Araminta Station by Jack Vance. First volume of the Cadwall Chronicles.
Overall strong work, although I think it's longer than it needs to be. It gives Vance more effort to build an interesting setting but the plot lags at points, and a lot of the situations could have had more energy to them. One thing to like is nice paragraph-by-paragraph writing, and a sardonic tone that is often highly effective in producing dry whit. Vance is as good as ever at throwing out little details that link up to a vibrant world, and his work at building continues to fold itself effectively into the pace of events. The characerization is less compelling here, delivering fairly flat personalities that are less impressive because they're not doing as much. As well, the larger plot structure suffers a bit from having the form of a murder mystery with none of the main characters being particularly invested in solving the crime.
It remains fundamentally a fun and well-imagined environment. On the other hand, some of what seem to be the larger themes, on gender, sex, violence, rape, hierarchy and race are a bit disturbing, in the protagonists' attitudes or especially nonchalance towards certain things. Of course the author's standpoints may not be that of the characters and there is the rest of the trilogy to see the final statement on the politics and the like. Nevertheless, while I was overall impressed in this book as literature and as a piece of SF world-building, I do question some of the apparent standards underlying the narrative, and am more disturbed particularly with the portrayal of women than I've been with previous Vance. It's not that his other works are without problems in that regard, but usually there's less narrative stress put on that by the pace of events. Here, again, there's a sense that the increased length and opportunity for close scrutiny isn't a good thin.
Worse than: The Star King by Jack Vance
Better than: Slan by A. E. Van Vogt