Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange: What it is about

From the publishers: “In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .

Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

The Word Exchange: What I thought

This book reminded me of Lexicon by Max Barry, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. It amazed me that two novels are published this year in which words and dictionaries play a powerful role in a near future. Coincidence? Do you know of other books like this that were recently published?

I enjoyed this book in about the same way as Lexicon: well-written, often very interesting, but also a bit long-winded and unlikely. Physically, the hard-back copy is a beauty. Quite heavy (but still bed-reading-worthy). Nice cover, nice paper.

The story was fun: using their Memes (mobiles) people can think of new meanings of (new) words. A virus called “word flu” spreads around and people around Anana become affected. Especially fun was how Bart, who narrates part of the story, becomes less and less comprehensible as he gets more sick from the virus. Lucky for the reader, most of his story can be understood even with words replaced by nonsense words. Still, it was a fun idea.

Anana goes here and there and is being followed and threatened, as she tries to find out where her father has disappeared to. That went on a bit too long for me. I did enjoy reading about Bart who was in love with Anana, while she found him annoying, to start with at least. Anana’s father telling his story with a lot of background was a bit boring. The scene in which Anana visits a basement where dictionaries are being destroyed was amazing.

So, a bit of the good and a bit of the bad. Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 370

First published: 2014

I got this: from Doubleday Publishers via my Dutch Random House rep

Genre: science fiction, speculative fiction


Book Review: Have Wormhole, Will Travel by Tony McFadden

Have Wormhole, Will Travel by Tony McFaddenHave Wormhole, Will Travel: What it is about

From the publishers: “Vampires? No Such Thing.
Aliens, though, that’s something else.
They’ve been here, living quietly among us, since before the Industrial Revolution.

Their goal: To ensure we never leave our Solar System. We have a bad habit of wiping out indigenous populations, and theirs is the nearest inhabited planet to ours.

So when a scientist at Sydney University harnesses the power of wormholes, making interstellar travel a virtual walk in the park, one of these tall, pale-skinned aliens, Callum, is forced to choose: destroy us, or help us survive the inevitable Armageddon.

8 billion Earthlings, and our survival is in the hands of one guy – alien – meant to wipe us out.

Have Wormhole, Will Travel: What I thought

Now, where did I read this before: Alien(s) come to Earth to stop Earthlings from developing potentially dangerous (to the aliens) technology? I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but reading two books like this in (almost) a row, makes you compare, and the other book came out as the (much) better.

But still, this was a fun read. Three friends, young women, believe that the very light skinned, light-avoiding men they see around, are vampires. And they’ll prove it, too! The men, Callum and Jacob are more or less stalked by the women and eventually have to admit: they’re not vampires, but aliens. There is proof, too.

Meanwhile, at the university, where Callum is working as a lab assistant, physics research is advancing more rapidly than he thought possible. His alien colleagues back at the home planet have only one solution. But the consequences are severe and really, Callum is enjoying life as it is. He doesn’t want change.

Together with the reluctant human scientist and the women friends, they try and save Earth from a horrible fate.

It wasn’t always believable and sometimes the story went a little too fast for me. The women characters were broadly interchangeable. But it was still fun to read and I liked the idea of just a few aliens keeping an eye on things on Earth. Who knows? Your neighbor could be from the Andromeda galaxy!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (Okay to Good)

Number of pages: 226

First published: 2013

I got this: from Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: speculative fiction, science fiction

Book Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans by Matt HaigThe Humans: What it is about

From the publishers: “It’s hardest to belong when you’re closest to home . . .

One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears.When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog.Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?”

The Humans: What I thought

What does it mean to be human? Who better to show you than an alien in the body of a human? In this case, a mathematics professor who has proved the Riemann hypothesis. Now, that is bad news for the universe, because with this knowledge, the humans could do a lot of damage. So, this unnamed alien has come from his beautiful, perfect and logical planet to kill everyone who is aware of the proof of the hypothesis.

First to be killed is the professor himself, and the alien takes his body. He discovers how extremely ugly humans are, how illogical and emotional (he is used to very logical thinking which is not clouded by any emotion). And especially, how awful their food is. The only friend he makes is the dog, Newton, who he can sort of converse with.

He discovers all kinds of things about humans, often things that we human readers know well enough, but never really think about. He also discovers a lot about human relationships, given that he is plunged into the professor’s family life, with a wife, Isobel, and a son, Gulliver. Soon, they actually like him better than the original professor, although they of course have no idea he’s not him.

He begins to find it more and more difficult to kill the remaining humans who know about the professor’s discovery. In fact, he starts to like being human.

This is a wonderful story about humans and humanity, laugh out loud funny at times, and sad at others.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)

Number of pages: 294

First published: 2013

I got this: from the author in a Twitter competition

Genre: contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction

Extra: I also read The Radleys (*****) by Matt Haig

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