Lexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Words are weapons” is this book’s tagline. It’s true. Think about it: by speaking you can guide another person’s train of thought. The limits to the destination of the other person’s train of thought is only a matter of how well you speak.
Machine Man sealed Max Barry’s greatness as a science fiction author so I knew I had to come back for more. Enter Lexicon.
Have you ever met a person who can charm you with their words? You don’t know how or why, you only know that this person, either consciously or unconsciously, presses all the right buttons to make you succumb to their will. It’s a force above and beyond what you would normally call your typical, apparently rational decision-making process; it’s a pair of hands that hacks into your brain and into your program, the one you have meticulously created for yourself, making you gladly and willingly do things you would have “normally” scoffed at. Note: I’d like to use many more quotation marks on that “normally” if I could avoid looking like a post-modern “everything goes” pseudo-academic douchebag while doing so. I’m not sure it’s possible so let’s leave it at that.
What if there was a secret organisation that was not only aware of this weakness of the human mind to appropriate persuasion methods, but had turned the whole thing into a science, an art form, something to be studied at a Hogwarts-like institution for teens with a natural talent in manipulation?
Max Barry took this idea and ran with it past the horizon. Lexicon welcomes and incorporates aspects of sociology, neurology, linguistics and the history of language, psychology and personality types, in that you have to know one’s personality type out of 200 or so, also known as “segments”, before you can most effectively persuade them. It’s smart by implying a lot that it doesn’t say, saying a lot that is interesting and makes sense, and connecting it all together by making it fast-paced and suspenseful with just the right amount of horror. Max Barry isn’t just intelligent, he can write a damn good story and believable characters I want to see walk out of all the mess alive and well.
Another thing I liked was the interjection of online articles and snips of online conversations between chapters, hinting at the possibility of the book’s reality existing in our universe too, behind the huge system of control and profiling that the internet and the web are (also) shaping up to be. Each chapter made me think, and each snip between the chapters made me think some more. The fact that I have no idea whether the articles and conversations are real or not, even though I would put money on their genuineness, is referring to what I said the book saying a lot just by implication, or even by implication of implication.
I would have given it five stars if it wasn’t for some action-packed scenes that left me wondering what had happened. Sometimes I find it hard to follow such parts in general, and I don’t think it’s my difficulty with very specific action-oriented words and use of language when it comes to reading in English, since I have the same problem when reading in Greek. It’s the same with movies when there is a rapid procession of shots in a scene, like in the duel in SW: Episode III or in any recent disaster or superhero movie. I just don’t bother to visualise the setting and follow the action. I suppose it’s a matter of how much the book has inspired my engagement. Most action scenes in books as well as movies fail to hold my interest sufficiently, or I don’t bother with the specific details of the environment etc. Hard to say why, but the effect is there. Also on why four stars and not five: the bareword. I felt it was awkward and easier to see through for being a plot device. But I won’t say more.
If nothing else I wrote above made you warmer towards the book, at least have a look at this, the Lexicon Quiz, from Max Barry’s website. It’s a variation of the quiz used in the book for determining one’s personality segment and/or if they have the talent for becoming a poet (a member of the aforementioned secret organisation). It’s remarkably clever, cross-disciplinary just the way I like them, aware of the cultural context in which it exists and… well… placing fundamental importance on the personality type distinction between cat people and dog people. It’s a very good representation of the general feel the book gives off.
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