He’s done it again: Max Barry has taken reality, mixed it with a bit of ‘what if’, spiced it up with intelligent imaginings, challenging characters and a roller-coaster plot in Lexicon. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the world should be grateful Max Barry focuses his energies on writing and not becoming a super-villain.
The Lexicon world is built on reality with targeted marketing using social media etc to build personality profiles to manipulate people. Mythology – specifically Tower of Babel mythology – is thrown in for good measure alongside a ramping up of the technology (the science fiction bit).
Wil Parke is assaulted in an airport bathroom then kidnapped. He doesn’t know why or what is going on. The kidnappers are themselves attacked, some killed. Wil and Eliot escape only to be ensnared later by friends who have become foes.
Emily Ruff is a 16 year old runaway living on the streets hustling for cash to eat. A guy in a cheap suit manipulates Emily then tries to sexually abuse her. Emily’s response to his abuse resulted in an invitation to attend an exclusive school for training.
Broken Hill NSW is a ghost town filled with rotting corpses. What this has to do with Wil, Eliot and Emily, who are all in America, unfolds over the course of the story.
Max Barry’s style features prose ranging from competent to descriptive, parsed to emphasise the plot whilst allowing the characters to reveal themselves. Lexicon’s plot is intelligent and twisty, just like Barry’s other works – Machine Man, Jennifer Government and Company. (Although his only novel I haven’t read is Syrup – it’s in my TBR pile – I have only reviewed Machine Man. When I buy books I usually give myself a break from reviewing.)
My only criticism of Lexicon is that there were multiple point of view characters going back and forth along timelines, which was confusing. Some readers will consider this a strength; twice I thought I saw gaping holes in the story and twice Barry’s skilful use of Chekov’s gun convinced me he is a master storyteller.
Lexicon is dark, dangerous and challenging. Concerns over Google, Facebook and other internet profiling will make you afraid, very afraid. Lexicon goes further, its use of mythology raising the stakes from the mundane. I highly recommend Lexicon as a thriller and science fiction.