Tag Archives: dystopia

Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 word exchange cvr

Category: Contemporary Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

Author: Alena Graedon

Format: Hardcover, 374 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-68013-4

Pub Date: April 8, 2014


Summary from Publisher:

In the not so distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers and magazines are a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication, but have become so intuitive as to hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order take out at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called The Word Exchange.
Anana Johnson works with her father Doug at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or video-conference) to communicate–or even actually spoke to one another for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he and Anana devised to signal if one of them ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana”s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole. . .
Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague (who is secretly in love with her), Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark basement incinerator rooms, underground passages of the Mercantile Library, secret meetings of the anonymous “Diachronic Society,” the boardrooms of the evil online retailing site Synchronic, and ultimately to the hallowed halls of the Oxford English Dictionary–the spiritual home of the written word. As Ana pieces together what is going on, and Bart gets sicker and sicker with the strange “Word flu” that has spread worldwide causing people to speak in gibberish, Alena Graedon crafts a fresh, cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller, and a thoughtful meditation on the price of technology and the unforeseen, though very real, dangers of the digital age.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is essentially a desperate letter of advocacy and love to the masses in its homage and sentimentality towards the written, printed, and verbal word. This dystopian novel is one in which its people are not only addicted to their technological devices, they are deeply integrated with them that the technology used itself necessitates and controls their daily functions with its ability to sense its users’ moods and desires.

One such device known as a Meme is so intuitive, it can order its user’s dinner or hail a cab on his or her behalf before asked, so intuitive in fact, that it can function this way even before its user is even consciously aware of his or her own desires.

With its mass use, its function is not only the normally acceptable form of communication, but an integral part of this dystopia’s lifestyle—until a new device is manufactured, the Nautilus, a semi-biological technological device that omits the necessity of hardware connective wiring and instead directly connects to the synopsis of the human brain by delivering input and output through neurons.

The result? An unexpected epidemic in the form of inexplicable headache, nausea, vomiting, fever, and a severe dysfunction in the processing of language through verbal slips, which eventually results in its worst cases—death.

The only people wary of technology’s cyber-attack on language, in particular, the printed word—and more specifically—the last remnants of the printed dictionaries such as the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), is a secretive and underground group called The Diachronic Society, whose mission is to warn people against the over-indulgent use of Memes and technology in general, while informing the public of its potential dangers in light of the symptoms ravaging the international community, as well as preserve what is left of language in print and its vital connections to our history and past.

What you get is a highly active, tense, and mysterious plot that centers around the disappearance of Anana’s father, Doug, the managing editor at The Dictionary, an active advocate of what is considered to be antiquarian and archaic forms of communication: photographs, art, books, and a pioneer in his distrust and prophetic view of the dangers of absolute technological use of the Aelph, the Meme, and the Nautilus.

The main characters, too, are rich in their respective connection to language.

Anana, a lover of words and words in print, but also an active user and believer in the use of her Meme, is almost as clingy to her boyfriend, Max, as she is to the use of technology—which both prove to be as dangerous to her emotional well-being as to her declining health.

Bart, a wonderfully academic and intelligent man, authoritative in his philosophical beliefs about language, its origins, its connection to history, its importance and metaphorical similarities to love.

Max, an egocentric, equally handsome, ambitious, and charming man whose business aspirations are as steep, self-indulgent, and misguided as his ethics, which secures him a manipulative and vain position as CEO of the new technological company called, Hermes, which merges a dangerous deal with the tech monster, Synchronic.

Together along with secondary characters—Dr. Thwaite, Victoria Mark, Vera, Laird, Vernon, Johnny Lee, Floyd—to name a few, create a devastatingly fast and quickly diminishing narrative, with words like, Jenda, exteen, ren, codalisk, zvono, kehzo, slank, konranm dazh, ooloochbu, words that prove the confusion and severe danger of language deterioration on a personal and communal level.

This fear-inciting book and cautionary tale of technological abuse is intelligently written to showcase our potential demise if we don’t guard ourselves against the potential addiction and dependency on online technological devices and the dangers of eventual extermination of print, language, thought, and memory.

If you’re a lover of words and language, and an advocate of the gift of literary privilege, reading, and books in print, this language dystopian novel is one you will readily empathize with and be glad, if not encouraged to continue your active enjoyment of literary pursuits. You might even consider yourself akin to belonging to the elusive, yet fictionally growing membership of the Diachronic Society.

