Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 book 91

Alena Graedon's The Word Exchange
Durham native Graedeon's (I'm pretty sure her parents are the People's Pharmacy folks) first novel takes place in a near future (not that the dates given in the book add up to any sort of reasonable timeline, unless the protagonist was a VERY late-in-marriage baby) where everyone basically relies on a VR/Siri type thing that is integrated into their brains or something (I don't know how to explain). Protagonist Ana's father is opposed to these sorts of things, being the editor of the only remaining print dictionary in America. But then he disappears, and people start to come down with "word flu"--a fairly terrifying form of aphasia--and Ana has to try and figure out what the heck is happening. In general, this is a pretty solid literary-themed sci-fi/thriller sort of story. Parts of it move a little slowly--my eyes glazed over whenever Hegel was discussed, which was more than a few times, and there are some lengthy exposition dumps--and she leans a bit heavily on the foreshadowing (lots of "Had I only known" and "I never used that again" and "Later, I regretted"). I also wish there was less of people deliberately leaving Ana in the dark. But Graedon does some interesting things once the word flu starts getting more dominant--she manages a nice balance of functional narrative with complete gibberish. Now, it is a bit heavy-handed that reading REAL BOOKS can serve as a cure (like, why is this even available in the e-book format in which I read it?), but I really liked this as a meditation on, like, the meaning and development of language. Fascinating stuff. B/B+.

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