Language bestows logic; with logic comes ethos (4/5)
From February 21, 2011
First page synopsis:
"On the remote, bleak planet of Breakness, far from his own people, Beran, heir to the Panarch's throne on Pao, was brainwashed.
Palafox, omnipotent Dominie of Breakness Institute, was the half-mad egoist responsible for the kidnapping and implantation of Breakness's totally alien thought-patterns into the mind of Beran.
Palafox planned far ahead. Beran's future was to be shaped to serve the Dominie's ends: total universal conquest.
But Beran, with the vestiges of Paonese, had his own ideas."
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 (a lá 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. With age comes reason, but with too
much age comes senility.
Not only has the story a gripping hold,
but the intricate life lessons of a learned man are brought upon the pages
via insightful dialogue:
Page 96 offers an intuitive view into
education saying, "Education is not achieved through the heart - it is a
systemization of the mental processes [...] But I am something other than a
mental process. I'm a man. I must reckon with the whole of myself."
114 offers a delectable tidbit about trust: "A commitment is good only
so long as it is advantageous [...] This is not always true. A person who
fails one commitment is not often entrusted with a second [...] Trust? What
is that? The interdependence of the hive; a mutual parasitism of the
weak and incomplete."
This is brilliant stuff to some from a
seemingly pulp novel full of everything but pulp. This novel deserves
some serious respect. Poul Anderson dabbles in the realms of language in
his SF novels (e.g. Brain Wave , Planet of No Return ) but fails to put
it in the forefront like Vance has nobly done so here. However, the one area Vance
fails in is climatic build-up. The climax is hasty, looked over. Hence,
the ultimate conclusion is unsatisfactory. If only an additional twenty
pages were added to The Language of Pao, the unfolding of the climax and
conclusion would have been so much better... five-star better. If there's a better SF novel about languages and translations, I haven't found it yet.