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The Languages of Pao

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  821 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
The Panarch of Pao is dead and Beran Panasper, his young son and heir, must flee the planet to live and avenge his father's death. It is at the secret fortress on the planet Breakness that Beran discovers the dreaded truth behind the assassination of his father-and much more. The people of Pao are a docile lot, content to live in harmony with the rest of the cosmos, but th ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 1st 2004 by iBooks (first published 1957)
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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyI, Robot by Isaac AsimovThe Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyThe Foundation Trilogy by Isaac AsimovStarship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Classic Science Fiction - 1950-1959
68th out of 140 books — 169 voters
The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers by J.R.R. TolkienThe Return of the King by J.R.R. TolkienWatership Down by Richard Adams
GRRM Recommends
52nd out of 100 books — 13 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,346)
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mark monday
if a world can be described in a word, then the word for Pao is passive. language has helped make the Paonese content but also ill-equipped to handle invasion and other forms of aggression.

the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis posits that "the structure of a language affects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world... or otherwise influences their cognitive processes" (thank you, Wikipedia)... linguistic relativity can mean that the way different cultures talk impacts how differ
Mar 27, 2016 Lyn rated it liked it
SF Grandmaster Jack Vance first published Languages of Pao in 1957, during the Cold War and this political climate serves as a behind the scenes guide to the message Vance imparts.

Vance possesses one of the most gifted and subtle sense of dry humor amongst any group of writers, but this book made me think he is akin to Kurt Vonnegut in that regard. This novel contains Vonnegutesque humor, like a Kilgore Trout fantasy, that is almost Seussian in it’s simplicity yet pregnant with allegory and doub
Jul 27, 2015 Metaphorosis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, 2013-rev
I first read this book a long time ago. It was my first exposure to the idea that language shapes not just how one says things, but what it is possible to say and think. I was tremendously impressed.

Vance takes that idea, and runs with it. While I wouldn't say that this is a complete examination of the concept, he does apply it with a certain amount of rigor, and the result is striking.

The setting is typically Vancian, if a bit less overt than usual, and a little more on the adventurous side. W
Ian Cunningham
Apr 09, 2012 Ian Cunningham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books, language
Sometimes I think Jack Vance couldn't write a truly bad story if he tried. A bog-standard 'prince is exiled, prince is raised by evil wizard, prince returns to his kingdom, and after some setback, defeats evil wizard' plot combined with a science fiction hook of "what if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is correct?" should not result in such a breezy, fun read. This is a three-star book if you're not a linguistics nerd nor apt to view no-to-low alien settings through a Warhammer 40,000 lens, and a two ...more
Joe Santoro
Mar 13, 2016 Joe Santoro rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first glance, there's not a huge amount to this book.. the plot is pretty basic... displaced royal son has to learn the ways of the world to reclaim his birthright. There's alot going on underneath, though. Considering when it was written, I think you could definitely take the stoic, communal, rustic Paos as Soviet Communism taking to the extreme, and the 'wizards' (really cyborgs) of Breakness and their hyper individualists as American Capitialism to the opposite one.

That the Paoese where t
Apr 05, 2012 Brian rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Fantasy Literature
May 30, 2013 Fantasy Literature rated it really liked it
Shelves: steven
Jack Vance is known as a master stylist who, at his best, has an exquisite way with the written English language, a tribute in many ways to his idols P.G. Wodehouse and the unjustly forgotten Jeffery Farnol, among others, but Vance is also a writer of thought-provoking and unique ideas. The Languages of Pao is Vance at the top of his game as far as exploring unusual concepts. The premise of the story is based on a theory known as “Linguistic Relativity” or the “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis” and in lay ...more
I have only two things to say about this book.

1. Vance's central contention, that language shapes culture, is a good one and worth exploring, which is what he does here. He writes, "Each language is a special tool, with a particular capability. It is more than a means of communication, it is a system of thought" (45). And he then goes on to illustrate the truth of this by showing how the political and cultural landscape of one planet, Pao, is altered by consciously and deliberately altering the
Justin Howe
May 08, 2012 Justin Howe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can’t help but read this as “The Languages of POW!”.

Vance has fun in this novel playing with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but really that’s the side attraction to the usual Vancian loopiness where everything important gets done with “punctilio”. Also present are the standard “elite of amoral supermen” that were so popular in 1950s SF. Vance deflates his supermen, making them rather silly, kind of like Gandalf by way of Hugh Hefner. (I’d posit that Hugh Hefner was a huge influence on 1950s and
Ryan Curry
Apr 02, 2012 Ryan Curry rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book in general! It's my first foray into Vance's sci-fi and I'm well, fucking excited! To read more that is!! The concept Vance brings up in the novel is incredible!!!!! I loved it, picked it up this morning and couldn't stop! I recommend this to everyone!!
Apr 02, 2012 Jay rated it liked it
Nice sci-fi Neo-Whorfianism. I sort of doubt the ending because they overvalue the power of language on behavior and undervalue the power of culture. But still, a fun fairly quick read.
Jul 10, 2014 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance

The Languages of Pao is a thought-provoking, and thoroughly original science fiction novel with a central theme that speculates on how language can sometimes influence and shape the behaviour of a population—which is a linguistic theory known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

The planet Pao is a very ordered place; it's people are very similar to one another, with seemingly no desire to stand out from one another or stray too far from a career working for the civil
Uh, wow.

I learned of this book from Aliens and Linguists, a round-up of linguistic subjects as used in science fiction. It's a fascinating book, but it's also old, so the works it mentions are correspondingly old.

