Saturday, April 12, 2014

“Lexicon” by Max Barry – Deadly Words

Lexicon by Max Barry (Book cover)
Words are indeed powerful tools which can be used to teach, inspire, move, or destroy people. Ever since language was invented our capabilities to think and analyze this world have soared through the roof. In Lexicon by Max Barry things are taken one step further, as language becomes not only a tool for communication and reflection, but a very literal weapon that can be used to snuff the life out of anyone.

In this sci-fi story, we follow two protagonists: Emily, a young adult snatched off the streets and trained to become a “poet” (in other words, taught to use words as weapons) and Wil, a young man who is kidnapped for the many secrets his brain allegedly holds.Eventually the story brings the two together, and sends them on a very dangerous collision course with genocidal maniacs, taking them from the metropolis-like Washington, D.C., all the way to a tiny Australian town where all 3300 residents suddenly died.

From this very basic description, it would seem that this is just another sci-fi novel with a decent plot and a predictable development, but let me assure you that is far from being the case. Yes, some twists and turns can be seen in advance, but the real beauty here lies in the journey rather than the destination. The power of language is perhaps the biggest focus in this book, with there being numerous (and rather eloquent) discussions on how it can be used as a means to reach a very large number of ends as well as the control it holds over us and our perception of the world.

With that being said, don’t think for a second that this book is crammed with tedious passages which break up the action and force you into filler content. This is a very fast-paced novel, and any passages not dedicated to making the plot progress still have interesting and insightful information to provide. All in all, I have to say that from a technical standpoint, I’d say that the author has managed to achieve a perfect balance here, making for a very smooth flow that may actually seem a bit faster than it really is.

Yes, this novel does indeed have some flaws and quirks, such as a slightly confusing narrative structure and a couple of plot holes in regards to characters who suddenly, though very rarely, seem to become omniscient (in other words, there are a few deductions that go beyond the evidence the characters were presented with). These are just small and rather negligible blotches on the magnificent canvas the book was written, and they shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the book.

All in all, Lexicon is a very different, poetic, cerebral, and to some extent, thought-provoking science-fiction novel that attempts to stray from the genre’s well-known conventions. If you want sci-fi literature that breaks the mold, this book would be a magnificent place to start.


Max Barry (18 March 1973)

Max Barry


Personal site

Max Barry is an Australian author who also has a rather popular blog in which he discusses a large number of topics, from writing to politics. Some of his more popular novels include Syrup, Company, and Machine Man.

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