The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

The Word ExchangeI was really excited for this book when I first heard details about it — a dude disappears from the dictionary and disappears in real life, everyone walks around carrying “Memes” that start to take away people’s ability to use language, there’s this thing called the Word Exchange where people can buy meanings of words but then it start to become corrupted. It sounded intriguing and fantastical and I admit I felt like maybe Thursday Next would show up on the scene.

I was so wrong.

Okay, not super wrong. The story is intriguing, but it is most decidedly not fantastical, instead positing a near-future near-dystopia where our smartphones have become Memes that do every dang thing for us including divining our thoughts to tell us what restaurants are nearby right as we’re realizing it’s time for lunch. Which is AWESOME but of course also pretty creepy.

There are two sort-of narrators to this book, Anana and Bart. Both narrators tell the story of how Anana’s dad Doug, the head of the last print dictionary, went missing one night very mysteriously, his encyclopedia-like entry in his own dictionary missing from the electronic version and a weird note in his pneumatic tube bin (yes, really). Anana sets out to find him with the help of Bart, another dictionary employee, but things start to go wrong very fast. There’s new technology coming out and people who very much want to make sure that it comes out and are willing to make sure with violence (and sloppy eating no I can’t help myself), and of course a faction against new technology who have quite a good case because the new tech and to a lesser extent the old tech are causing word flu which gives you aphasia and then sometimes kills you, yay.

Anana’s chapters are written as a sort of journal from the future looking back on the craziness, so there are a few places where she is like, if only I had known X or if only I hadn’t been an idiot here, and that’s the kind of thing I eat up with a spoon so plus ten points to Graedon.

Bart’s chapters, on the other hand, are actual journals during the events that happen, including when Bart comes down with word flu and every fifth word is gibberish and after two chapters of that I was like, I GET IT, but there were still so many chapters left to go. I really wanted to know what was going to happen to everyone but I actually found myself dreading having to read the book because of all the strange words, so minus, like, a hundred points to Graedon there.

So basically, the problem with me was that I was expecting fantasy and got a technothriller, and the problem with the book (for me) was that it got too caught up in its conceit and lost the already thin thread of plot that it had. But outside of those problems, the book had a really interesting premise, great scenes, and a pretty solid ending, so your mileage may vary.

Recommendation: For those expecting a technothriller and who don’t mind looking warily at their smartphones for the next ever.

Rating: 7/10

2 thoughts on “The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

  1. Cari says:

    Well, I really loved it at first, but after seeing your review and thinking about it, I get where you’re coming from. The weird language was somewhat disconcerting. And I was a bit disappointed by the last hundred pages or so. I think the climax happened early, and that threw things off.

    • Alison says:

      That’s very true… there were a few places the book could have ended earlier than it did, although it was nice-ish to know the things that came at the very end.

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