Lexicon: smart, sharp technothriller from Max "Jennifer Government" Barry


Max Barry's new technothriller Lexicon is a gripping conspiracy novel about a cabal of "poets" who have mastered the deep language of the human brain and can use it to boss the rest of us around. It's a pitch-perfect thriller, a jetpack of a plot that rocketed me from page one to page 400 in a single afternoon, and it kept me guessing right up to the end. Imagine Dan Brown written by someone a lot smarter and better at characterization and at hand-waving the places where the science shades into science fiction, and you've got something like Lexicon.

In particular, Lexicon captures a lot of the stuff that makes the myth of Neurolinguistic Programming so compelling -- the idea that smart people can figure out how to make others march in lockstep just by tricking their subconsciouses into thinking that that's what they wanted to do all along. And Barry carries through the power-fantasy to its inescapable end: a secretive, paranoid, power-maddened cabal that is its own worst enemy.

Full of surprises and grace notes, this is the kind of delightful thriller that's anything but a guilty pleasure, and just what you'd expect from the author of such great books as Jennifer Government and Machine Man.

Lexicon

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  1. I’ve never found the “neurolinguistic programming” premise plausible enough for suspension of disbelief. I was willing to accept it in Snow Crash for parody purposes, but I suspect I’d find it hard to take in a straight thriller.

    1. Neal Stephenson himself gave Lexicon a shout out on Twitter yesterday, so he seems to feel it was done well. 

    2. Last time I engaged an NLP enthusiast in argument I had what seemed like the longest conversation, and so totally won after all that time, that toadstools and cream blend miraculously with azure blue sky colours while I hand the keys to my car over … that toadstools and cream blend miraculously with azure blue sky colours while I hand the keys to my car over  … that toadstools and cream blend miraculously with azure blue sky colours while I hand the keys to my car over  … that toadstools and cream blend miraculously with azure blue sky colours while I hand the keys to my car over 

      [Edit: I just re-read that and it rings really weird!]

    3. Actually, it works better than in Snow Crash, because Barry has a way of walking the reader over the bridge from what we know about persuasion to his speculative fiction premise. Barry also keeps you focused on characters and action, so that you don’t have time to fret over its implausibility.

  2. Thank you for the tip — I’ll definitely want to pick this up. It does remind me somewhat of the premise in Magister Ludi. (Which reminds me of something I’ve often thought: that BoingBoing is a precursor to the Glass-Bead Game.)

  3. I’m actually in the middle of ‘machine man’ and really enjoying it.  Funny, dark, and relevant in our smart phone obsessed times.

  4. I just re-read Snow Crash for the first time in a decade (also realized that Stephenson had set it about… nowish..), so this seems like a perfect follow up.  

  5. Looks interesting, I hope I remember it in a year when the paperback comes out.
    I wonder if I am alone in not liking hardbacks (to read at least… sitting on my shelf they look pretty). I find them too heavy and annoying to schlep back and forth to work everyday. It seems just a shame that the publishers still do this windowed release thing. All it means for me is that I see an interesting book reviewed and by the time it is out I usually have long forgotten about it.

    But…
    I have liked the Barry books so far, so yay!

    1. Try looking for an advance reader copy on ebay or from a used bookseller online, they’re all softcover.

      I did the same a couple months ago and couldn’t put this book down, I loved it. Have been recommending this to everyone I can, this book is amazing.

  6. Love Max Barry and happy to see the shout out.  Read Company if any of you have worked in an office for too long.  Both Jennifer Government & Syrup seem like those books that at the time posited outrageous scenarios that don’t seem so outrageous today.  Kinda like every time I go back and watch Brazil.

  7. How does it compare to Theodore Roszak’s “Flicker”? Or  Ian Watson’s “The Embedding”? It sounds like it could be gnarly. I will have to give it a try.

  8. Sounds a bit like “Babel-17” a Novel by Samuel R. Delany written in 1966 (which predates NLP I believe). Certainly the stuff about the deep language of the brain is not new in fiction.
    I also read some reviews of memoirs of NLP founders recently (there are several now). Someone boiled it down to “they made it all up for money”. Maybe they just read Delany and went all L Ron Hubbard?

  9. Imagine Dan Brown written by someone a lot smarter and better at characterization and at hand-waving the places where the science shades into science fiction…

    OK, well that was pretty easy.

  10. I just got this on Audible based on your recommendation Cory. It’s terrible. Maybe it works better in the written form, but somehow I doubt it. 
    The characters are unconvincing, the main male love interest is the worst written character in the whole book. 
    While the premise and some of the action is interesting, the dialogue between characters is really bad. 
    It’s a genuinely interesting idea that just jumps around too much. It could have been so much better. 

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