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Lexicon: A Novel by Max Barry

Lexicon: A Novel (original 2013; edition 2014)

by Max Barry

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1,266916,240 (3.88)107
Title:Lexicon: A Novel
Authors:Max Barry
Info:Penguin Books (2014), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Science Fiction

Work details

Lexicon by Max Barry (2013)

  1. 30
    Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Both books are non-traditional geeky mystery/thrillers.
  2. 20
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (kaipakartik)
    kaipakartik: Similar concepts about Language and all powerful words
  3. 10
    The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (dmenon90)
    dmenon90: Resourceful heroine, mad circumstances, (sort of) unknown adversary, supernatural element, large mysterious multinational organization, heroine becomes outlier, fighting within organization
  4. 10
    Embassytown by China Miéville (Longshanks)
    Longshanks: A gorgeously-written modern sci-fi tale that examines the power and foibles of our own language.
  5. 10
    The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (TFleet)
    TFleet: Both novels feature a female protagonist, whose ability with language is crucial, in a life-and-death struggle with antagonists of greater power.
  6. 00
    The Incrementalists by Steven Brust (reconditereader)
    reconditereader: Both are twisty books about secret organizations, and both are page-turners full of action.

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Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
4.5 stars

Words have power. We all know this, especially as readers we are aware of the magic of words. And if we have seen any applied neurolinguistics - the magician Derren Brown, for instance, using his training and the force of his personality to either guide people’s choices or, more disturbingly, seemingly bend them to his will, both with the careful hidden placement of trigger words - we see the shared route of the two meanings of the word ‘spell’.

Max Barry posits that something even more powerful and immediate can be achieved than that which we see in the edited Derren Brown TV shows, that there are words and phrases that can control us all, different ones depending on our ‘personality segment’, and that an organisation exists of people who train in and wield this power.

Emily Ruff, a vagrant getting by on small con-jobs and sleight-of-hand tricks is recruited for training and becomes embroiled in a something even darker, their idea that there are ‘barewords’, ur-words in some primal proto-language that bypass the cortex and can control anybody, instantly and completely.

Barry presents what is both a superb, engaging, white-knuckle thriller and also an exploration of language and control. Through fragments from media stories and message board discussions between chapters he draws parallels between the blunt-force over-riding control of these ‘magic’ words and the more subtle and pervasive and more real - and hence more frightening - power of media manipulation. The book also touches on the philosophical idea of how much language creates reality by affecting our perception of it, as well as motifs of trust and loyalty and power.

This is a dark book - I haven’t given it the horror tag for nothing - but, as always with Max Barry, it is also deeply humanistic and is threaded through with real humour. Read it and, if you haven’t already, read [b:Jennifer Government|33356|Jennifer Government|Max Barry|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386919578s/33356.jpg|1647] too, for good measure.
( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |

My first Max Barry. Maybe my last...

Suspension of Disbelief necessary to read the book.

The characters are overall pretty weak. The rest of the novel is not solid enough to compensate for this shortcoming. The particular of the central plot device is also way, way over the top.

This is one of those books where the sum does not equal some of the good of its parts. The idea is brilliant, the writing is somewhat solid, but the execution is quite flawed, and left me wanting.

Lexicon's gimmick plays on a premise that any lover of language will enjoy (I surely did), ie, that words have power, literally.

Unfortunatelly getting into the science of this magic system quite in depth was not enough to save the novel. In fact, repeating this over and over again throughout the book became quite exhausting. While some of the ideas regarding how this magic system worked were quite scientific, the restatement of the details ad nauseum got exhausting.

I was constantly hammered over the head with all the nuances and details that went into how words functioned, and whatnot. By the end of it, I felt like I was reading more about psychology than magic. I like my magic systems to be logical and have science behind them, but I don't want to read a treatise on how they work.

Now, let's digress a little on the power words used in the book. On this topic the novel also fails miserably. Some of the power words throughout the book are just plain ridiculous and completely unutterable. They look like someone (a 5-year old...?)just put together a bunch of random letters together. That's why I've started this review by talking about the necessity of Suspension of Desbelief being necessary to try enjoying the novel. All this takes away the believableness of the magic system and the seriousness of it.

In this internet age is language mightier than the sword...? The answer is no, if you go by this novel.
" ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
Lexicon by Max Barry is a change of style and tone for the author of the charming yet incisively satirical Jennifer Government. I quite enjoyed Jennifer Government, which was fun, fast-paced and yet sharply political in its critique of the privatization of government functions, the constant drumbeat of taking the public good and looking to make profit from it. An example, by the way, being how Nestle rents land and gets a government permit to suck up public water supply and resell it for many millions of dollars, even during droughts, even near Flint, Michigan while it was starving for water.

In Lexicon, Barry is again taking on some political issues including our privacy rights through corporate and government tracking and the political of social persuasion, which might cover political propaganda and advertising. He does so through the concept of a fantastical invented “power” to use words to control minds. This ability can be taught, although it has a science-y veneer on it (like an extreme version of NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which the CIA began researching in the 50s), in the way it’s conceived it’s essentially a mind control spell using words. This premise, now retrospectively, rather obviously relates to the brainwashing that allowed half the country to rationalize voting for a sexual abuser for President. So in that regard, the themes here are timely.

