By Max Barry
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594205385, 400pp.)
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
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At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematicsthey are taught to persuade. Students learn to use language to manipulate minds, wielding words as weapons. The very best graduate as poets,” and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose.
Whip-smart runaway Emily Ruff is making a living from three-card Monte on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. Drawn in to their strage world, which is populated by people named Brontë and Eliot, she learns their key rule: That every person can be classified by personality type, his mind segmented and ultimately unlocked by the skilful application of words. For this reason, she must never allow another person to truly know her, lest she herself be coerced. Adapting quickly, Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy, until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Parke is brutally ambushed by two men in an airport bathroom. They claim he is the key to a secret war he knows nothing about, that he is an outlier,” immune to segmentation. Attempting to stay one step ahead of the organization and its mind-bending poets, Wil and his captors seek salvation in the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, which, if ancient stories are true, sits above an ancient glyph of frightening power.
A brilliant thriller that traverses very modern questions of privacy, identity, and the rising obsession of data-collection, connecting them to centuries-old ideas about the power of language and coercion, Lexicon is Max Barry’s most ambitious and spellbinding novel yet.
Max Barry is the author of Syrup (1999), Jennifer Government (2003), Company (2006), and Machine Man (2011). He lives in Melbourne, Australia.
"A dark, dystopic grabber in which words are treated as weapons, and the villainous types have literary figures’ names. Plath, Yeats, Eliot and Woolf all figure in this ambitious, linguistics-minded work of futurism."
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Imagine, if you will, a secret group of people called Poets who have the power to control others simply by speaking to them. Barry has, and the result is an extraordinarily fast, funny, cerebral thriller."
"An extremely slick and readable thriller."
"Barry has a gift for spinning complicated plots that aren’t weighed down by their intricacies. His prose here is dark and incisive, and he creates sympathetic (and often quite funny) characters. There’s nothing inherently scary about words, and yet the author acknowledges that they have the capacity to throw entire societies into chaos, Tower of Babel-style. In Barry’s world, evil dwells in the everyday ways the public is manipulated by language—through politicized media, push polling and targeted advertising—and words become as frightening and lethal as a looming pandemic. All this makes Lexicon more sophisticated and laden with subtext than your average genre thriller, and clearly reaffirms Barry’s status as a gifted purveyor of suspense."
—Time Out New York
"Lexicon is a strange combination of romance, thriller and science fiction. Imagine blending the works of Neal Stephenson with Michael Chabon and the end result would come close to the world envisioned by Barry. The words brilliant and exemplary aren’t adequate enough to convey the amazing craft of Lexicon." —Associated Press
"A clever blend of sci-fi and thriller, with touches of romance and humor… persuaded me anew that words are, indeed, the bomb."
—Dallas Morning News
"It's a pitch-perfect thriller, a jetpack of a plot that rocketed me from page one to page 400 in a single afternoon, and it kept me guessing right up to the end. Imagine Dan Brown written by someone a lot smarter and better at characterization and at hand-waving the places where the science shades into science fiction, and you've got something like Lexicon."
—Cory Doctorow, Boingboing.net
"[A] speedy, clever, dialogue-rich thriller."
"A crazily inventive conspiracy thriller."
“Exceedlingly original... incredibly empathetic and insightful”
—The Barnes & Noble Review
“Brazen and brilliant”
—The Wichita Eagle
“Mind-bending... an action novel that nicely exercises the brain as well as the heart rate.”
"A large helping of both action and thought… anyone who knows 1984 will remember the fanger of allowing people to love each other—but Barry handles it with skill."
"An absolutely first-rate, suspenseful thriller with convincing characters who invite readers’ empathy and keep them turning pages until the satisfying conclusion."
"An up-all-night thriller for freaks and geeks who want to see their wizards all grown up in the real world and armed to the teeth in a bloody story."
"[An] ambitious satirical thriller… amuses as much as it shocks."
“The sort of thriller that pricks real-world anxieties about privacy and coercion while rushing on with an outlandish clockwork plot. Lexicon’s clockwork is excellent, too: The book succeeds largely through Barry’s skill in managing his reader and his plot, suspending disbelief by intercutting a pair of storylines until they inevitably intersect. He always chooses immersion over exposition, letting his reader feel his way through the Chomskian mix of surveillance-society paranoia and linguistic geekiness.”
—Philadelphia City Paper
"Poets, then, wield words like weapons, and in Max Barry’s searing new novel, that’s exactly what they are, because the right sequence of sounds can unlock a person, essentially. Render someone open to suggestion. Tell them to do a thing and they will, without question. Well, vartix velkor mannik wissick! I bid you, read this book… Not that much of anything is certain in this blistering literary thriller. Lexicon twists and turns like a lost language, creating tension and expectations, systematically suggesting and then severing connections."
"About as close you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell. Lexicon reads like Elmore Leonard high out of his mind on Snow Crash."
—Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians and The Magician King
"Lexicon grabbed me with the opening lines, and never let go. An absolutely thrilling story, featuring an array of compelling characters in an eerily credible parallel society, punctuated by bouts of laugh-out-loud humor."
—Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats
"Dazzling and spectacularly inventive. A novel that jams itself sideways into your brain and stays there."
—Mike Carey, author of The Devil You Know
"I don’t know how you could craft a better weekend read than this novel of international intrigue and weaponized Chomskian linguistics. It’s the perfect mix of philosophical play and shotgun-inflected chase scenes. Like someone let Grant Morrison loose on the Bourne identity franchise."
—Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will be Invincible
“Insanely good. Dark and twisted and sweet and humane all at once.”
—Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City and The Shining Girls
"Best thing I've read in a long, long time."
—Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of Wool