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The Languages of Pao Paperback – August 31, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the finest writers the science fiction field has ever known."

About the Author

Jack Vance, born John Holbrook Vance in 1916, was one of the greatest masters of fantasy and science fiction. He was the winner of many awards for his work and career: the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Among his awards for particular works were the Hugo award in 1963 for "The Dragon Masters", in 1967 for "The Last Castle", and in 2010 for his memoir "This is Me, Jack Vance!" He won a Nebula Award in 1966 for "The Last Castle". He won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1990 for "Lyonesse: Madouc". He also won an Edgar for the best first mystery novel in 1961 for "The Man in the Cage." Vance published more than 60 books in his career, sometimes under pseudonyms. Among them were 11 mystery novels, three of them as Ellery Queen. He wrote some of the first, and perhaps best, examples of "planetary adventures," including a novel called" Big Planet". His Dying Earth series were among the most influential fantasy novels ever written, inspiring both generations of writers, and the creators of Dungeons and Dragons.
Vance s series from Tor include "The Demon Princes", "The Cadwal Chronicles", "The Dying Earth", "The Planet of Adventure", and "Alastor". Vance s last novels were a series of two: "Ports of Call" and "Lurulu."
Jack Vance was a sailor, a writer, an adventurer, a music critic, and a raconteur. He died in May 2013.

Born in Los Angeles in 1950, Dana Gioia attended Stanford University and did graduate work at Harvard, where he studied with Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Fitzgerald. He left Harvard to attend Stanford Business School. For fifteen years he worked in New York for general Foods (eventually becoming a Vice President) while writing nights and weekends, In 1992 he became a full-time writer. Currently he lives in California. Gioia has published three books of poems, Daily Horoscope (1986), The Gods of Winter (1991), and Interrogations at Noon (2001), which won the American Book Award. He is also the author of Can Poetry Matter? (1992; reprinted 2002). He has edited a dozen anthologies of poetry and fiction. A prolific critic and reviewer, he is also a frequent commentator on American culture for BBC Radio. He recently completed Nosferatu (2001), an opera libretto for composer Alva Henderson. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: I Books (August 31, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743487141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743487146
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,922,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on January 14, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The Languages of Pao," by Jack Vance, is set in part on the planet Pao, a world populated by the descendants of human colonists. Pao's huge population is extremely docile by nature. Because the people's passivity makes them easy prey for conquest and exploitation, the planet's monarch seeks help from Lord Palafox, an official from the technologically advanced world of Breakness. Palafox's plan is to make the Paonese able to defend themselves in the following way: newly created languages will be used as tools to transform Pao's culture and mass psychology.

The back cover of the book notes, "It's one of the extremely few science fiction novels ever based on the science of linguistics." The novel is an effective combination of an intriguing idea, solid plotting, and compelling characters. Vance's finely crafted prose is really a pleasure to read--it's sturdy yet elegant. Vance creates richly detailed portraits of the very different worlds of Breakness and Pao. He fills his story with thoughtful details which really breathe life into the pages. And while this is clearly a science fiction novel, at times Vance infuses it with a flavor of fantasy or fairy tale.

This is both a novel of ideas and a novel of characters. The story of Pao raises intriguing questions about the relationships that link language, culture, political power, military power, and educational establishments. The book is not just a tale of massive sociolinguistic experimentation, but also a coming-of-age story and a story of political suspense. It also falls into the genre of military science fiction--in short, it's a rich and complex text. The big ideas of the book are anchored by well-drawn characters who inhabit a volatile web of interrelationships. Particularly poignant is Vance's portrait of one character, who finds himself caught between two very different cultures. "The Languages of Pao" is a noteworthy achievement by a master craftsman of science fiction.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The Languages of Pao" was first published in 1957. It is written in the classic style of my favorite SF author. The story is set on one of those typical, out-on-the-edge-of-the-galaxy worlds that Vance loves to create, complete with the typical flowery anthropological descriptions of eccentric human societies he is famous for. Beran Panasper is the "Medallion," heir to the throne of his father, the "Panarch" or emporer of the planet Pao. The Panarch is assasinated by Bustamonte, the "Ayudor," Beran's uncle, who becomes regent. Bustamonte tries to kill Beran so that he can become emporer. Beran is saved by Lord Palafox, a dominie of the Breakness Institute, where he takes Beran for safety. Palafox has a plan to change the character of the docile people of Pao by creating new languages which will morph them into technicants, warriors, merchantilists and diplomatic managers, depending on which language is learned. This is Jack Vance in his relative youth and a very enjoyable story.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The "languages of poa"is a brilliant book. Jack Vance looks at the subtle methods of control achieved by conquerors who lacking manpower decide to pacify a world after the initial invasion by pacifying the language. It sounds so simple, but only becaue of the deft skill with which Jack Vance handles the complex threads. The story is simple but you are left with the impression that perhaps there should be a bit more concern shown by the general populace by the often blatant manipulations of the advertisers and the spin doctors of various corporations and politicians. Aside from that rather dark warning the "Lanuages of Pao" has all the trade-mark Jack Vance humour...Drollness at it's best.
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Format: Paperback
The art of language is often idiosyncratically pursued when one person finds themselves driven towards learning the mindset of a foreign logic, the lexicon of a distant land or the mode of thought of a backwards culture. Writing a science fiction novel revolving around the art of language seems like a recipe for disaster, where science and art meet, collide and fragmentize into a heap of rubble. Amazingly, Jack Vance pens a wondrous work where the two meet harmoniously.

Against my hope for a better SF novel, The Languages of Pao starts off with an aristocratic and loquacious bang: the dignified king is disheartened by the purportedly unscrupulous transactions of the merchants, whom have been dealing bilaterally with the militaristic-prone neighbor which the king himself finds disconcerting. Admittedly, I like the wordiness of the noble speaking and I found myself quite enjoying the position of the ruthless dictator and, later, the benevolent overseer. Vance is really keyed into the reader who wants to see an easy overlord, rather than merely glorifying a king and bestowing upon him great, unparalleled powers or unchallenged rule (alá Southeastern Asian monarchy or numerous science fictional kings of lore).

Being a bilingual person (nearly fluent in spoken and written Thai), I found the task of writing about an alien tongue to be most precarious. However, Vance found a way to keep it interesting through the mode of good-hearted child heir-to-the-throne versus conniving wizard of a literally overcast planet. Cheesy as it may be, assuredly, it works. It is epic to follow the progression of the awkward relationship of to-be-king Beran and wizard-extraordinaire Palafox from didactic simplicity to heroic brotherhood to enemy at the gates.
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