When you revisit something after a long interval, you never know what you're going to get. A few days ago, I read The Story of the Amulet
, the third volume in the E. Nesbit trilogy that starts with Five Children and It
. I had been meaning to check this out since I was about 7, but somehow never located a copy. I was worried that I'd left it too late, but in the event there was no problem: it was terrific.
So when I saw a copy of Babel-17
in a second-hand bookstore yesterday, I was optimistic. I remembered thinking it was great when I was 14, so why not re-read it? But this time - oh dear. I clearly recalled finding this novel intelligent and sophisticated, but now it was, I hated to say it, naive. The characters were flat. The ending was ridiculous. And, worst of all, the linguistics was all wrong. Since it's a novel where language is absolutely central to the plot, this was a disaster.
Maybe the problem was that I just liked the book too much as a teen. I thought Rydra Wong, the poetess/linguist heroine, was so amazingly cool that I must have unconsciously internalized some of her valuations. I think I became much more interested in languages partly as a result of reading Babel-17
at an impressionable age, so really it had a very good effect on me. (How about that? An SF heroine who's actually a positive role-model for a teenage boy?) It was unreasonable to expect the book to work a second time: I'd used it up.
I still love Rydra though. I wonder if a bit of her went into Lisbeth Salander? And I'm keeping the four stars I originally gave it. After careful consideration, I think my 14-year-old self judges the book more fairly than I do.