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.
I kept being reminded of the Don't think of an Elephant short book about how language is manipulated to get people to think certain ways and I've run across some of the tidbits regarding linguistics and language development etc elsewhere and there could have been even more of that for me and it would have been fine. what there is is not heavy handed and is well enough layed out.
Here we have a well thought out story and even though it at times follows standard plot lines it is researched enough without being pedantic to keep drawing you further along. It is fast moving, entertaining and goes a step beyond "subliminal seduction" entering into some horrific moments. A chase novel that moves back and forth from present to past and slowly brings past up to rejoin. This is done well though it isn't spelled out immediately and could cause a moment's confusion but it works fine except maybe for a bit at the end where the time frames are too close. there are a couple of things I'd like to have seen explained or at least not ignored since to me you have to at least acknowledge where this "base word" came from whether you go into much detail or not. But at least theres some thought behind this and it's not a Stephen King evil spirits to explain it all type cop out.
But all in all fun and as i said with some food for thought. & on a side note, If i'm not mistaken this is the same publisher as the Pynchon Bleeding Edge debacle and these narrators (rotating male and female, which is excellently done) even do a good job with Australian accents and so the ? again surfaces, How can they get this audio so right, and the Pynchon so abysmally wrong?
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).....
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?
Max Barry is back in top form. This entertaining musing on the power of words may go to extremes to get it's point across but in a world drowning in con men disguised as salesmen this is exactly the modern parable we should celebrate.
A good concept but poorly developed? I didn't feel this book took me anywhere in particular. I didn't find the characters or their situations compelling or convincing. Perhaps, as others have mentioned, the structure was largely responsible for this.
While I hate to quibble, I do think that if you are going to pay actors to read a book requiring foreign accents, then please make sure they are up to the task. Corrigan gave a good performance overall, but when required to use an Australian accent her attempt was so poor that it was horribly distracting and broke the fictional 'dream.'
... 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.
This is my first Max Barry book, and I was very impressed. A very engaging story, good writing that held together, good narration. It was one of those audio books where I could not wait to get into my truck to listen to it. Well done!
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