Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Word Exchange

Douglas Johnson, the brilliant editor of the third edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, has disappeared. And so has the about-to-be-released third edition of the dictionary. Even worse, a word flu pandemic is spreading: people are falling ill and their speech is littered with gibberish. So begins this marvellous dystopian science-fiction thriller as Dr. Johnson's daughter Ana tries to unravel the mysteries.

The novel is set in the nearish future. Our smart phones have evolved to really-really-really-smart phones called memes making knowledge look-up so easy that it's not worth storing any knowledge in our own brains.  Word meanings are among the lost knowledge, but that doesn't matter much as you can look up words on the Word Exchange for a few cents. Hm, cornering the market on words would raise the value of the Word Exchange, wouldn't it? A great opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs.

As the memes get compromised, some ancient technologies come into their own. People discover fax machines, typewriters and even those Victorian wonders pneumatic tubes. Although pneumatic tubes are no longer used for transporting information, they are still used to transport things - think of their handy use in hospitals transporting test samples between departments. The Wikipedia entry on pneumatic tubes is fascinating.

I highly recommend this book. Quirky and endearing characters and a fast-moving plot make it highly entertaining, while musings on the dangers of where our technology could take us make it very thought-provoking. What would our world look like without words?

Links to past book reviews, with some of my favourites at the top:
Non Fiction:
Being Mortal
The Innovator's Dilemma
The Wave: In Search of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean (my most viewed book review)
Curiosity (my second most viewed book review)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 
The Checklist Manifesto
The Lean Start-up
The Upside of Irrationality
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Steve Jobs
Global Warring

Life After Life
A Possible Life (I love anything by Sebastien Faulks)
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Rules of Civility
The Taliban Cricket Club
The Vault
Before I Go To Sleep
A Son of the Circus
Still Alice
Faithful Place
Defending Jacob
The Strangler
The Help
The Housekeeper and the Professor

Some series I've liked:
Donna Leon's series about the Venetian detective Guido Brunelli: A Question of Belief
Canadian Peter Robinson's series about British detective Alan Banks: Before the PoisonBad Boy
James Church books about a North Korean detective: A Corpse in the KoryoHidden MoonBamboo and BloodThe Man with the Baltic Stare
Gianrico Carofiglio's series about an Italian policeman: Involuntary Witness
Jo Nesbo's series about Norwegian detective Harry Hole: The RedeemerThe RedbreastNemesis
Alexander McCall Smith's series about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Andrea Cammillieri's books about Sicilian Inspector Montalbano: The Shape of Water
Martin Walker's series about French local policeman Bruno, Chief of Police
Louise Penny's detective series set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec: Still Life
Jussi Adler-Olsen's series about Danish detective Carl Morck: The Keeper of Lost Causes
Ruth Rendell's books about Chief Inspector Reg Wexford
Arnald Indridsadon's books about Finnish detective Erlendur: Arctic ChillHypothermia and Outrage

Other books I've also liked:
The Spoiler
The Secret Race
The Blondes
San Miguel
The Better Angels of our Nature
The Believing Brain
Hellstrom's Hive
22 Britannia Road
The Imposter Bride
Murder as a Fine Art
The Invisible Bridge
This Body of Death
Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air
Berlin Crossing
The Marriage Plot
The Paris Wife
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
Turn of Mind
The Secret Speech
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
The Makioka Sisters
Suite Francaise
The Man from Beijing
At Bertram's Hotel
Red April
You Are Not a Gadget
Five Smooth Stones
River of Gods
Nasty, Brutish and Short: The Quirks and Quarks guide to Animal Sex and Other Weird Behaviour
The Ghost
The Council of Dads
The Elements
The Elephant, The Tiger and the Cellphone
The Janissary Tree

Some books I didn't like very much:
A Perfect Heaven
Potsdam Station
The End of the Wasp Season
The Dark Room
Dead or Alive
A Vintage Affair
The Finkler Question
When the Devil Holds the Candle

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