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The Languages of Pao

Author: Jack Vance
Year written: 1956
Author’s age at the time: 40
Year published: December 1957
Publication: Satellite Science Fiction
Dutch title: De talen van Pao
French title: Les langages de Pao
Genre: novel, SF


According to Foreverness the version that was published by Satellite Science Fiction was shorter than the one published next year 1958 by Avalon (as intended by the author). (ref)

This is easily one of my favorite Vance novels. Wikipedia writes that Frederik Pohl:

... reported that Vance had “pretty carefully” worked out his extrapolation, but that “it isn’t terribly convincing as presented”. Pohl also noted that “Vance writes well—sometimes even brilliantly”, but that his prose sometimes seemed uneven and artificial.

When I first read the novel I was little and didn’t even know about the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. However, even then I understood from the text that the transformation involved more that simply using another language. (I’m looking forward to rereading the book.)

Also from Wikipedia:

David Langford cited Vance’s “engaging speculation”, but concluded that the protagonist “seems too weak a character for his leading role”, while “the culture and landscape of Pao are grey and ill-defined, in strong contrast to the exotically colourful societies and ecologies which became Vance’s trademark”

I remember the protagonist being weak, but accepted that simply as a fact in the story. Often he was manipulated, sometimes he managed to score a point. I don’t remember the novel ending in a jubilant victory, but that was all right. As for Pao being ill-defined—perhaps a bit, but in my recollection Pao being a somewhat blend and static society of mostly simple farmers was also exactly part of the problem that had to solved.

(Wikipedia accessed 15 March 2019)


  The guards subjected Palafox to a most minute scrutiny. Every stitch of his clothes was examined; he was patted and prodded with complete lack of regard for dignity.
  Nothing was discovered; no tool, weapon or instrument of any kind. Bustamonte watched the search in unashamed fascination, and seemed disappointed at the negative result.

Republished by Spatterlight, 2012, The languages of Pao