Until then, let’s hope this dystopian novel is cautionary enough to prevent a potential epidemic of a language lost.

Until then, keep reading!


Characters: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3.5 stars

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars


Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author:

alena graedon


Alena Graedon was born in Durham, NC, and is a graduate of Carolina Friends School, Brown University, and Columbia University’s MFA program. She was Manager of Membership and Literary Awards at the PEN American Center before leaving to finish The Word Exchange, her first novel, with the help of fellowships at several artist colonies. Her writing has been translated into nine languages. She lives in Brooklyn.



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How dependent are you on your electronic devices? Your mobile phone? Your iPad? The Internet? Online social communities?

Do you think there is a substantial possibility of society moving away from the printed word to an eventual dependency on electronic technology as a form of communication?

How do you think we can work together to preserve what is considered to be antiquarian or archaic forms of communication such as photographs, art, books?

Do you agree with the premise of The Word Exchange in the possibility of an epidemic of a “Word Flu?”

How active are you as a reader? Has your way or desire of reading changed? For e.g. reading books in print to reading e-books online or on an e-reader?

What do you think these changes mean for publishing companies?


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Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

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Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis



Category: Dystopian Fiction

Author: Margaret Atwood

Format: Hardcover, 400 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-0846-7

Pub Date: August 27, 2013


Summary from Publisher:

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, which is being fortified against man and giant Pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. While their reluctant prophet, Jimmy — Crake’s one-time friend — recovers from a debilitating fever, it’s left to Toby to narrate the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.

 Meanwhile, Zeb searches for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. Now, under threat of an imminent Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters.

 At the centre, is the extraordinary story of Zeb’s past, which involves a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.

Combining adventure, humour, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination that is at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood, and a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.


Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

The much-anticipated third book in the dystopian trilogy, Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, made its exciting debut at the end of August.

For those of you who are familiar with Atwood’s work and have had the privilege of reading the previous titles in the trilogy—Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood—you’ll be pleased to discover both narrative plots come together in the last novel, MaddAddam.

The narrative is as gritty as its dystopian setting, filled with the last remnants and artifacts of an old world, one which reflects our present day.

But in MaddAddam, paved streets are rubble. Foliage is overgrown. The “waterless flood” has massacred mankind through a rare epidemic.

And two very real ideologies—one, the advocacy to preserve, restore, care for, and improve the environment by controlling pollution and protecting plant and animal diversity in the form of the book’s God’s Gardeners; along with two, the advocacy to purchase excessive amounts of goods and services through consumerism found in the form of the CorpSeCorps—both explode into two dangerous and polar extremities that make up, not only the book’s setting, but the dichotomous tension and conflict of its warring plot.

While I greatly miss the lyrical prose of the God’s Gardeners’ tone of voice that was heavily rooted in The Year of the Flood with its spiritual and prayerful homilies of nature, the seasons, and its patron saints; its lessons in DIY derelict fashion, alternative culinary arts of survival more than taste, creative, ingenious architecture; and knowledge of horticulture, its healing properties, as well as its more potent powers to kill in the form of DIY weaponry and tactics for the sake of survival—the narrative in MaddAddam is primarily raw and abrasive through the diversified talents of Zeb’s unrefined, yet chameleon character, whose stealth is as coy and intelligent as his ability to wormhole through firewalls and infiltrate computer systems and software.

Toby, too, is her own artifact of the God’s Gardener culture as the former Eve Six, who still carries within her the knowledge of its feast days, rituals, prayers, and environmental theology. But, her tone, too, has been repressed by a much more necessitated virtue during the post waterless flood—a cold and tough instinct for an exterior that ensures her female leadership and resilience towards survival.

But, it’s not only the human characters that have adapted to the new world. Through the ambition of those driven by beauty, longevity, consumerism, and ultimately power with moral boundaries stretched so thin, the ethical boundaries themselves disappear to create a number of new, hybrid, animal species.

The excitement of reading MaddAddam is the discovery of Atwood’s imagination visualized in book form through the species she’s concocted. They are creatively imaginative as they are also quite frighteningly plausible, which makes Atwood, not only a creative writer of the dystopian novel, but potentially society’s literary prophet, should we refuse to be mindful of the direction we take and how far we should take it in meeting the demands of our own ambitions and whether or not they remain ethical.

The hybrid animal species in the book, I found most entertaining.

