Somewhere in Virginia, there is a school where the students are taught to persuade. Persuasion teaches students to learn to harness the hidden power of language and manipulate the mind to break down individuals. They do this by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts, abusing language as a weapon. The students, at this school, are training to become what is known as a “poet” and have the ultimate control over each personality type. They’ve gotten it down to a science. After all, there are 218 different personality types. If the poets piece together the correct string of syllables for the personality type, they can control that person:
A word is a recipe. A recipe for particular neurochemical reaction. When I say ball, your brain converts the word into meaning, and thats a physical action. You can see it when its happening on an EEG. What we’re doing (…) is dropping recipes into peoples brains to cause a neurochemical reaction to knock out the filers. Tie them up just long enough to slip an instruction past. And you can do that by speaking a string of words crafted for the person’s psychographic segment. Probably words that were crafted decades ago and have been strengthened ever since. And it’s a string of words because the brain has layers of defenses, and for the instruction to get through they have to be disabled all at once. (Barry 111)
Emily Ruff is an orphan living on the streets of San Francisco making a living off deceiving people with a game of “chance”. It is here that she attracts the eye of a recruiter for a school with no name. They offer her enough money for her to be willing to go with this random man. Once at the school she is rigorously tested to see if she has the natural ability to develop the skills. Over the next few years, she is trained as a poet. She is taught how to persuade and control people with words. You might be wondering how does a poet protect him or her from being controlled by another poet. The best defense they have is to never reveal anything about themselves. Emily beyond breaks this rule, she falls in love with another student. When Eliot finds out she gets expelled from the academy.
Wil is flying home, his girlfriend is on her way to pick him up. Before he leaves the airport he goes to use the restroom, while in the restroom two men come in and lock the door. They tackle him and stick a needle in his eye and ask him some questions. Are you a cat or a dog person? Whats your favorite color? Do you love your family? These rogue poets abduct Wil and he finds out that the whole life he remembers is a lie.
One year ago in Broken Hill, Australia a small town in the outback. A poet unleashed something called a bareword killing thousands of people in the process. Wil is the only one who can stop the progression of the bareword. He just needs to remember who he was before in order to stop something, under these circumstances, would be unstoppable. “In every case, the appearance of a bare word is followed by a Babel event, in which rulers are overthrown and a common tongue abandoned. In modern terms, it would be like losing English… Our entire lexicon wiped out” (Barry 111).
This conspiracy thriller is one of my favorite books of all time. Lexicon grabs you from the first page. Barry seamlessly combines modern technology with the past. You will forever be thinking twice before you post anything on social media. This book is extremely well written without being poetic or showy. Although Lexicon is a very serious book it doesn’t not take its self seriously therefore making it a slick read. Unlike a lot of thriller books Lexicon has something intellectual to say. It’s smart and different. This book never lets up there is always something crazy happening and keeping your heart racing. Max Barry does a fascinating job at tying in moments of humor to help cut the intenseness of the read without “trying” to be funny. Its comes across naturally because Barry himself is hilarious. It almost gives X-Men vibes. It hard for me to find a book that makes me care about the characters and root for them. Lexicon does more than that, it makes you feel like you are one of the characters and this is happening to you. The idea that someone could control you with just a simple string of words is utterly terrifying. It makes you think about what you aimlessly tell people everyday, about what you post on social media. You will never be able to see social media in the same light.
The world building is excellent! From San Francisco to Broken Hill, Australia you feel like you’re actually there. Romance is not the focus of this book but it’s a necessary for the development of the story. I really enjoyed reading about Emily when she was at the school in Virginia. The tests the students do is extremely fascinating. At one point they bring her into the city and she has to convince more than thirty unrelated strangers that are on the other side of the street, to come over to her side of the street. She was not allowed to use the same method of persuasion twice, she had to consecutively convince every single person on the street she could just pick and choose.
I never really intended to read this book. I’m involved in a lot of book-related communities and I have met anyone that has read this book. As a matter of fact, I knew of only one person that had ever even heard of Lexicon. One day Audible let me pick out a free audiobook from a list of about 25 different books. I hadn’t heard of any of the books, except for Lexicon so I picked it. About two years went by and it just sat in my library. Eventually, I ran out of audiobooks to listen to, as a last resort I kind of had to listen to it. I was hooked in mere seconds. Even though I’m mad that it took me so long to read Lexicon. I am so glad I did! It is now in a tie for my number one favorite book of all time. Max Barry is one of those authors that you either get or you don’t, I feel extremely sad for the ones that dislike his writing. This genre-defying book deserves your time.