Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: The Word Exchange

When it comes to what's new and hot and awesome in dystopian fiction as of late, it usually centers around fascistic governments or a world recovering from a major war or disaster, or simply becoming some sort of post-apocalyptic survival story. Rarely is it one that, instead of attacking people directly, it chooses instead to attack language. Thus Alena Graedon's The Word Exchange.

There are a good deal of books that have been published over the years that deal with language and the written word as a major point, whether it be fantasy like Blake Charlton's Spellwrite trilogy, or the somewhat fantastic/paranoid like The Raw Shark Texts. In The Word Exchange, it's a computer virus that turns real, it's people getting sick (sort of like The Flame Alphabet from a few years ago) from the technology designed to help them communicate. It's technology turning on us.

The story is based around a gadget called The Meme. It's like a smartphone equipped with Google Now except it can do so much more, and one of those things is helping with word replacement. Don't know a word being used? It will explain it to you. Have a word at the tip of your tongue? The Meme can help. Not surprisingly, the world becomes significantly reliant on these things, and then language slowly starts falling apart. Nonsense words become recommended, language radically shifts, and people are slowly losing their ability to sleep, write, and basically communicate at all. Part of the story is one man's descent into language madness, and the other half is someone who has, to this point, avoided what they're calling the "word flu" and is working to try and fix the problem.

The book, as noted, is somewhat derivative in the sense that books about language being manipulated or gone bad is not a unique trope. It is, however, rare enough to end up feeling like a unique read. The technological aspects are cautionary and interesting without suffering from the sort of gadget fear that some books tend to engage in. While there is a message in here, it's not so overpowering as if you cannot enjoy the book without agreeing with the underlying premise or buying into the mentality. It's not realistic, but that's okay - it is a pretty fun, well-paced science fiction tale.

Where the book does fail a bit is that it may not follow through with the expectations you have. You only get an inkling of the type of verbal meltdown being experienced, and I was always wanting more from it. More examples, more evidence, more story from outside of the two main characters. The world built for this story was so interesting and vast that it felt unfortunate that the story of society wasn't being told more.

Overall, though, a small price to pay for an excellent read on a whole. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy language, enjoy different dystopian fiction, or are looking for something different to fill the bookshelf.

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