A dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange offers an inventive, suspenseful, and decidedly original vision of the dangers of technology and of the enduring power of the printed word.
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.
Graedon's spectacular, ambitious debut explores a near-future America that's shifted almost exclusively to smart technologies, where print is only a nostalgia, and nostalgia is only an archaism. But while everyone carries "Memes," devices with enough data to negate the need for memory let alone vocabulary and can even anticipate wants and needs, Anana Johnson works closely with her anti-Meme father Doug, a famous lexicographer, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But when Doug goes missing, what once seemed like a luddite's quaint conspiracy theory takes on new plausibility, and with it, new threat, as the city quickly falls victim to a fast-spreading "word flu" virus. Chapters alternate between Ana's narration and the journal entries of her friend and colleague Bart, shedding light and inserting lacunae by turns. With secret societies, conspiracies, and mega-corp Synchronic's menacing technologies, Graedon deploys all the hallmarks of a futuristic thriller, but avoids derivative doomsday sci-fi shtick. Instead, her novel is rife with literary allusions and philosophical wormholes that aren't only decorative but integral to characters' abilities and limitations in communicating, and it succeeds precisely because it's as full of humanity as it is of mystery and intellectual prowess.
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Thoughtful and relevant dystopia
A good read for lovers of language: how can the undoing of our language unravel our social fabric, and could technology be the ultimate threat?
The Word Exchange
Graedon's first novel incubated into a series of episodes presented as each character tells their first person narrative. Found it confusing and difficult until the end when she reveals who and why is telling this sci-fi take on societies' love affair with technology. The concept is very interesting- the demise of the dictionary
The Word Exchange
In THE WORD EXCHANGE we are given a glimpse at some new technology soon to be coming our way. It is called the Meme and it can do virtually anything for you. Need a cab, Meme will hail it for you. Need to pay the restaurant check, Meme will do it for you. Want to watch a movie, Meme will stream it for you. Want to take a nap, Meme will give you some sleeping medicine. Don't know the meaning of a word, Meme can help with that, for a price of course. Isn't that how everything works? By simply wearing the new Meme on your forehead or your wrist you can have all this and more in your life. If you really want to get things easier you have the option of implanting the chip inside your head. Should you change your mind, they can be removed.
In THE WORD EXCHANGE we see how much easier our lives can be when we use technology and how things are perhaps resisted by a few people when it becomes available. We first see Anana when she becomes worried that Douglas, her father has missed their scheduled dinner date. They'd been doing for that past few weeks since her boyfriend had broken up. In the beginning no one seems to take her seriously as she tends to be a little neurotic.
Douglas helps to publish the North American Dictionary of the English Language and has managed to neglect the use of technology for the most part. Before he left, Douglas placed several clues for his daughter to find. In the weeks prior to his disappearance, he'd tried to talk with Anana. He'd tried to convince her that we needed print in our lives and of the dangers of using the Meme. In fact, he'd even given her a couple bottles of antivirals he had lying around with instructions when to use them.
One of the first people Anana contacts on Doug's disappearance is Bart his assistant. In the beginning, he too doesn't think anything of it. As time passes he begins to realise Doug has disappeared and in between living his life and a new job offer Bart tries to help Anana. Before long the word flu is in the open and people are dying from the word flu. Just what is it and how did it start?
THE WORD EXCHANGE is a new take on old ideas. It gets you to thinking just how much technology do we really need and why is it that we're so stressed all the time with these new toys. What new problems will we gain, both physically and psychologically as we become more dependent on new technology. Is it possible we could lose our ability to think?