Lexicon is the story of a group of people called Poets who are very persuasive; if they can pinpoint a person’s sector they can use certain words to compel them to do the Poet’s bidding. There are a lot of references to the Tower of Babel and word origins but overall the book is a very accessible read. I am not very into “sci-fi” or anything not particularly rooted in reality but Lexicon was compelling enough for me to overlook the silliness of word magic.
“Words aren’t just sounds or shapes. They’re meaning. That’s what language is: a protocol for transferring meaning. When you learn English, you train your brain to react in a particular way to particular sounds. As it turns out, the protocol can be hacked.”
There are two stories being told at once: Wil is the present and Emily in the past. Emily has the more interesting timeline. You meet her as a sixteen year old girl who is hustling on the streets and picked up by a recruiter for a very special kind of school. Her character is more developed, you learn more about the Poets and their power over language through her eyes, which to me was the most interesting.
Wil opens the book by being accosted in an airport bathroom by two men who are determined to find out what he knows, even though he doesn’t have any memories of his time spent in Broken Hill, Australia. However, Wil provides a bit more context for the ramifications of events occurring in Emily’s timeline, namely the use of the bareword. Barewords can make anyone who hears or reads the word to do whatever instructions follow; they are what cause Babel events.
Lexicon is definitely one of the better works of fiction I’ve read this year.
From the acknowledgements: “And, hey. You. Thanks for being the kind of person who likes to pick up a book. That’s a genuinely great thing. I met a librarian recently who said she doesn’t read because books are her job and when she goes home, she just wants to switch off. I think we can agree that that’s as creepy as hell. Thank you for seeking out stories, the kind that take place in your brain.”