Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lexicon: Don’t ruin my fun, Chomsky

So I kind of liked Lexicon. *bounces involuntarily*


The book opens in an airport bathroom, where two men have wrestled poor unsuspecting Wil Parke to the floor and slid a needle into his eyeball, all the while muttering about a secret war and an outlier and poets and IMMINENT DOOM. In a separate narrative, young runaway-turned-hustler Emily Ruff is recruited to a prestigious school where students are taught how to use words to persuade . . . but not just to persuade, to control. And—surprise!—these two plotlines turn out to have something or other to do with each other.

I’ve heard this story compared to X-Men, which I can definitely see, with the private school for “special youths” and the division between those who wield a mystical power (poets) and those who don’t even know it exists as an option (the rest of us). One big difference is that mutants don’t come into it. No one is born with the ready-made ability to use language as a weapon; you may have a natural proclivity toward persuading or resisting persuasion, but you still have to learn the skills and perfect them the hard way, hence the fancy school.

And not everyone uses this training responsibly.

As fantastical as the premise seems, the methods poets use to tiptoe past the human mind’s natural filters and issue commands that the recipient will unquestioningly follow kind of hold up. I’m sure Noam Chomsky could poke all kinds of holes in the scientific logic here, but to us plebes, it seems feasible enough. And that faint ring of real-life truth is the key ingredient in all the best sci-fi premises, I think.

In what is otherwise fairly straightforward prose, Max pops in a lot of snappy descriptions.
“There were silver plates with bite-size constructions of meat and bread and paste and whatever. She picked one up only because it got her out of this conversation. It was actually not bad. Weird, but not bad-weird. This was her whole day, on a cracker.” (p. 56)
“It was early but the sun was peeking above the buildings and seemed excited to be there.” (p. 65)
“[He] began to pull her machine apart. She felt a little sad. She was learning that people were just machines and it was working the other way a little, too.” (p. 99)
Were you about to ask if there's romance? Of course there's romance. Although it's fairly no-nonsense and grounded, and interspersed between thrilling action sequences. Hear that, boys?


  1. I'm pretty sure this is the third recommendation to read this book from our little group so FINE. I will do it.

  2. And once again, we succeed in BULLYING you into reading a good book. *smacks baseball bat in hand menacingly*

  3. I had this book from the library, and then life got in the way and I had to give it back.

    That might just have been The Book Mistake of 2013, and I miss it already. Even moreso after reading this post, because you mentioned Noam Chomsky, my unhealthy nerd crush. So double points for your incredible incrediblosity.

  4. I'm super-not interested in the giant conspiracy type of thing, but I HIGHLY enjoyed this:

    “It was early but the sun was peeking above the buildings and seemed excited to be there.”

    Well done, sir.

  5. Noooooooo go back to the library! Noam urges you!

  6. Alice "Not Impressed by Conspiracies" Burton, I still think you would enjoy this one. But GOOD thing this isn't what I got you for Secret Santa. I mean...what Santa got you for...oh bollocks.

  7. Well, in that case...

    I mean, I'll do just about anything Noam tells me..wait a minute...maybe THAT'S my secret mind-control word!

  8. Really? The THIRD? Dammit. I am behind hand. /rushes to the library website

  9. The important question is, does this book come with a Fassbender/McAvoy menage? Because...

  10. In the secret spaces of our minds...yes. Every day.

  11. I dunno if every day would be too much or too little. It's all very confusing and mesmerizing.

  12. This book sounds SO good! I'd asked for it for Christmas but didn't get it. Nobody buys me books any more and life is certainly the more tragic for it. I reckon I'll have to buy it for myself!

  13. I am now picturing you standing in the middle of your bookstore, looking forlorn. Someone buy this woman a book!