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WesternSFA
Lexicon
by Max Barry
Penguin Group, $16.00, 387pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
We are living the future.  George Orwell predicted it in his novels in the 1940s:  the future of surveillance and propaganda.  Lexicon is about that future; the one we are living today.  

Data is being collected on every individual in the world from online posts and social media, letters to the editor, surveys -- everywhere information is freely given and easily collected.  This personal data (as innocuous as an individual’s fear of snakes or of being jobless or your position on animal rights or gun control) is being used to manipulate our political views, voting, product use, and the way we feel: euphoria, intense rage, insurmountable depression, even mass hysteria.  A greater police presence is on the street, body scans and metal detectors, photo IDs, and video monitors are put in place and never removed. 

On the internet, bloggers are theorizing on how the news networks lead our reasoning in one direction without actually giving cause or specifics.  News with sensational headlines die out quickly without ever providing us with a satisfactory conclusion of the event – it’s just never mentioned again.  Chat pages go back and forth over conspiracy theories:  Who’s behind mass shootings?  Terrorist threats?  Whole cities on lockdown for days?  Propaganda is parsed out, but provides no valid information.

This fast-paced thriller jumps from present events to past and back to the present.  It crosses the times seamlessly through the separate narratives and seemingly unparallel lives of Wil Parke and Emily Ruff. 

From the opening lines when Wil regains consciousness in an airport men’s room, held hostage by men who proceed to take him on a high-speed adventure to evade capture and death, this brilliant tale never slows down.  Under the protection of Tom Eliot -- one of the men who attacked him -- and pursued relentlessly by someone named Woolf, Wil learns that everything about his past was false.   To discover his true past and why he alone survived the catastrophe that killed the entire population of his hometown, he and Tom must find a way to Broken Hill , Australia . The official cause -- we know this from the evening news -- was a mine explosion, complete with deadly chemical gas.  Only a select group of people know that the true nature of the catastrophe wasn’t caused by a chemical.  Or an explosion.  It was a word.  And their mission is to find out why Wil Parke was immune to it.

Elsewhere, Emily Ruff is a young, homeless street busker with a talent: she can influence people and persuade them to give her money.  She is recruited to go to an elite school to increase her power of persuasion.  The school, as well as worldwide governments and ordinary citizens, is run by the Poets, a secret organization that has harnessed the power of words to manipulate the mind and persuade us to the point that we have no choice but to do what they say.  Emily is eager to learn in school, develops a bond with Eliot, one of the school’s administrators, doesn’t follow the rules and gets a fellow student killed in an accident.  She is exiled until she can learn control and will then be called back by the Poets.  For three years, Emily lives in Broken Hill , Australia

As the two stories begin to parallel, we learn about the incredible abilities of the Poets and the words they use to control and kill.  I was immersed in this brilliant, suspenseful tale of power through language.  ~~ Marie Davis

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