The Wankh by Jack Vance

Should a literary masterpiece published in America surrender both its title and content decades later at the whim of contemporary British gutter slang? I cannot imagine it. Surely the least of Jack Vance's work will long endure past the demise of off-color terms in any local dialect, even that of Her Majesty. Who even knows how many other such terms there might be? If yielding to one, then why not to all? Indeed, do let a Compton rap artist have a go at redacting Shakespere. Would not Londoners very rightly be appalled? Just as rightly am I entitled to heartfelt disappointment over alterations now appearing in a volume of the Vance Integral Edition.

What can have caused me such an upset? After all, striking changes of title in many another volume have aroused, at least from me, no slightest comment. These others I can well accept as genuine restoration of the author's true and original choices. My singular disquiet arises from clear and unmistakable changes propagated through all four novels of the Tschai series, in very particular to The Wankh. Such result has vandalized these timeless classics. Now then, one might very well declare that I strongly overreact to this work having been retitled as The Wannek. A title after all appears in two places only such that one need hardly more than glance them. Infinitely more upsetting to me is the necessary following up: a wholesale search-and-replace carried out upon the principal antagonists in so very many places throughout not just one but all four of the series. Thereby do I apprehend a chief tenet of the VIE to have been violated: to undo the hackneyed depredations of former editorial staffs and restore every work to its most original form. How is it that they now seem to do just the opposite?

Know that I was present on one occasion when this very subject was brought up, perhaps not for the first time, but certainly one of the early times, and very clearly not the last. I personally heard Jack respond unwarmly to this very change as impertinently suggested by an early (and as I am now informed, short-tenured) member of the VIE team. This individual would not let it rest. He, a Brit, brought it up again and again until Jack clearly tired of the topic and gave a very reluctant ascent, if memory serves...something to the effect of, "I don't give a damn". I further recall that this very Brit, Alan Bird, was so bold as to even proffer suggested alternatives, two-syllabled every one.

I wish it known that as a mere, first-wave digitizer my invitation to this conclave came only as a courtesy. No place of mine was it to offer opinion on textual integrity. So alarming was this turn of events however that I felt it obligatory to make an attempt at damage control. I offered that, if it truly be necessary (and hardly did I think that it was) then perhaps something so minimal as a diacritical mark above original term's single vowel might suffice to adequately differentiate it from the offending British conotation. But no, it in no way satisfied Mr. Bird. Another Brit was also present and lent his weight behind Mr. Bird, although not anywhere so adamantly. Shortly alternatives were discussed, all of them more than one syllable, and a choice was grudgingly made. I cannot say at this remove whether it may actually have been Wannek. But all the alternatives did have a similar flavor. Not a one had any ring of an alien intonation, just as Wannek does not. Later that same evening a very pleased Alan Bird did remark to the effect (memory here is inexact), "That word should never have been forced upon the English public".

I worried over what I had seen and heard all during the return flight home, resolving to object through the then-official, on-line discussion board (pre with other members of the VIE team. John Vance at that time settled the issue by reporting his father's preference for the true and original title. (Just possibly, the VIE may have been diligent enough to maintain an archive of that board.) Shortly thereafter, the initial scanning and OCR work completed, I took my leave of the VIE with a sigh of relief that a dire crisis had been averted. I was equally proud of having stood on the side of right in that discussion as of the many weeks spent standing at the scanner and manually checking the OCR. That satisfaction is now cut by half, alas. Sometime later the issue seems to have come up again with lamentable result.

The VIE Editor in Chief has emailed me with his recollection of Jack's having telephoned him in France during Spring of 2000 to astonish him with the above change of term. I do not dispute that this may be true since while Paul was likewise in Oakland on that same earlier weekend in January, he was not at table when the culprit confronted Jack initially with the idea of making this change. Likewise did I receive an email from John Vance on 2004-07-16 informing me that he had just then put the question to Jack over dinner, from which I quote verbatim below:

And Gan, just to test this thing, I asked dad 10 minutes ago at the dinner table, 'what about Wankh/Wannek'; his reply: 'I'd change it, it embarasses me'. In the same conversation he said 'I don't give a damn'. But his first reaction was immediate and positive: change

[Ref: unexcerpted original]

Nevertheless, I cannot help but remain convinced that had Mr. Bird not badgered Jack so in the first place (and as I must suppose, on yet further occasions since I am told his own visit extended somewhat beyond that weekend when many another had left for home) the term Wannek should nowhere have appeared in print, much less in an archival edition of the author's original work. While not wishing any harm to the VIE, I feel it needful to shed some light into a harm already somehow, err...effectuated. Paul Rhodes may say of me whatever likes, call me cyber thug or whatever. That is no matter. I still cannot allow an attempt at revisionist history to pass unchallenged.

I do still esteem the VIE for an otherwise very fine effort. By and large they're an excellent group. Many a member of the team did a great deal more work than I (although I did very probably manage to digitize the greatest number of first-wave texts: 5 novels, and 9 or more stories). By no means do I condemn the effort as a whole, but merely this single volume's worth. Of all the more than forty volumes (for which I paid more than twelve hundred dollars several years in advance), this one I shall never read. It has been corrupted, not just in the title but in many places throughout the text by renaming its central antagonist. Fortunately, I have other, truer, more original copies.

In a further exchange of emails, the VIE's Editor in Chief replied in part to one of mine thus:

I do not call into question that the events you describe took place. However, I happen to know that they had zero effect on the title change. Jack was concerned about the title prior to the existance of the VIE, and he contacted me about the change many months after the Oakland meeting. People are constantly asking or telling Jack Vance to do this or that with his work. It does not add up to anything.

[Ref: unexcerpted original]

Paul may very well have so convinced himself as to actually believe it. But I must trust to the evidence of my own eyes and ears. I clearly recall what I saw and heard. And based upon these my own personal pride of ownership in the set is diminished by at least one part in forty-four. Whatever else may or may not be proven, one fact is undeniable: The Wankh has been changed, and likewise every reference to it. No longer do these four novels enjoy their once true and original content. The VIE's versions diverge from the originals in a great many places. In just so many instances do the VIE's long-advertised claim for wholly restored original content fall well short and I am sorely disillusioned.

Gan Uesli Starling

Having spoken my peace, here now is the link to VIE: Vance Integral Edition
Here also is their official reply to my recollection of events: Editor in Chief

2004-08-13 Addenda: In today’s issue of Cosmopolis, Mr. Rhodes accuses me of timing release of these, my recollections of the facts, in a purely vindictive manner...only so as to undercut sales of the VIE. Paul’s reaction verges, sadly, on the edge of paranoia. I earnestly wish that the VIE should sell out all 1000 sets. Nor have I canceled my own subscription. Please be informed that here I confess to a certain neglect. Discovery of the title change on my part is very recent. Wherefor? I chanced upon it only since the last publication of Cosmopolis. Admittedly I hardly ever bother to read to readCosmopolis for reasons of its political which many another subscriber have already decried their objections. Thus per my usual habit of just barely scanning the headlines, attention was called to credits due fellow volunteers. These I elected to peruse via the web. Only then did I chance to see, to an immediate chagrin, The Wannek there listed with a seeming inocence. Over and above my own distaste it seemed a duty to provide counter-testimony if only so as to enlighten future literary historians.