Cover image of "Lexicon," a sci-fi novel in which words kill

Words kill? Max Barry says yes in Lexicon.

So, here’s the deal: psycholinguistics and associated fields of cognitive science have progressed to the point that a supersecret, transnational organization is able to marshal the power of words to kill thousands on its way to ruling the world. A likely story, you say? Well, yes. Far-fetched to the max.

Just to be clear, these aren’t words that are familiar to you and me. Of course not. They’re such constructs as vartix, megrance, justitract, velkor, and mannik. Through some unknown neurological process, combinations of nonsense syllables such as these are said to open up pathways in the brain that enable wordsmiths — Barry calls them “poets” — to control the lives of others.

Wil Pearce and Emily Ruff are two young people who fall into the clutches of the “organization.” Lexicon follows their individual stories until, inevitably, they intersect. Emily possesses rare talent for “persuasion” and thus excels as a poet. Wil may be the only human being on the planet who is immune to her words.

Lexicon by Max Barry ★★☆☆☆

Lexicon is clearly an effort by the author to reach for deeper truth about the human condition. But it’s hard to take seriously such a silly story.

Max Barry is an Australian writer who has published five novels, five collections of short stories, and three books of essays. He is frequently referred to as a science fiction writer, though if Lexicon is representative of his work, the label may be misplaced. “Science fiction?” Not really. Science fantasy, for sure.

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