A collection of sword and sorcery stories. Mostly written by dudes, and mostly uninspired or poorly written. They're all quite stylized: these are clearly authors who have either developed their authorial voices or are aping other, very distinct voices. I kinda enjoyed
Steven Erikson, "Goats of Glory": A pitiful village is excited by the approach of a ragtag band of soldiers, but fully expects them all to die when they announce they'll be sleeping in the nearby haunted ruins. The combat writing is fierce and fun, with characterization aplenty and clarity in terms of who does what to whom. I didn't like anything outside of the fighting, though; the characters felt too self-consciously grim and blase.
James Enge, "The Singing Spear": a famed Maker of magical items is faced with a difficult choice when one of his most powerful creations falls into the hands of a common highwayman.
KJ Parker's "A Rich Full Week": The stand-out of the collection, because it's such a refreshing and weird take on wizards, the undead, and magic in general. A wizard (who isn't a wizard, by his own standards, but a philosopher trained in mental energies) is called to a small village to settle the unquiet dead. But he finds that the undead that he faces was once a Brother of his own Order, which makes his job rather more complicated than expected. Creepy and spooky, with great description.
Scott Lynch's "In the Stacks": this story is why I picked the book up in the first place. I'm so desperate for more of Lynch's work! This story, in which wizards must venture into their school's magical library as their year-end test, is enjoyable but not nearly so much as his Gentlemen Bastards series. Still, the characters are unique and memorable (my personal favorite: Inappropriate Levity Bronzeclaw, a gigantic lizard named for his percieved character flaw, whose ability to bite people's heads off more than makes up for his mediocre wizardry) and the adventure is a fun read. Great, clever ending.
Caitlin Kiernan's "The Sea Troll's Daughter": Basically the first half of Beowulf, but with peasants instead of kings and a strong, brave, usually-drunk and very female Beowulf. I liked this particular remimagining better than most I've read. It has an earthy quality, with characters who read like humans instead of archetypes. (Also, it's a delight to read about queer heroes and monsters and tavern-maids.)
Joe Abercrombie's "The Fool Jobs": A band of mercenaries try to steal a magical item from a local village. The characters' voices and personalities are so distinct that they come clearly and memorably through after only a few pages. Not much in the way of plot, but I didn't miss it because I was too busy enjoying the characters and their banter. I did not enjoy
Glen Cook's "Tides Elba": the Black Company has an adventure. Maybe if I'd read a Black Company book before this I'd have appreciated seeing old characters again, but as it was this read like a badly done parody of (quoting from the back cover here) "grim humor mixed with gritty violence." Over long, and the dialog consists entirely of each character trying to be wittily grim and failing.
Gene Wolfe's "Bloodsport": a cool concept paired with poor execution. Gladiators who portrayed chess pieces decide to maintain civilization when the empire that enslaved them starts to crumble. But the writing is in an overwrought style I dislike ("Above stands the All High, and below lies Pandemonium. Choose your road and keep to it, for if you stray from it, you may encounter such as I. Fare you well! We shall not meet again.")
CJ Cherryh's "A Wizard in Wiscezan": a young apprentice to a fading wizard is the only one who might be able to defeat a powerful dark wizard. This felt weirdly lightweight, like it was the prequel to Tewk&Willem's adventures and I was already supposed to care about them. Is that true? I dunno, but I just didn't feel invested in this story. I did like the magical maze the wizards hide in.
Garth Nix's "A suitable present for a sorcerous puppet": Another tale of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz, who travel the world banishing gods. I actually quite like Hereward and Fitz, who have a comraderie reminiscent of Aubrey&Maturin, and Nix's magic systems are always fantastically innovative. Buuut this one just didn't capture me.
Time Lebbon's "The Deification of Dal Bamore" is actually really interesting, world-building-wise, but it's so relentlessly gorey, and all the characters so unpleasant, that I found it tiring to get through. A priestess is tasked with escorting a magician (for magic is forbidden) to the wall to be publically executed.
Greg Keyes's "The Undefiled": A man is possessed by a serial-killing god. Generally, it makes his life (and the lives of those who encounter him) a living hell, but when he's tasked with retrieving a magical sword, his psychotic passenger proves to be his best defense. The god already possessing him fights with the god that possesses the sword, which prevents the usual slaughter&rape that the sword-god commits when it gets a host. Again, the idea is good but the writing is not. People are always grating out harsh chuckles and having lithe curves cloaked in shadow.
Michael Shea's "Hew the Tintmaster": an unmemorable quest, complete with artifically flowery dialog and descriptions that don't really make sense.
Tanith Lee's "Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-Robe": two wandering adventurers are tasked with finding the False Prince's missing war-robe. Told in a stiff, old-fashioned style rather like Malory's tales of Arthur. Just not to my taste.
Bill Willingham's "Thieves of Daring": This isn't a story, it's the first three pages of one. Such a rip-off.So terrible
Michael Moorcock's "Red Pearls: An Elric Story": so bad I started reading sections aloud to my partner so we could cackle together about it. I've never read an Elric story before; is Moorcock always so weirdly in love with him? Every page contains another seventeen descriptions of how beautiful his body is and how manly his brain and brawn. So many adjectives in so many run-on sentences! Here's a randomly chosen sample of the "extremely beautiful black-haired Princess Nauhaduar of Uyt" thinking about her lovah (which she does constantly): "...even if the albino were to abandon her, she would never regret knowing him or, as she suspected, loving him. Kinslayer and traitor he might be, it had never mattered to her what he was or what she risked. Dark and light were inextricably combined in this strange half-human creature whose ancestors had ruled the world before her own race emerged from the mud of creation, whose terrible sword, now rolled in rough cloth and skin and stowed in the lower locker, seemed possessed of its own dark intelligence. She knew she should be afraid of it, as of him, and part of her reexperienced the horror she had already witnessed once, there in the forsts of mysterious Soom, but the rest of her was drawn by curiosity to know more about the sword's properties and the moody prince who carried it." A few randomly chosen descriptions of Elric from a single paragraph
: "hard, wonderful pale and vibrant body," "his urgent, alien body" "the doomed prince of ruins" "the albino sorcerer". The whole thing is just too ridiculous and overwrought.
Robert Silverberg's "Dark Times at the Midnight Market": An aristocrat commissions a love potion from a down-on-his-luck magician. But then, after the love potion works, it is turned against the magician! It's not presented as a terrible, creepy story, but as a humorous twist. Hahah, rape is so clever and funny. >:(