From the Mo-Hairs, a bred animal that grows human hair in blonde, brunette, red, and black, for human hair inplants. To Pigoons, giant pigs with human brain function and cortices.

And of course, the highly anticipated story behind the growing culture of the blue-perfectly-bodied creatures created by Crake, and therefore aptly named Crakers, whose eyes are luminescent green and whose skin turns blue in maturity; whose territorial marking includes a morning ritual of communal urination by the males in the group; to mating rituals that include the sense of when a woman is “blue” and therefore ready to be mated with by first, the offering of flowers, and huge, wagging, blue penises; to their strictly vegetarian diet; and an angelic, yet purposeful, gifted, and exquisite, alien singing voice of which humans cannot imitate nor reproduce.

The creation of these highly imaginative species is what makes MaddAddam and the Oryx and Crake trilogy so compelling and creative.

Stripped of these, the plot would be at its best, predictable, if not mundane. But, plot in dystopia is usually diluted anyway by its more significant comment on society and its much-needed warnings, reprimands, or lessons.

While I was disappointed by the ending of the book, its outcome as well as its change in narrative voice from Zeb and Toby to the gentle, yet precocious Craker, Blackbeard, which felt as if Atwood simply tired from writing and therefore changed the voice to “wrap up” the story in third person summary; I did, however, appreciate that even though MaddAddam is the conclusion of the Oryx and Crake trilogy, the story itself is left open for possibility—and perhaps the possibility of another book? (Loyal Atwood fans would certainly love this!)

Regardless, it’s always a pleasure to read an Atwood novel and in particular, finish a trilogy that has showcased the darker side, as well as the potential of ourselves.

From Zeb, Toby, Crozier, Rebecca, and Swift Fox’s attempts at sipping down dandelion root coffee or ash-tasting alternatives, to their bed sheet fashion, and “God’s Gardening” labour; to the peace-loving ignorance of the Craker’s lack of knowledge of the past prior to the flood, and even prior to the truth of their own beginnings, which “hatched” from “the Egg;” it’s the Crakers’ superb innocence, intelligence, and impressionism that moves them toward a new form of Craker-Oryx-Jimmy-the-Snowman-Toby spirituality—which like the dystopian tattle-taling of this story reveals—that logic and intelligence, no matter how superior, without the restraint of morality and ethics, as well as a strong foundation of history and truth, can never truly equate the result and necessity of wisdom—oh, and yes, that life and spirituality will always find a way of surviving, thriving—and evolving.

“Oh, liobam,” I say as I throw my hands up in frustration. “Holy pigoon!” I say as I turn the last pages. I wish the book, or the trilogy, doesn’t have to end.

(And, in the best Craker singing I can fashion, I seriously consider stocking up on strong Starbucks coffee, a slew of floral, printed bed sheets, a rifle, pencils, archival paper—and also be willing and open to make new friends.)

And in honour of completing the Oryx and Crake trilogy, I plan on planting a good tree and naming today, The Feast of MaddAddam, in which no animals with “Scales or Tails,” shall be eaten.


Characters: 4  

Pacing: 4 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4.5 stars


Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada  on behalf of McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.


About the Author:

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood


Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, shortlisted for the 1989 Book Prize; Alias Grace, which was a finalist for the 1996 Booker Prize and won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize; and her most recent, The Year of the Flood. Among her many other rewards, she has also received the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. She lies in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

– From inside jacket.



Margaret Atwood’s Official Website

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If you were to create a new species, what attributes would you want this species to have?

If you’ve read the Oryx and Crake trilogy, which group would you most likely belong to? The God’s Gardeners or the CorpSeCorps? Or somewhere in between?

Out of the trilogy, which is your favourite book? Oryx and Crake? The Year of the Flood? Or MaddAddam? Why?

In what ways do you see our society moving towards a dystopia like the one Atwood describes in MaddAddam?

How important do you think it is to know the truth of our histories?

When do our oral stories that eventually become written ones, then become historical facts? Or do they?

Do you believe spirituality and the seed of faith and religion are inherent to our species in our better understanding of the world? Why or why not?

How can we reconcile a balance between technological advancement and a preservation and protection of the environment without falling prey to either extreme?

If you were a character in one of the books in this trilogy, who would you most likely be like? An Adam? An Eve? Zeb? Toby? Pilar? Lucerne? Katrina Woo-Woo? Swift Fox? Trudy? The Rev? Glenn? A pigoon?


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