BOOK REVIEW: Servants of the Wankh, by Jack Vance

  • Book Two of the Planet of Adventure series
  • Published by Mayflower in 1976
  • A classic Science Fantasy
  • 159 pages
  • ⭐⭐

Adam Reith is stranded far from home, without a spaceship to carry him home to Earth. Gathering a ragtag group of travelling companions, Reith sets across the hostile world he finds himself in, but on a world as alien as this, can there be any true hope of escape . . ?

This isn’t the first Jack Vance I’ve read. That honour goes to The Dragon Masters, of which I have very dim memories given how long ago I read it. As such, I approach Servants of the Wankh with fresh eyes, as though experiencing Vance for the first time. And wat an odd experience it turned out to be!

To get the obvious question out of the way, yes I did choose this book based on its title. I’d been meaning to look at Vance for a while, but with an author that prolific it can be hard to tell where to start. As it happens, this is actually the second book in a series of four, though there is a recap of previous events at the start. But how can you say no to Servants of the Wankh? I’m a mature individual who doesn’t care much for innuendo. But I don’t care who you are, having Wankh in the title is just good comedy. It turns out this is an American edition, as the UK edition was retitled Servants of the Wannek to avoid any misunderstandings.

The thing that immediately jumps out at you when reading this book is the prose. Vance’s style is florid to the extreme. Purple prose at its most violet. The writing is so excessively in your face that it pulled me out of the story every time Vance threw in a new word. And he does love to throw in new words. This is the sort of pulp classic that renames every item, and chucks letters together in the most unusual combinations. But if you peer a little closer, and poke holes in that thick layer of prose, you’ll find that there’s not much going on beneath the surface.

Jack Vance’s influence on Dungeons & Dragons is well-noted, and stems largely from his Dying Earth books, but it’s easy to see similar roots at work here. The acquisition of wealth (measured in sequins) is the driving motivation for Reith and his companions. This doesn’t feel like science fiction so much as a fantasy that happens to be set on another planet. Yes, spaceships are mentioned, but the actual action is just a long journey from A to B through a wild and fantastical landscape. File off the numbers, and you could easily recreate this adventure with paper, friends, and a handful of dice.

While it’s interesting to see the early days of the genre, especially in terms of sword and planet narratives, overall I don’t rate Servants of the Wankh very highly. The language and presentation have aged quite poorly Even taking its short page count into consideration, not a whole lot happens here. At least not much that I found interesting. Jack Vance may have been a key figure in the development of science fiction, and this may be the pulpiest of pulp stories, but it’s better regarded as a historical curiosity than as a story for a modern audience.

Even so, that doesn’t make the title any less amusing.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Northwest of Earth, by C.L. Moore
Gunpowder God, by H. Beam Piper
Empire of the Atom, by A.E. van Vogt

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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