I recently picked up a library book for the son. When I saw it, I asked the librarian to check that it had not, in fact, been reserved by someone else. It just wasn’t his style. It was about words, and language, and communication. It looked like something I would read. In fact, I had 25 pages read by the time he received it.
The Author – Alena Graedon
The Book – The Word Exchange
The story is set in the perhaps too-near future, when the printed word is down to its last gasp. Smartphones, PDAs and tablets have all morphed together, into an emotion-reading, electronic device called a Meme. They can call you a cab as you ride down in the elevator, or order you a lunch at the first tummy rumble.
Unfortunately, dependence on them has caused loss of focus and memory, especially of language. It was amusingly sadly ironic that, the day I began reading the book, the Scott Adams’, Dilbert© cartoon shown below was printed.
The book-jacket is printed with lines and rows of seemingly random letters, like the data streams in the Matrix movies. Close examination though, shows the occasional word, like local, bash, or asking. Starting near the end of the top line, several lines, with no spacing, of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky are printed. “Brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe all mimsy were the boroves and the momeraths outgrabe.”
The story revolves around a daughter trying to find her boss/father, the editor of the last Dictionary to be printed in North America. This author writes as I might – if I had an iota of inspiration and creativity. The plot is none too deep, or believable, but she sprinkles bright and shiny words everywhere, like bits of crystal.
Within the first chapter, she has used proclivity, risible, perspicacity, sinuous, evanescing and nimbus. One dark word among the others was verbicide – the destruction of language. When people begin experiencing aphasia – loss of words – some passages resemble the Jabberwocky, above. Later, she forms the neologism, Creatorium, for a place where new words and usages are produced. She breaks the book into 26 A to Z chapters.
A for Alice, to whom Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty says, “A word means exactly what I want it to mean, no more, no less.”
B for Bartleby, a scrivener, or public secretary.
C for Communication.
D, I would have thought would be for “Dictionary”, but she made it Diachronic, a term referring to etymology, what words used to mean, why they mean what they do now, and what they are changing into, for the future.
The book comes in three segments, titled Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. It resembles a “found footage” movie like The Blair Witch Project. It is footnoted, almost like a technical article. The bottoms of pages are littered with thoughts, feelings, and explanations to the reader, almost like Shakespearean stage asides.
The heroine’s name is Ana, except it isn’t. It’s really Anana, which is a palindrome, reading the same backward and forward. Her father told her that the word means gentle, kind or mild in Swahili, face, in Sanskrit, lovely, in Inuit, and harmonize, in Gweno. If you add an S to it, to make more than one of her, she becomes ananas, her father’s favorite French fruit, pineapple.
Menace is provided by The Word Exchange, the titular corporation which is buying out and eating up all print and on-line dictionaries. Their Memes cause people to lose more and more of their language skills, but offer to “remind” you, for two cents a word; cheap now, but what will they charge when they have a monopoly?
A situation was described in the book. I had heard of it, but halfway through the book, I got to experience it. Coming soon, to a telephone near you, the heuristic call. What sounds like a real, live person, is actually a computer, with a voice synthesizer, preprogrammed responses to almost limitless conversational branches, and the ability to understand key words and voice intonation.
A TV anchor’s voice, full of false bonhomie, says, “Hi! My name is Bob. How are you today?” Being polite Canadians, we reply, “Fine thank you.” Bob says, “That’s great! I’d like to sell you a cell phone plan.” Or maybe you say, morosely, “I’m terrible! My Grandmother just died.” Bob says, “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m really sorry, but you’ll want to notify family and friends. I’d like to sell you a new cell phone plan.” No matter where the conversation goes, it always ends at the cell phone package….unless?
The guy in the book says, if you recognize the call, you can have fun with it. “How are you?” “Left-handed.” And listen for the half-second as the computer resets itself. “Can I sell you a cell phone package?” “Carsick yaks, blueberries, nude skydiving, virtual monkey wrenches!” If you supply enough non-sequitur comments, you can fugue the computer, hanging it up until a tech clears and restarts it. Hell, I think I’ll start trying that with real live people.
Like the Synchronic Corporation’s motto in the book says, The Future is Now. It’s time for us to put down all our electronic crutches, throw open the window and yell, “I’m mad as Hell, and….what was the rest of that? Ah, don’t bother. I’ll look it up. Won’t cost much. 😕