A great SF writer has passed after a long, full life. Never cutting-edge, never hot news, he toiled in a curious, aromatic shop on a crooked side street, not the roaring SF boulevard. But for the literary confections he reliably produced, it was always worth going out of one's way.
Vance's vocabulary, his droll, circumspect writerly voice, and his endless inventiveness with cultures, oddities and situations were his hallmarks. Because of these, one tends to think of his works as intricate. But any analysis of his prose reveals it was actually economical and lean. Quite a trick.
My first paperback cover was for a Vance book. It was downhill from there; I'd tell publishers I was especially eager to illustrate any Vance titles they had in the pipeline, and they'd say "get in line." Every artist wanted to paint Vance's pastel, filigreed visions.
His veneration among pros didn't make him a bestseller. Don Wollheim published his backlist at DAW, but lamented that they never sold too well. Vance's last books saw hardcover publication (thanks, Tor), so I guess he reached a certain level; but even this 2009 NYT profile (a great primer) laments his underappreciated status.
Where to start with Vance? The Demon Princes, a delightful tour across the galaxy, 30,000 years hence, with a driving revenge motive pushing Kirth Gersen, our prudent, well-prepared hero. Or perhaps the Alastor novels, each occurring in a pastoral locale with different protagonists chafing against the strange cultures they find themselves in, while unravelling criminal mysteries.
Vance hugely enriched my life. I'm grateful for his talent and dedication. Long may he be read.