Thursday, December 12, 2013

What We’re Reading: Speculative Fiction

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
--Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Words have power. They can inflict irreparable harm or heal an old wound. They can be used to instruct or to obfuscate. And they can be used to persuade. In Lexicon, Max Berry weaves a world in which words are literally weapons, and those who wield them, individuals who call themselves Poets, are a force with which to be reckoned.

Wil Parke wakes up in an airport bathroom being held by two strange men. They have a needle stuck in his eye. When they realize he is conscious, they simultaneously try to calm him down while asking him very odd questions. They say they need to determine if he is the person they are looking for and, if he is, get him to safety. Someone is making a very determined effort to kill him...

Emily Ruff is a 16-year-old runaway in San Francisco. She ekes out a living playing three-card Monte in tourist-congested areas of the city. One day a young man who should have been an easy mark wins. Emily can’t figure out how it happened. She sees him again the following morning, confronts him, and he responds by asking her odd questions. Based on her answers, Emily is flown to Virginia to a private school for further testing. In addition to being given a classical education, the students in this school are also trained in identifying personality types and the words that can be used to influence, manipulate and control them. Emily becomes a skilled and talented student in the program. But it also becomes clear that she lacks the discipline the most talented Poets possess. This will either make her stronger than the rest, or be her undoing.

These two individuals, with disparate backgrounds and almost nothing in common, will end up at the center of a war of words that could have cataclysmic consequences for the world.

In Lexicon, Max Berry has created a thriller that combines the pressing contemporary concerns of privacy, identity, and data collection/mining with the almost mystical belief in words as receptacles of power. The result is a compelling and disturbingly believable globetrotting game of cat and mouse in which the reader will find it difficult at times to identify the "good guys." The stakes and tension run high (as does the casualty rate!). There is a great deal of violence, with one specific occurrence in the book could be difficult for some readers. The concept of training people with the proper aptitude to use words offensively and defensively is both fascinating and frightening as Barry describes it. And the idea of using psychological concepts to classify and define individuals to determine the best ways to control them (and the new ways this is being accomplished using interactive websites) is chilling. Lexicon is a novel that equally unsettles and excites to the last page.

No comments: