At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics - at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets": adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Brontë, Eliot, and Lowell - who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. 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 Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless.
©2013 Max Barry (P)2013 Penguin Audio
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
You are in for a wild ride with this near future science fiction thriller. One thing that defines this novel is movement and the pace in Lexicon is always brisk. The novel shifts quickly between time periods, locations, and points of view with many twists in the road. That almost breathless pace is a double-edged sword. It makes for a story that is exciting and there is never a dull moment. But the pace doesn't allow for the science fiction side of the tale to develop as much as I would have liked to see. The premise of using words as psychological triggers to control others has been used before, but Max Barry does have some nice new twists on the idea like the hypothesis that there might be a "machine language" for human beings - a base language that every brain uses to communicate internally and would therefore respond to if you could find those "bare words". But Barry doesn't ever quite slow the pace enough to really develop the concepts; just as one of these ideas starts to flower, we cut to an action sequence. So the sci-fi aspect of the story is relegated to mostly a plot device.
Most of the shifts between point of view were nicely done, but the plot does not unfold totally linearly and I found the shifts in time a bit confusing. In addition, there are some gaps in the plot (like a guy who can't be compromised until he is and you don't really know why) - some things don't quite jibe, but I have to admit those things didn't really hit me until after I finished the book and thought about it because while listening I was so caught up in the story.
Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman were both good narrators on the whole. My only criticism of the performances being that neither of them did a good Australian accent. I also want to note for anyone else this may happen to - when I bought this audio book, it showed up in My Library with Part 1 and Part 2 in reverse order of the way every other book has shown up. Part 2 was first under the title and then Part 1. So, I accidentally downloaded Part 2 first and had a little bit of the middle of the book's "secrets" spoiled for me before I figured out what happened.
This is a "page turner" kind of book (a great one if you are looking for something to keep you alert on a long drive) with some good characters, action oriented plot with some cool twists, interesting settings, and competent narrators. Not classic science fiction, but a very entertaining listen.
I LOVE books. And dogs & quilting & beading & volunteering.
Having never really paid a lot of attention to the insidious ways information is collected on me-(I even volunteer to participate in studies for which I am rewarded with $25.00 gift cards for Target)-I at first thought this novel was a conspiracy theorists kind of thing. Plus this is my first Max Barry Novel, I wasn't prepared for all the ideas that the story brought to my attention. Even our reviews here can become part of data gathering, all our online purchases are recorded, our purchases via credit card, store "Loyal Customer" input is collected volunteered by us to get minor discounts on purchases.
Other reviewers have already detailed the story arc so I won't repeat it here...I just suggest that even readers who aren't interested in the conspiracy theorists ideas listen to this book...and I suspect it translates better in the audio form than in the paper.
I found the audiobook enlightening, sort of scary, relevant and entertaining. Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman are excellent narrators and the story is one that responds well to having 2 different narrators....Basically Corrigan is Emily and Appelman is most of the male voices. He brings off Harrys Aussie accent ok and it's pretty easy to figure out who is talking in 1st person from the sound of Appelmans voice. Corrigan is a popular narrator for a reason---she brings so much to the person she's being in any audiobook I've heard her narrate.
As a primary protagonist, Emily isn't always someone you'd identify with-even as a homeless 16 year old hustler. She grew on me.
The story has an unexpected ending - I wasn't at all prepared for it. It's tempting to go into more detail, but I just can't do it without spoiling so I'll just leave my review here.
Worth a credit? You bet. One of the best I've heard on Audible by far.
This book attracted me because of my linguistics background. You have to read the book to "get" the title, but it doesn't require an understanding of linguistics nor even of the word "lexicon" to understand the plot.
I wanted to see what Barry would do with the language. The answer is "nothing much." It's just background for yet another world-domination-by-elitist-group-gone-rogue story and is overall rather predictable. I don't want to spoil the ending, but let me just say that it left me yawning. That's not to say that I didn't listen avidly to the whole thing--after all, Barry has a way of keeping you plugged in with his twists and turns of the story. The problem, though, is that in this book, the twists and turns are unexpected mainly because they are improbable.
A very timely book that I rather wish had been a read than a listen. Narrators are quite good, but this is a book I think would be more enjoyable (and easier to track) if page-flipping and back-tracking were possible. Is this what Edward Snowden is reading in Moscow?
Long term book junkie only recently addicted to audio books. Now my iPod and I are inseparable.
Max Barry is now one of my "I think I'll read everything he's written" authors.
I've been reading science fiction for decades, so I know how rare it is to come across a book like "Lexicon" which has not just a new ideas, but a clever, well-thought through plot, written by someone who is skilled at dialogue, characterisation and action scenes and who can unfold the story in a way that engages the reader's intellect and emotions.
The basic premise of "Lexicon" is that words have the power to control how we think and behave and that this power can be shaped into a weapon by those with the right skills.
The characters constantly explain how influence and manipulation work: get someone to pay attention to the wrong thing, play on their emotions to shape their perception of good and evil, understand their personality and then pry their psyche apart. Despite this, it took me several chapters to realize that Max Barry had been manipulating me from the first page onwards.He did it by controlling the order in which I received information, who I received it from and the emotional terms used to convey it. At least twice in the novel I had to reset what I thought I knew to be true. Barry didn't cheat. All the information correctly to understand what is going on is there but my own assumptions make me see one thing and read another.
