The best kind of sci-fi, in my opinion, is the kind in which it’s clear that the author is looking at a current technology and projecting an inventive yet plausible future about that technology. This is such a book, and it examines the capability of the little computers that most people carry around in their pockets; i.e. cell phones and the internet.
Alena Graedon’s debut novel, The Word Exchange, is alternately suspenseful and meditative. The plot is suspenseful as the first narrator, Ana, the daughter of a world-famous lexicographer, attempts to track down her missing father as the world of language and communication disintegrates around her. The story becomes meditative as the second narrator, Bart (so called after the Melville short story, Bartleby the Scrivener) ponders the role and significance of words and language to individual people and society as a whole. These contrasting tones make an enthralling read.
The question at the heart of the book is what might happen to language when people become overly-dependent on digital technology. A question for our time, to be sure. I won’t give away this novel’s answer to that question, because that would be a spoiler, and I don’t do those.
I especially enjoyed the literary references that sparked many “aha!” moments as I read the book. And I really needed those to get me through, because the story takes so many disturbing twists that I nearly didn’t finish it. I put it aside at least twice, but I simply couldn’t walk away. I had to read, with horrified fascination, right through to the last page.
Are you game for a journey into a darkly-imagined future?
Here are some more science-fiction books that are all about the technology:
Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell
Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan
The Forever Watch by David Ramirez