Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance

It’s interesting returning to the kind of stuff I used to read rather more years ago than I care to think about. Some writers are now just an immediate ‘no’ because too much in their books has dated. Social mores and technology have changed so much since these books were written that some of them are risible. Also, since having written a fair few books (I dunno, 25?) I see stuff now I wouldn’t have seen when I was a naïve teenager. I see the holes, the ideas started and abandoned during the book, the diversions, the padding or rather lack of an editorial hatchet.

Thus far those that had stood ‘my’ test of time have been books by A E Van Vogt and now to him I add Jack Vance.

The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance has a damned good idea as its basis: changing a culture by changing the languages the people speak. In fact, having learned a lot of Greek, I can see how strongly a language reflects its culture and how a reversal, as in this book, might be true. I enjoyed this, the characters, the strange cultures described, and the conclusion. It is notable how both Vance and Vogt are very vague about the technologies their characters deploy – here we do have tech that is indistinguishable from magic – and describe settings that are only loosely based on the writers’ own time. In this way it is much less likely for their books to go past their use-by date.


PXPT said...

The original fictional book suggesting changes to the language to change the society was, of course, Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. There was an appendix at the back talking about the proposed NewSpeak language if memory serves.

Geoffrey said...

When I was young, I studied Mathematics. I found comfort in the irrefutable precision of expression found in the works of Gauss and Newton, and their like. "Here lay perfection," I thought, letting the utter certainty of my position wash over me like the proof of some obscure theorem. Never for a moment letting an opposing viewpoint intrude on my little realm of complacency... I could, after all, prove my point of view - even if those proofs were somewhat limited in scope.

Mathematics. A temple, a fortress unassailable by mere debate or discourse. Religion? Please. The sciences? Respectable endeavors, built upon the rock of Mathematics... while not perfect a worthy quest regardless of how often it has to be torn down and rebuilt.

I came to one day wonder about the prepositional calculus veracity of Mathematics. After all, when applied to a system outside our frame of reference (a questionable construct, admittedly), outside of the little mathy box we had built... does our assumption of modus ponendo ponens hold?

On the cosmic lit de justice, does our claim of tautological perfection hold water?

Jessie Grey

Neal Asher said...

PXPT, yup 1984 is a good example, while present day efforts at the same show it is only marginally effective - that people can speak in the correct manner does not necessarily make them think that way.