Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Nebula Update: Babel

I am continuing my project to read all of the Nebula Award winners for Best Novel. The latest winner was Babel, by R.F. Kuang. The actual full title is "Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution".

Babel takes place in an alternate history, where the Industrial Revolution is powered by silver magic, which depends on the talents of translators to perform the magic. By "translators" I mean actual translators; the magic depends on the subtle differences in meaning between words in different languages.

The book is exceedingly well written and a blistering indictment of colonialism. I think it is a bit of a letdown as an alternate history, though. I believe the availability of magic would have led to greater differences than just "the Industrial Revolution is powered by magic". I also did not come away from the novel with conclusions about 19th century England or the present day. Why was violence a "necessity"? Is it now? If not, what does it say that we got from there to here without it as a primary driver of change.

4 out of 5 stars.

As in 2019, that leaves me with:

  1. 1966: Babel-17
  2. 1968: Rite of Passage
  3. 1978: Dreamsnake
  4. 1981: The Claw of the Conciliator
  5. 2018: The Stone Sky 
My current plan is to finish this off relatively soon by listening to these as audiobooks.

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