Thumbs up for Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. Science fiction.
What I love about Delany – in this, and in the other book I’ve read of his, The Ballad of Beta 2 – is the poetry with which he writes. There is none of this clear, hyper-readable hyper-forgettable prose that is so often the status quo. Mind you, I detest obscurity in writing, but Delany’s gift (at least, I’m told, in his early works) is being poetic and evocative while still conveying the concrete reality of his story. And what a reality he presents! I love that his future is different, not just an extension of our present. No other book I know has, as a protagonist, a beautiful poet-captain who communicates with her disembodied crewman via translation into Basque, and a dilemma that hinges on translating a foreign language: but I’ll say no more, because you should just read it for yourself. This is a lovely and unique jewel of a book.
They said in unison: “That’s why you’re such a fine poet,” Rydra went on, “I know, Mocky. I have to work things out carefully in my head and put them in my poems so people will understand. But that’s not what I’ve been doing for the past ten years. You know what I do? I listen to other people, stumbling about with their half thoughts and half sentences and their clumsy feelings that they can’t express, and it hurts me. So I go home and burnish it and polish it and weld it to a rhythmatic frame, make the dull colors gleam, mute the garish artificiality to pastels, so it doesn’t hurt and more: that’s my poem. I know what they want to say, and I say it for them.”
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