The Speculative Fiction Book Club focuses on science fiction, fantasy, and tales of alternate social realities. Picks include classics, contemporary, and young adult. Each meeting starts with a check-in period when attendees get a chance to summarize their feelings and rate the book at hand. Followed by free-for-all general discussion. We have an established group of regular participants, and always welcome new members.
This month we're reading Babel by R.F. Kuang!
Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller from the author of The Poppy War
From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.
Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.
1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.
For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…
Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?
“Babel has earned tremendous praise and deserves all of it. It’s Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass by way of N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season: inventive and engaging, passionate and precise. Kuang is fiercely disciplined even when she’s playful and experimental … Like the silver bars at its heart—like empires and academic institutions both—Babel derives its power from sustaining a contradiction, from trying to hold in your head both love and hatred for the charming thing that sustains itself by devouring you.” -New York Times Book Review
“A fantastical takedown of 19th-century imperialism that’s as meaty as its title. R.F. Kuang proved her prowess at blending history and magic with her debut series, The Poppy War, and she’s done it once again in this sweeping novel that blends historical fantasy and dark academia…If, as Babel suggests, words contain magic, then Kuang has written something spellbinding.” -Oprah Daily
“Absolutely phenomenal. One of the most brilliant, razor-sharp books I've had the pleasure of reading that isn't just an alternative fantastical history, but an interrogative one; one that grabs colonial history and the Industrial Revolution, turns it over, and shakes it out.” -S.A. Chakraborty, bestselling author of The City of Brass
“A fantastically made work, moving and enraging by turns, with an ending to blow down walls.” -The Guardian
"Kuang follows her award-winning Poppy War trilogy with an engaging fantasy about the magic of language. Her richly descriptive stand-alone novel about an ever-expanding, alternate-world empire powered by magically enhanced silver talismans scrutinizes linguistics, history, politics, and the social customs of Victorian-era Great Britain." -Booklist (starred review)
"It's ambitious and powerful while displaying a deep love of language and literature...Dark academia as it should be."-Kirkus Reviews
Rebecca F. Kuang is the #1 New York Times and #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of the Poppy War trilogy, Babel: An Arcane History, and Yellowface. Her work has won the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, and British Book Awards. A Marshall Scholar, she has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford. She is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale, where she studies diaspora, contemporary Sinophone literature, and Asian American literature.