

Despite my general dislike of Delany's writing style, I respect him for being innovative. I can clearly see the influence he has had on writers like China Mieville and Iain M. Banks. Especially with Banks, whose SF is also mainly sprawling Space Opera. Banks also has a knack for telling his epics through poetic language. But the difference is that with Delany's novels, it's as if sentences are crafted to baffle the reader. I can't help but feel that if written in a clearer style, Babel-17 could have been a mind-blowing read for me.

In the end, though, my failure to fully enjoy Babel-17 does not mean I wouldn't recommend it. This may be because I know there are many out there who will eat up writing such as this. With the poetry of Roger Zelazny and the universe of an Iain M. Banks novel, there is definitely an audience out there for Babel-17. But that goes without saying. 

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