The Languages of Pao tackles the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which (briefly) postulates that language affects thought. I am generally in favor of linguistic theories being the basis of science fiction, and this particular hypothesis is close to my heart. However, "if we make this passive ci
Mar 30, 2007 Dan added it
Recommends it for: N/a
This book was a stinker. And boy does the new cover art blow. Look at that shit pile.

Anyway, it's about this boy who would be king (imagine that) and he has a suragate Dad, who, get this, he later has to defeat.

Now, I know, star wars came out later. But star wars comes from the reaping of a long tradition of this borring obvious get little kids to read and kill there parents tradition. You know it, you've read or heard about smith what's his name and the faces of a hero or whatever.

Anyway. Back
Jul 19, 2012 Jade rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Generally, I quite enjoy Jack Vance’s work, but I’m afraid that I consider The Languages of Pao to be one of his lesser works. It has an interesting premise and build-up, but it never really breaks through in terms of development and execution. The characters are flat and without development, the plot too simplistic, the dialogue too banal, and the story failed to elicit a strong emotional response from me.

The basic premise of the story revolves around the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which basically
Esteban Ruquet
Dec 05, 2013 Esteban Ruquet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ciencia-ficción
Una excelente novela de uno de los cuatro pilares de la fantasía heroica, en esta novela de ciencia ficción blanda clásica Jack Vance hace uso de la teoría de Sapir-Whorf de la sociolingüística para construir un universo ficcional sin precedentes, en el cual la reflexión lingüística brilla pero sin entorpecer la trama de la obra. Como detalle "negativo", una persona acostumbrada a la colorida narrativa de Vance, en este libro se puede encontrar con una novela mucho más experimental y menos "pint ...more
Mark Hodder
A wonderful exploration of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, in which language shapes psychology and the destiny of a world can be altered by forcing its population to speak a different tongue. Here we have characters like gods, brooding heroes and villains, interplanetary war, and long-simmering revenge, all wrapped in a thought-provoking philosophy. Jack Vance is incredible.
Craig Smith
May 30, 2013 Craig Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Being a Jack Vance fan, it was good to return to his work after some time away. As with most of his work I've read there's always a chance the story will go off at a tangent and that's what I like about his work, there's always the chance of something unexpected. Not that it doesn't make sense when it happens it lends that air of mystery that keeps you hooked to the end.

At 153 pages this book is short, but packed with so much it feels like something more epic. Vance could have milked this into
Thomas Fortenberry
Apr 07, 2008 Thomas Fortenberry rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
I had to reread this. Loved Vance as a kid, so it is a pleasure to return. Vance is one of the few master craftsmen at work in speculative realms. I have rarely read any author with his command of language. He puts it to great use in this work.

The Languages of Pao is the premiere book about linguistics baselining society. Much as Orwell made famous, It shows how controlling langauge controls culture, politics, people. You control thought itself if you can control the words people use to think wi
Feb 22, 2016 Monique rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I like this book a lot. I read it in the three hour I was waiting to enter The Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam to see the Jheronimus Bosch exhibition. Both the book and the exhibition were worth the waiting.
Feb 02, 2016 Joe rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Interesting premise, if a little dry. Didn't really feel any attachment to any of the characters, though it was interesting to see how mid-century linguistic-cognitive theories (esp. Chomsky) shaped this.
Pablo Flores
Oct 17, 2014 Pablo Flores rated it liked it
Nothing like what I had imagined, and regrettably too dependent on a fairly extreme version of a discredited hypothesis, AND YET - as always with Vance, masterfully composed, efortlessly flowing prose and a very entertaining plot.
Marika C
Mar 03, 2016 Marika C rated it liked it
Not the finest Vance but all of the classic elements are here -pompous leaders, recalcitrant serfs and a cool exploration of the influence of language on culture.
Dr. Andrew Higgins
Mar 01, 2015 Dr. Andrew Higgins rated it it was amazing
The next in my cycle of reading books that feature elements of language invention. This brilliant work plays out the Whorfian hypothesis by showing how a race can be changed by introducing a new language into the evolutionary track of a race. Vance is a great story teller and secondary world (s) builder.
Oct 19, 2015 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I read "The Languages of Pao" many years ago. Jack Vance deals with how language shapes destiny.
Alastair Pearson
Jan 30, 2016 Alastair Pearson rated it it was amazing
Brilliant theory on how languages drive development of culture
Sep 26, 2010 Jocelyn rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in language
I went the the Science Fiction museum in Seattle a few months ago and took photos of the books that sounded worth reading. This was one of them.

This book answers the question "What if language shapes who we are?" It's an interesting question and a short book. I found it kind of hard to follow as many of the groups and armies had similar-sounding names and were poorly introduced; once I stopped trying to figure out who was who it became much more enjoyable. Overall, it wasn't a fantastic book, b
Edwin Kort
Oct 05, 2015 Edwin Kort rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
to be added
Dylan Glebe
May 03, 2015 Dylan Glebe rated it really liked it
Interesting concept
Jared Gullage
Aug 22, 2008 Jared Gullage rated it really liked it
I am just now finishing this book. I like Jack Vance's steady and straightforward clip. He makes telling the reader about things still compelling. The book moves right along and does not seem to really get bogged down in introspection or moral ethics. He just tells you what happens, mostly. Some of the characters of the novel, however, fail to connect with the reader in that much of their lives are glossed over.
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Aka John Holbrooke Vance, Peter Held, John Holbrook, Ellery Queen, John van See, Alan Wade.

The author was born in 1916 and educated at the University of California, first as a mining engineer, then majoring in physics and finally in journalism. During the 1940s and 1950s, he contributed widely to science fiction and fantasy magazines. His first novel, The Dying Earth, was published in 1950 to grea
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