When I first re-discovered reading for pleasure as an adult, I happened upon a bizarre book called The Flame Alphabet. I was tremendously intrigued by the concept of language being used as a weapon, but was ultimately VERY disappointed and confused by The Flame Alphabet (because it’s weird, y’all. Super weird.)
Fortunately, book lovers were there to point my uninitiated self in the direction of Snow Crash and this book. Turns out, “language as weapon” is a veritable sci-fi subgenre! Lexicon is, easily, the most palatable of the three. It’s not quite so frenetic and obsessively techy as Snow Crash, and it’s much more cohesive and engaging than The Flame Alphabet. This is usually where I like to grab the synopsis from Goodreads, but theirs is, like, 1000 words long, and I’m not trying to use the power of language to put you to sleep, here.
So, here’s an abbreviated version. Homeless hustler Emily is noticed on the street by a recruiting member of an elite organization for her above average persuasion and manipulation abilities. She gets whisked away to a secret school (aside: the “secret school for fantastically gifted” conceit will never fail to interest me, at least enough to get it on my TBR) where she develops a sort of power of language. The organization has, over time, study, and practice, been able to develop a system for classifying people into segments by personality, and then identifying primitive language phrases that will activate some obedience trigger in each segment, thereby allowing the wielder of said words to basically control them. It’s a pretty cool and terrifying concept.
Naturally, both because you’re reading a sci-fi thriller and because people are terrible and what other way could this go?, things go badly, starting in particular when Emily falls in love. Showing emotion of any kind, and particularly such a strong one as love, is strictly forbidden in the organization, because it allows other members (they call themselves poets) to firmly peg them into a personality cluster, which is dangerous. So it gets her exiled from the secret school, and she has to rebuild her life completely isolated from the organization, but still armed with the formidable knowledge she attained at the school.
Lexicon is the kind of book that’s basically all plot. I’m going to stop recapping it because SO MUCH TYPING, but where I ended there is probably not more than a quarter of the way in. It clips along at a very high pace and definitely keeps you engaged, both through the story development and the cool history of the language-based warfare. It was a nice balance of the technological world-building that I enjoy from sci-fi, with a manhunt/chase plotline plucked from a highly competent thriller. In short, recommended read and good palate cleanser that doesn’t feel too fluffy, what with the brainy language stuff. (That’s a technical term, or at least as close as I can get to one after knocking out three consecutive reviews. That’s what you get for falling behind, folks.)