The tone of this book has shifted dramatically from his previous work. Lexicon is dark and extremely violent, with much murder and torture. It is a primarily an intense and fast-paced thriller. There is hardly the slightest humor here; it’s quite a grim and serious. Does that work for Barry? Well, for the most part, if you can stomach it. I found it to wear on me a bit. I think perhaps it just took itself a little bit too seriously for my taste. Perhaps I went into it from Jennifer Government expecting a little fun, but it’s all dark.

As a political allegory, it was imperfect, but generally valid. It gets confused in trying to associate what actually happens in the story with a message, but I think once the premise is set thematically, the plot is where the thriller line comes into play. One might say that the theme is a veneer that doesn’t live that deeply within the plot, but for the most part, that’s okay. The thriller storyline is pretty well done. I will say, that having just read Dark Matterimmediately after this, being another Science Fiction thriller, Dark Matter by comparison is a superior thriller. Both from the perspective of the science behind the story and the intensity of the drama. A great thriller has to make you care about the characters so much that you feel their panic and fear, wanting them to survive. While Barry writes a nice plot with many unexpected twists and cliffhangers, and I did care to some extent about the main character, the connection was not as strong as it could have been. It could be the changing points of view detracted from the drama, whereas Dark Matter is so tight on the main character, it leaves you intensely invested in the main character’s survival.

Regarding the political message of the story, there was one two-page chapter that stuck out for me and really bothered me. Barry would occasionally cut away from the storyline to intersperse excerpts from news articles, blog or social media posts, or message board threads that related to events happening in the story. One two-page blog post that was about how “every media is biased,” and it was in the context of “people get mad at me for watching Fox News” but all of YOUR media is biased, blah-blah-blah. And the article just kind of floated there, with unchallenged context and not directly related to other aspects of the story. It angered me because it manipulates the meaning of “bias.” FOX NEWS is NOT “biased” just like every other news source out there. There are certain news sources, I’m thinking of truly progressive news magazines, such as The Nation that work very hard to think critically and research facts that they believe to be an accurate and true analysis of situations. Yes, they have an overarching point of view, but they have come to this based on a sense of fairness and justice for all. This is an undisguised ideology of equality. What they claim to stand for is what they stand for. Whereas FOX comes in seeking to MANIPULATE facts and words to promote a DECEPTIVE ideology. They claim to be unbiased and factual when in fact they are biased and deceptive. And they actively promote politicians who claim to support the working class and middle class when in fact they really only support the most wealthy and corporations. They deceive and lie, so, no, the bias of FOX versus the bias of The Nation is not the same thing. And that chapter stuck out like a sore thumb in Barry’s political motifs.

All in all, it was a solid book, with drama and a fascinating premise. I found the ending a bit abrupt and perhaps inappropriate to the story that lead up to it, but I won’t post a spoiler. It seemed like a rather facile twist. Here’s a spoiler though…if you can only pick ONE sci-fi thriller, I’d go with Dark Matter. ( )
  David_David_Katzman | Nov 11, 2016 |
This is one of the best books I read this year. It was fast paced and exciting without limiting or removing the importance of language and story. I want to read more from Max Barry. I would highly recommend this to EVERYONE! ( )
  ceciliachard | Oct 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Poets—yes, you read that right, poets—are specially-trained operatives who can change the minds of anyone, provided they use the right words in the right way. This two-tiered narrative gives us Emily, who has been recruited to join the mind-control group, and Wil, who is being tortured when the book opens and as his amnesia recedes, we see more and more of his link to the poets. ... As always, Barry is a social critic first and foremost. The power of his work comes from the absurdist take he has on already-absurd elements of our consumer-driven, advertising-fueled culture. Mark this one up as another winner in the Barry canon.
added by KelMunger | editLit/Rant, Kel Munger (Oct 10, 2013)
So there are several different genres and tones jostling for prominence within “Lexicon”: a conspiracy thriller, an almost abstract debate about what language can do, and an ironic questioning of some of the things it’s currently used for. The sheer noise of the thriller plot and its inevitable violence end up drowning out some of the other arguments Barry is making.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Max Barryprimary authorall editionscalculated
Achilles, GretchenDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staehle, WillCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics — at least not in the usual sense. They are taught to persuade, to use language to manipulate minds, to wield words as weapons. The very best graduate as "poets" and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose.

Whip-smart runaway Emily Ruff is making a living from three-card monte on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. Drawn into their strange world, which is populated by people with names like Brontë and Eliot, she learns their key rule: that every person can be classified by an extremely specific personality type, his mind segmented and ultimately controlled by the skillful application of words. For this reason she must never allow another person to truly know her, lest she herself be coerced. Adapting quickly, Emily becomes the school's most talented prodigy, until she makes a catastrophic mistake. She falls in love.

Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Parke is brutally ambushed by two men in an airport bathroom. They claim he is the key to a secret war he knows nothing about, that he is an "outlier," immune to segmentation. Attempting to stay one step ahead of the organization and the mind-bending poets, Wil and his captors seek salvation in the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, which, if stories are true, sits above an ancient glyph of frightening power.

A brilliant thriller that connects very modern questions of privacy, identity, and the rising obsession of data collection to centuries old ideas about the power of language and coercion, Lexicon is Max Barry's most ambitious and spellbinding novel yet.

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Emily Ruff belongs to a secretive, influential organization whose "poets" can break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. Then she makes a catastrophic mistake and falls in love with Wil Jamieson who holds the key to a secret war between rival factions of "poets." In order to survive, Wil must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, as the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless.… (more)

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