One of my all time favourite authors in SF
Sad to hear that Jack Vance had finally passed on although at 96 he's certainly had a good innings. I'd just add to the above comments and tributes that both food and music were a big part of Vance's appeal. He was unparalleled in his ability to flesh out an alien environment and make it come to life through descriptions of the food (good and bad) and the music, he was I believe an avid Jazz fan and that showed through.
His characters could be a little samey as the article notes, and the stories, especially the earlier ones, a little thin. He had a penchant for adolescent love stories at times (which could be sweet and poignant like the early part of Araminta Station), but overall the stories were wonderfully alive.
Everyone has their own favourites, but I find that the most re-read stories are first the Durdane trilogy (The Anome, The Brave Free Men, and the Asutra, and I'd recommend anyone who hasn't read those to at least try them, music, food, settings, Vance at his best), the Planet of Adventure series is excellent (and the Wankh name was always a source of clandestine mirth as a youth), the Demon Princes, with the last three (Palace of Love, The Face, Book of Dreams better than the first two IMHO, with The Face being especially good). I also rate the Alastor series highly, Maske:Thaery, and the three "number" stories (2263, 1716, and I think 933) are also very good. Marune (933) is the pick although each has its own appeal.
The novellas The Dragon Masters and the Last castle are notable for winning awards and are some of the best of Vance also. Emphyrio is more intense but to me less satisfying the Blue World is amusingly different. The Gray Prince is another stand out, and Showboat World is also one of my favourites.
The Araminta Station trilogy starts very strongly but meanders a bit in the middle. Lyonesse is always good although the last book has oddly uninteresting bits in the middle relating to Madouc's quest amongst the fairies. Night Lamp is perhaps Vance's last notable book, although I enjoyed Ports of Call. Lurulu sadly has the feel of a book hastily finished to tie up loose ends, but isn't as bad as all that.
One other story worthy of note is The Languages of Pao, an exercise in part to set language as a key cultural determinant and cleverly done in a very Vancian fashion. The Moon Moth is also a top class short story.
There are a lot of others, the early books I feel show Vance developing his craft and he can be very laboured. Oddly enough, for me, perhaps the very best short stories Vance ever wrote and complete stand-outs in the genre are the first three Dying Earth stories, with Turjan of Miir, Pandelume, and T'sais. The other trhree are good, but those to me stand out. They would make a superb film or set of three films if well made (Peter Jackson NO THANK YOU). The connected Rhialto stories are also amusing but don't reach the heights of the early stories. The Cugel stories are amusing, but the contrast of the ever bumbling if lucky Cugel doesn't work for me as well as Vance's typically heroic main caharcters. That said, Cugel has Vance's best comedy sections.
That's it really, there have been several efforts to write into Vance's world, I have the Songs of the Dying Earth series of stories, but sadly none of the authors is a patch on Vance's realisation of the genre.
RIP Jack Vance, and thanks for wonderful stories and amazing places.