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Book review: The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

By Whitney Matusiak

The-Word-ExchangeAlena Graedon’s debut novel, The Word Exchange, explores an imagined time of conquered print-media prowess—replaced by “smart” technology bordering on artificial intelligence. Graedon’s “dystopian novel for the digital age” follows the perils of Anana Johnson with clever thematic nods to George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids.

Forecasting a future nearly devoid of books, magazines, and libraries, Graedon’s The Word Exchange paints the bleak picture of print media, six feet under. Embellishing the all-too-familiar scene of mental, emotional, and physical attachment to handheld devices, we are introduced to Synchronic’s market-cornering technology—the Meme. Intuitive by design, the Meme takes over the wheel of life and does taxes, beams money, fills in writer’s (thinker’s) block, satiates hunger pains, and interfaces with friends and family (actually that doesn’t sound too bad) enabled by only a wisp of thought from its user.

Set in New York City, Anana works for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) along with her father, Doug Johnson, who can remember the pre-Meme days of paying with cash and communicating in person. On the cusp of releasing the third and final print version of the dictionary, Doug’s mysterious disappearance renders the launch inexplicably cancelled—but well timed due to the fresh success of Synchronic.