Servants of the Wankh (1969) is the second of Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE stories. It’s a direct sequel to City of the Chasch, which you’ll want to read first, though Servants of the Wankh has a short but thorough recap of the story so far. Adam Reith was stranded on the planet Tschai after his spaceship crashed there. He is now back to full health, has formed a couple of friendships and a romance, and is still trying to get off that crazy planet.
First, though, he has agreed to escort Ylin Ylan, the damsel in distress that he saved in the previous book, back to her country. He’s secretly hoping that her wealthy father will reward him in a way that will make it possible for him to get back to Earth. But, as usual, things don’t go as planned and Adam has to figure out how to overcome several obstacles including gloomy companions, a flamboyant and jealous swordsman, a couple of strange religious cults, assassins, spies, thieves, political dissidents, and assorted other scoundrels. Reith will need to outwit all of them. Along the way he and his friends are also forced to interact with various cultures that have strange and sometimes deadly customs, religions, fashions, and courting rituals.
Vance’s amusing descriptions of the customs of alien societies in Servants of the Wankh (which tend to be uncomfortably similar to human behaviors that any of us may be guilty of) is one of the things that sets his work apart from other science fiction writers. It’s sometimes painfully obvious that when Vance is writing about aliens, he’s not really writing about aliens. He’s writing about us. As someone who studies and teaches about human behavior for a living, I love this about him.
Another thing that sets Vance apart is, as I’ve mentioned before, his extensive baroque vocabulary with which he constructs delightfully absurd sentences like this one:
Anancho made a finger-fluttering gesture of fastidious didacticism.
This may not seem amusing to someone reading this review, but you’ll have to trust me that it’s funny in context… well, at least it’s funny to those of us who love Vance. (I admit that it may not be appealing to everyone.)
Servants of the Wankh is not one of Vance’s better works, but it’s still entertaining and worth reading, especially for fans. I listened to the audio version that Blackstone Audio just released. It’s six hours long and Elijah Alexander does a great job with the narration. I look forward to reading book three, The Dirdir, in the same format.