The Word Exchange is about a future in which the printed media is practically obsolete. Everyone communicates by a device called a meme, which is not really explained until about a third of the way through the book. In this world, people was being affected by something called a "word flu" in which the inflicted loses the meaning of words, automatically substituting nonsense words. The incubation time needed for this flu to arrive seems be the duration of 50% of the book. Eventually this virus leads to death and threatens chaos. The one man who may know the answer has disappeared, leaving his daughter Anana aka Ana, aka Alice (beware of gratuitous Alice in Wonderland references) to seek him out and figure out what is really going on. In between we get some melodrama, some endless moping, a few lengthy discourses on Hegel, some suspenseful moments in linguistic philosophy in which I expected a cameo appearance by Wittgenstein but was sorely disappointed, and some unbelievable conspiracies eventually leading to a letdown of a climax. The end.
As you can surmise, I was not impressed. In fact, "Not impressed" may be a semantic understatement all of its own. I must admit the premise was promising. However, this is one of those science fiction novels where the speculative themes appear to be a gimmick for literary pretentiousness. While author Alena Graedon, in her debut novel, has an impressive talent for singular prose, she seems to be lacking in the plot structuring department. Loosely structured comes to mind as well as sloppy. There is more than one narrative as we struggle with the tale and they seem to trip over each other as the tale progresses. The narrative becomes tedious to follow to the point that I was starting to skim at the 70 percent mark of this overlong novel anxious to just finish it up...never a good sign. If any book needed an editor with a red pen and a pair of scissors, this is the book. There's a talented writer lurking in Ms. Graedon but she doesn't show up for this literary sci-fi muddle. Two very generous stars.