A book that is about weaponising words is likely to appeal to those of us with a recreational addiction to fiction. We KNOW words have power, so we are ripe for the ideas in this novel. If, like me, you've been trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), public speaking, influencing skills, psychometric assessment and you read tarot cards and palms as a party trick, then the early parts of this book are frighteningly familiar. The book takes what I know I can do and then asks me to imagine what a motivated person, with REAL talent, no social ties, no inhibitions and the support of an organization with generations of research at their disposal, could achieve.
"Lexicon" is filled with coercion, violence and killing from the first page. Max Barry doesn't pull his punches but he doesn't turn the violence into pornography either. He makes it too real and too repulsive for that.
His main evil-incarnate character is suitably chilling but I could write that off as stereo-type. Elliot and Emily I got to know and like and care about, so what they did, to others, to each other and to themselves had much more impact.
My only niggle with the book is the last chapter. It's not where I would have gone with this. It felt like the kind of thing Hollywood might have changed in the movie version to ensure they stayed firmly in the summer blockbuster segment. But then, I'd never have thought up something as clever and powerful as "Lexicon" in the first place, so I'll go with Barry's judgement.
I listened to "Lexicon" as an audiobook, which, I think, made the book even more exciting. Zach Appleman did a splendid job as the rugged, world-weary, Elliot. His American accents are perfect and he at least managed to sound like he'd been to Australia. Heather Corrigan was marvellous at evoking Emily's vulnerability and her strength but her attempts at Australian accents ranged from unconvincing to inappropriately hilarious. Nevertheless, both narrators kept me listening, often on the edge of my seat.
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
Max Barry writes a very unusual type of science fiction: they appear to be, from blurbs and a plot summary, thrillers set in the world of today, with a SF twist, along with a bit of farce and horror. This isn't wrong, of course, but it misses part of what makes the author so interesting. Barry somehow manages to combine propulsive plots with science fiction tropes in a way that is both really fun, but also offers insightful commentary on contemporary social issues. Jennifer Government pushed past the standard cyberpunk to satirize globalization and libertarianism, The Company goes beyond an Office Space-style parody of big business in interesting ways, and so on. I liked these, but I think Lexicon is his best book.
In this case, the less revealed about the actual plot, the better (though Google "Langford's Parrot" to get in the properly paranoid mood). However, the twists on the power of language are interesting, both for plotting and in thinking about our world in a time of Big Data, online personalization, and targeted advertising. It is hard to not come away from the book without thinking more about how language causes individuals to take action. The book also manages to throw in a bit of Harry Potter (if the Muggles were treated by Wizards in the way that you would expect) and a new take on the zombie apocalypse for good measure.
I loved the reading, though, even as a non-Australian, I could tell that the female narrator was having some issues with the accent, though these didn't bother me. Ultimately, I found myself coming up with reasons to listen, since it was that compelling. I would definitely recommend this, especially to those who like near future and thoughtful science fiction (Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson).
Typical cat lady: lazy, sings off-key, craves spicy bloody marys.
I stopped listening only long enough to run to the Ace hardware store where they wouldn't let me have a discount unless I gave them my phone number. Gave my work phone number and voilà, all my personal details showed up on the screen. This story hits so close to home that I want to pull down the shades, throw my cell phone away, get off of the Facebooks, store up enough water and vittles, grab a shovel and get off the grid. Today.
Highly recommend this intriguing, modern story about how They control us. Also curious what "type" I am (both a cat *and* a dog person).....
... and then it seems the editor took a break halfway through. i really liked the ideas in this book and it had some very creative ideas, but then it becomes hard to follow because it jumps around a bit too much. this made the book lose some of its steam. still, it's definitely worth a listen despite this.
I thoroughly enjoyed the many accents by the actors. It really was a joy to listen to and made everything more believable. However, I found the story a so-so interpretation of an interesting idea : words and neuro chemistry. I didn't find the writing particularly strong and things, overall, felt a little in the dull side. I would maybe be open to a different interpretation of the themes and ideas of this book by a different author.
As I began listening to "Lexicon," I couldn't help but draw parallels to "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. In both books, the protagonist is a disadvantaged teenage girl using her smarts to beat the elite who control the masses in a near future dystopian society. I enjoyed "The Hunger Games" a lot. I enjoyed "Lexicon" almost as much.
The difference is, Lexicon kept me hankering after details and information that would explain exactly where these characters came from and how they tick. Author Max Barry knows how to tell a story - and crafting a tight, exciting plot is clearly his strength. I wonder if he's written screen plays because that's the flavor of this book every once in awhile. And yet I have to concede, Max Barry is a talented wordsmith, so why not use some of those words to explain some "whys" in addition to the "whats" and "whens?" Maybe clue us in on how the characters became who they are before they hit the ground running for the thrill ride of "Lexicon." The characters seemed almost incidental to the story, if that makes any sense. The author's amazingly creative idea of a world where words are weapons and transparency is weakness, intrigued me. However, in his excitement to show the reader all the cool stuff that happens in this world, characterization suffers. Barry glosses over details that would give the story more poignancy and heart. The biggest explosion or gun battle ends up sort of "meh" for me if I'm not significantly invested in the person in peril.
All in all, I liked "Lexicon." The ideas and themes of the novel are worth pondering. The warning bell sounded in response to our society's propensity for sharing information way too easily (but wait a sec! I got 10% off at Macy's just for signing up for their emails!) is ample food for thought. It's just that in the real world, providing personal information for your novel's protagonist elevates the book from "good" to "great."
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