It’s rare that I find a good book these days. There’s just so many out there. I don’t even really read, I just listen to audiobooks while I’m doing other stuff. Most of the time, I just put them down and don’t pick them up. It’s not my fault, I just have other things going on and then I forget. Lexicon by Max Barry was not one of those books. I couldn’t leave it alone. I needed to know what happened and why, all the way to the end.
The premise of Lexicon is that you can use language to override the conscious mind and implant suggestions and commands that will be followed and believed without question. There is a government agency that studies this form of weaponized linguistics and it calls its operatives Poets. Each Poet is named after a famous Poet. We follow TS Elliot on his quest to stop Virginia Woolf, who has somehow used this science to wipe out a town of 10,000 people. Not only that, but anyone who goes into the town also dies.
That is one hell of a hook. And as the plot progresses and we get some answers, the suspense only builds. We follow a young student as she goes through the Poet’s training program. We also see the trained professionals in the field using the Poet’s language against each other to devastating effect. The idea of mind control is not a new one, (the story Understand by Ted Chiang features it, as does the movie Push, to name a couple) but seeing what Max Barry did with a proper treatment of the concept was breathtaking. I don’t like missing my bedtime but god help, me I had to this one time, just to find out what William Butler Yeats was up to.
If you like smart sciency prose and excruciating suspense, I can’t recommend this book enough. Throughout the chapters (often just after a shameless cliffhanger), we’re given to scientific sounding treatises on the nature of language itself and how it might work. I love that stuff. The history of the Poets, the description of Babel Events (when Language caused a cataclysm), all of that I eat it up. Not only does it help with the pacing, it creates a rich and detailed world. We’re treated to an unflinching view of all aspects. Not only violence and gore, but also some Rule 34 stuff which was a pleasant (though not-quite-my-thing-if-you-know-what-I-mean) surprise.