I somehow have been reading two books simultaneously that both deal with the concept of words that force action. The other, Snow Crash, I’ve been enjoying as an audiobook for the last two weeks and should finish soon. It’s very focused on computer language, making it a bit more inaccessible (though still enjoyable) than Max Barry’s Lexicon, which I just flew through.
Both novels reference the Tower of Babel story, as well as the god Enki (remember him from the Epic of Gilgamesh?) and the idea that words have inherent power. In Lexicon, an elite group of people called poets have the innate ability (which can be improved and focused over time) to speak a few words and then convince anyone to do anything. They believe people fall into a variety of categories, and if you can identify a person’s category, then you can say a few (nonsense, at least to me) words that will give you control over them. Beyond that, they believe in a bareword, a word that when spoken aloud or even read, will control any person at the absolute core of their existence.
“I don’t think you’ve been in love. Not recently, anyway. I’m not sure you remember what it’s like. It compromises you. It takes over your body. Like a bareword. I think love is a bareword.”
The book revolves around two main characters: Wil, who has no memory and has been basically kidnapped by a poet named Eliot; and a homeless girl named Emily who has incredible powers of persuasion that the poets want to develop for their own (sinister?) purposes. Their two stories swap back and forth, chapter to chapter, but don’t run concurrently. Therefore, we begin the story with Wil in more of a present time, then flash back to Emily every other chapter. It’s a bit confusing at first, but really works well as a plot device since what really keeps the story moving is that fact that the reader has no idea who to trust.