Max Barry is an uber-clever Australian writer who I wished I discovered much sooner.He is such a fun, smart and incisive writer and deserves to be more widely recognized in Australian literary circles. His latest novel, Lexicon, is about the power of words. But what if words could kill? Lexicon is an addictive, intriguing and very clever read that you will devour in record time. If you love reading, if you love the power of words, this is the book for you. Max was kind enough to answer a few questions.
1. We all know how powerful words can be, what gave you the idea to “weaponize” words?
Words are already weaponized. I mean, not to state the obvious, but we spend a lot of time using words to try to compel other people do what we want. And other people spend a lot of time doing the same to us. I don’t consider it a new idea so much as an extension of reality.
2. Not only is Lexicon a breakneck speed thriller but you also weave into the story the history and philosophy of human language with its modern-day applications, what kind of research did you do for the book?
Oh man, I wove in far, far less history of language than I could have.
The history of language is bottomless. It’s really a history of humanity, because words don’t come about for no reason; they come about because this culture invaded that one, or people thought flowers were gifts from pagan gods, or whatever. So each word is a time capsule. And that’s just the history, which isn’t even the part I’m really interested in, which is how words work in your brain. Because it still seems like magic to me that we can evoke the entire range of human emotion by rearranging 26 letters.
3. Broken Hill is central to your novel. What made you choose that town?
First, the name is awesome. Broken Hill. Come on. I was looking for a town that was a million miles from anywhere and Broken Hill became more fascinating the more I learned about it. It was bigger than I really wanted, so I had to shrink it a little. But it’s a hugely evocative place.
4. I loved the world you created for Lexicon. Will there be a sequel or another story set in the same world?
It crossed my mind, because, yeah, there’s this whole world with rules and a history that I had to figure out. And now I’ve got that, I think it would be easy to tell more stories inside it. But I don’t really like sequels. I feel like the world itself is a big part of the story I’m telling you, and once that’s all figured out, there’s less reason to stay.
5. For your novel Jennifer Government you created an online game: NationStates. Any plans for a Lexicon inspired game?
No LEXICON game. That NationStates game took a lot of time to make. I had free time back then, as a completely unknown author with no kids.
Now, not so much.
6. Syrup is about to come out as a film, what has the process been like seeing your novel adapted and how much involvement have you had in the process?
I don’t even know how to summarize it. Sometimes it was infuriating and seemed like a complete waste of time; other times it was glorious, the best thing I’ve ever done. To see a scene that I dreamed up as a 23-year-old come to life was completely amazing and surreal.
7. Company, is a brilliant absurdest satire of the corporate business world, what led you to write the book?
I’d written two novels that dabbled in corporate satire, in that they told a story against a satiric backdrop. So I thought I would do one more and go for broke, moving the satire right up into the foreground.
Then I would have nothing left to satirize about company life.
8. The advent of eBooks has seen a return of the serial novel. You serialized Machine Man but in a very different way – 1 page a day for 9 months. What was the experience like and would you serialize a novel again?
It was terrific. And awful, of course. I wrote each page the same day it was published online, so sometimes I was sitting there, frozen with fear, having no idea what to do next. But I loved the interaction with readers, reading their comments and ideas and using that in the next few pages. I did plan to do more serials, but then I had the idea for LEXICON, which didn’t at all suit that format. A serial needs to be really straightforward, I think, with a linear story. Otherwise you can’t keep straight what’s going on.
9. What books and writers inspired you to become a writer?
I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer, so I’m not sure where it began. But when I was a teenager and really, really wanted to be a writer, I was totally into Stephen King. Big, doorstop novels, with love and scale and terrible things in the basement.
10. What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
I just finished THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes, which is really terrific. It’s a fantastic idea, brilliantly executed. It doesn’t get better than that.